How does India travel? Let us count the 94 billion ways

Bain & Company and Google India are together launching a report on “How Does India Travel.” According to the report, the Indian traveler has come of age, spending approximately $94 billion in 2018 on around 2 billion domestic and international trips. This has helped the Indian travel and tourism industry achieve unprecedented scale, and the momentum is expected to continue with the industry growing at a 13 percent CAGR to $136 billion by 2021, according to a report.

Fueled by digital, Indian travelers are expected to spend an additional $24 billion on online travel bookings over the next 3 years. The report outlines how India spends on travel, the influence of online channels in their purchase journey, and potential growth opportunities for travel businesses until 2021.

Deep diving into the $136 billion spends, the report cites a 12 percent growth in transportation ($50 billion), 13 percent growth in lodging ($21 billion) and consumption, which includes spends on shopping, recreation and food, to grow at 13 percent ($65 billion) over the next three years. Additionally, as more people come online, smartphone penetration improves and use of digital payments goes up, the report estimates that Indian travelers will spend an additional $24 billion on online travel bookings over the next three years, a growth from 25 percent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2021.

Online is a significant source of research

Elucidating the planning journey of Indian travelers, both for business and leisure, the report calls out five phases of a customer journey – Interest, Research, Booking, Experience and Sharing.  The report states that during key research-heavy phase of interest, research and experience, digital plays a pivotal role with over 86 percent of consumers being influenced by online channels. During this phase, travelers spend their maximum time on search, travel tour provider websites, price comparison websites, and travel articles. Online video too plays a significant role with 21 percent of travelers being influenced by this platform. In the booking and sharing phase, the report states that nearly 60 percent of customers book transport and lodging online, and over 50 percent share feedback online with social media being the dominant platform.

Talking about the market opportunities for online travel players, Vikas Agnihotri, Country Director – Sales, Google India said, “New users perceive that online channels are geared towards the more frequent flyers and experience-oriented travelers; and existing travelers research online but the lack of trust in payments and booking experience make them end up booking offline. If travel players tap these online users through personalized marketing, messaging and travel plans, they can further augment online travel bookings. This can be done by adopting digital technologies to influence customers early in the journey and moving from one-time engagement to ongoing relationships to have a positive impact.”

“There is a perception amongst consumers that online channels are geared towards premium customers, along with a marked distrust around payment and pricing terms. It is imperative for businesses to address these concerns in order to effectively tap into the growing base of users.” Arpan Sheth, partner Bain & Company said.

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Decoding the Indian travelers

The report further identified the five cohorts of travelers in India, across business and leisure travel, and categorized each against their online research behavior:

  • Frequent flyers: Nearly 70 percent of them booked online, cumulatively spent $17 billion in 2018. They make their choices based on convenience, availability, brand preference and past experiences.
  • Budget business traveler: 86 percent of them researched online whereas only 60 percent book online, cumulatively spent $20 billion in 2018. This cohort makes their decisions based on cost of travel, availability and consultation amongst their personal business network.
  • Experience-oriented traveler: Around 70 percent of their bookings were done online. and cumulatively spent $22 billion in 2018. They extensively research both online and offline for ‘authentic’ experiences and convenience of options; display high loyalty towards preferred brand of airlines or hotels and actively share experiences.
  • Budget group traveler: 90 percent researched online and 55 percent booked online, cumulatively spent $29 billion in 2018. They make multiple decision-makers in the process and take the final decisions based on minimal cost.
  • Occasional travel visiting friends/relatives: 92 percent researched online but only 60 percent booked online, spent $6 billion in 2018. They maximize family convenience within a budget and believe online terms and conditions are restrictive.

However, challenges remain in meeting the expectations of these travelers. Customers perceive online channels geared towards premium cohorts (frequent flyer and experience-oriented traveler), while mass cohorts, with $55 billion in spending, remain underpenetrated. There are about 160 million non-transacting active Internet users in India with only 5 percent of online travelers from Tier-2 or Tier-3 cities. There is a significant (20 percent) difference between the booking rates of premium cohorts and mass cohorts, the latter being also dissatisfied with online channels (~33 percent satisfied) vs. premium cohorts (~42 percent). The second challenge is in penetrating existing users who exhibit a marked distrust in use of online channels to make bookings, especially around payment and pricing terms and booking experience compared with offline channels. Consequently, their online usage drops between the research (>86 percent online influence) and booking phases (~40 percent offline bookings).

How travel businesses need to adapt to the needs of online consumers

The report cites five major shifts that marketers need to make to market to the online travelers – First, alleviate consumer concerns by improving the booking and payment experience to build a trusted brand and increase adoption. Second, they need to address the negative customer perception issues by mass customization to drive higher share in the segment. They also need to utilize consumer technology to penetrate mass segments (standardize, enable sharing), reach non-transactors (build offline presence), and create new user access.  Moreover, they need to find innovative and frugal ways to package the experience to increase both adoption and retention.  Finally, they need to create a robust digital backend to adapt to customer needs across the purchase journey.

“The contribution of travel and tourism’s spend in India has reached developed market levels, from 6.7percent of GDP in 2013 to 9.4 percent in 2018. This growth, combined with a rapidly growing internet user base and adoption of online bookings will lead to $24 billion in incremental revenues through online channels by 2021. In order to benefit from this trend, businesses need to actively increase new user adoption and increase penetration in the existing user base across the purchase journey.” Joydeep Bhattacharya, partner Bain & Company said.

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