Namah Chawla
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“Staycations continue to be one of our largest businesses”: Ritu Mehrotra, Booking.com

A chat with the leading travel aggregator platform’s regional manager – South Asia, about what the travellers are looking for.

Watching a match in a stadium is still a dream for many cricket-crazy Indians. Building on this insight, Booking.com curated ‘an ultimate cricket stay’ ahead of India’s first match at ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. The leading travel aggregator platform is also the ongoing tournament’s official accommodation booking partner.

A survey by the platform revealed that 58 per cent of Indians dream about watching a match live. Such is the love for cricket that nearly 45 per cent of the fans say they’re likely to travel to a destination for cricket, even if it isn’t in their bucket list. The research also showed that 63 per cent of Indians would love to travel with their family to watch a World Cup match.

Speaking about the campaign to afaqs!, Ritu Mehrotra, regional manager – South Asia at Booking.com, says that everyone may not be able (to afford) to see a cricket match live. So, the platform decided to create a stadium-like experience.

She shares that the offer was sold out within a few seconds, as thousands of people logged in to get access to the exclusive stay at Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotels & Residences.

“Staycations continue to be one of our largest businesses”: Ritu Mehrotra, Booking.com
“Staycations continue to be one of our largest businesses”: Ritu Mehrotra, Booking.com

‘Booking Explorers’ is another interesting campaign that Booking.com recently launched. It onboarded famous leaders and trailblazers across the Asia Pacific region, and took their fans through their travel journeys.

Says Mehrotra, “For us, it is important to empower people to experience the world. This campaign was about bringing people from different walks of life to share their travel experiences. As a lot of people couldn’t travel due to COVID, this wishlisting campaign brought a lot of excitement among them.”

Indians have now started to pack their bags and travel again. Workations and staycations are the two new words that have become a part of a traveller’s dictionary. When travel first resumed, post COVID-induced lockdown, people preferred shorter trips and travel fatigue had set in.

Booking.com has seen an increase in travellers booking stays, with flexible cancellation policies, due to the uncertain environment these days. So, the platform has introduced ‘Flexible-1 Day’ policy that allows the customers to cancel for free, even a day before check-in.

Talking about hot travel trends, Mehrotra says, “Staycations continue to be one of the largest businesses for us. People nowadays like to opt for shorter getaways. COVID has taught us that it is better to do something today, than postpone it. Hence, one of the fastest-growing segments for booking has been staycations.”

Safety and health continue to be on the top of travellers’ minds. They have also become more committed to travelling sustainably.

Mehrotra adds, “We’re also seeing people looking for a strong Wi-Fi connection and longer workations. Hence, we launched a one-week and 30-day stay options on our platform.”

Speaking about the preferred transport mode, Mehrotra informs that earlier, road trips were popular. But now, flights are running at 70-80 per cent occupancy rates. People want to visit destinations like Dubai and Maldives. The last few months have seen a positive trend towards outbound travel as well.

As far as domestic travel is concerned, some of the top searched destinations on the platform include New Delhi, Goa, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Manali, Jaipur and Udaipur.

Talking about mobile bookings becoming popular, Mehrotra mentions, “Sixty per cent of people globally are using mobile phones for making transactions. This trend will only get bigger. Over half of all the bookings on Booking.com are made on a mobile device.”

"Over half of all the bookings on Booking.com are made on a mobile device."

Booking.com also has a special offering for its member partners, known as ‘mobile deals’. These member partners can tap into the platform’s traveller segment by offering an extra discount of 10 per cent or higher for mobile users. A special badge then appears next to their property in search results and also on the property page.

According to its website, 80 per cent of the travellers research for a trip on their app. Also, 50 per cent of accommodation searches and bookings are made through mobile phones.

Booking.com competes with the likes of Tripadvisor, Airbnb, Expedia Group, etc. Speaking about the competition, Mehrotra says, “As a company, we’re aware of our competition. We are customer-focused and want to be at the heart of what the customers want.”

The platform has also been contributing to the Prime Minister’s vision of Dekho Apna Desh by promoting domestic and inbound travel. As per Mehrotra, a large proportion of Booking.com’s business comes from domestic travel.

“For Booking.com, it isn’t just about giving the consumers attractive discounts, but also bringing value to them. The platform offers customer service in 44 regional languages. Additionally, partner feedback is extremely important for us to scale our business further.”

Sharing the platform’s upcoming marketing plans, Mehrotra says that Booking.com’s focus will be on performance marketing. It wants to show the right product to the right user at the right time.

"Google is not the only way to know your consumers. People are thinking about their next vacation by looking at Instagram posts too."

“Our entire marketing funnel is touched by machine learning. Google is not the only way to know your consumers. People are thinking about their next vacation by looking at Instagram posts too. Even if a user does not know what he wants, the platform starts recommending user-specific suggestions. It isn’t just about acquiring customers at scale, but also ensuring that customer service and reviews play a crucial role to engage with them,” she signs off.