Travel Conference, organised by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), discussed the many questions that are besetting the online travel industry. How can online travel engines make online travel easy for the consumer? What are the various online demand generation methods? How can travel companies embrace the social networking trend? And many more.
Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright Inc. moderated the session, which discussed new marketing strategies and the demand for creating great consumer environments online. Badrinathan started off by noting, "India's travel patterns vary by region." This fact arises from another fact: English is not the language of choice for most Indians. This language barrier needs to be addressed in a region-wise manner, he said.
Murthy then talked of how an online travel agent (OTA) can optimise his business. The OTA must have a sizeable amount of search words that will enable his engine to pop up on a search screen. Online marketing must be done in such a way that customers are attracted to the site while searching.
"Tracking the competition is very important," said Murthy and recommended a tracking tool devised by Pinstorm, called CAT (comparative analysis tool), for the purpose. Murthy also said that several microsites for every segment in the travel space are better than a one stop shop.
"In India, every online is offline and every offline is online," said Emmanuel Phillips. The senior consultant for business relationship management at Cox & Kings said that it is very imperative for an OTA to exist offline too in India. He said that the OTAs add offline channels such as shops as an alternative mode of distribution. This is because many consumers are not willing to carry out large sum transactions online.
Phillips pointed out that social networking isn't a trend, but a new way of studying the market. The new consumer, who wants to see more of the location to which he is travelling, has caused to evolve the many features that are now offered by an OTA - maps of the location, virtual tours of hotels, etc. "Electronic word of mouth is shared through social networking, which is a huge recommendation factor," said Phillips.
Ashok Lalla, director, Internet marketing, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, spoke of creating great online consumer environments. He said that taking the Internet to the traveller is the ideal way to go about the online travel route. "Understanding the consumer, what he needs, where he needs it and when he needs it is the new WWW," said Lalla.
Lalla stressed that OTAs need to throw away the one size fits all strategy. Personalisation of the online portal for the consumer provides relevance. Lalla too endorsed electronic word of mouth, which has grown along with social networking. Consumers depend upon blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds while making travel decisions.
The final speaker on the panel was Gulshan Verma, head of sales strategy, Yahoo! India. Verma spoke of the mobile as a device to deliver results for marketers. "Through calls and clicks, mobile will be a great driver of online travelling," said Verma.