My friend Kumar was intent that this Puja he and his family must travel abroad instead of the all-too-familiar desi destinations. Accompanied by a strong will to avoid the beaten path and good amount of money marked for the purpose in the savings account, Kumar came visiting this year’s travel fair at the Netaji Indoor Stadium last July. His family tagged along stridently braving gusty winds and wet squalls.
Once inside the stadium Kumar was in for surprise. Not only was the place choc-a-bloc with wannabe travelers, the stalls too offered instant online booking. Online booking?
Kumar thought he would find out what all destinations were on offer on the first day, talk among themselves which one to choose, and then come on the next day to make advanced booking.
Instead Kumar found himself lost in the waves of attractive holiday offers and not-so-gentle pursuers who stuck to his elbow as if it was oozing gums. He made a note of the offers but decided that clicking the mouse at home in leisure would be the best to place holiday orders.
“Thank God I so decided,” Kumar told me later. “The web is flush with online travel sites, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of their offers.”
Kumar was right. There are quite a few online travel agents (OTAs) crowding the Indian web. The big ones like Yatra, TravelGuru, and MakeMyTrip – the last one is said to be leading the market segment with 50-55% share – have already made their presence felt at least among urban populace on the back of TV, web, and print ad campaigns. Smaller OTAs have less but loyal clientele and they control lucrative niche routes.
And then you have the long-established brick-n-mortar tour operators like the Cox & Kings, Thomas Cook, and the SOTC. On top of that even foreign airlines like the Singapore Airlines are directly offering packages that are difficult to resist.
All in all, the Indian online travel scene is turning out as an exciting place to be in. A year back, Anurag Gupta, a 1989 IIMA alumni, estimated that about 20% of all air tickets were sold online, of which the share of pure OTAs would be about 4000-5000 per day.
According to him the net revenues of all OTAs together stood at Rs.25-30 crore last year. This figure consisted of revenues from online ticket sale, hotel bookings, taxi rentals, etc. Going by what Kumar saw in this July fair in Kolkata, Anurag’s figure must have doubled by now.
It can be said that India is witnessing the first stage of ecommerce boom, which matured markets like the countries in the west too had seen just before the dot com bust. In their cases too except for Amazon and eBay, the online travel first became popular (refer Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline) among ecommerce ventures.
India has been slow to catch the ecommerce fever. Now that it has caught on, it remains to be seen how ecommerce percolates down among hundreds of thousands of ordinary entrepreneurs in the days to come.
See Deccan Herald’s report, Travel portals surfing high tides in India.