Aishwarya Ramesh

Cleartrip’s Kunal Dubey on the travel sector and the road to recovery

The company’s latest ‘Tatkaal’ offer allows people to book flight tickets and hotels at 50% off.

Normally, people associate ‘Tatkaal’ tickets with train tickets as well as India’s notoriously glitchy IRCTC ticket booking system. But Cleartrip wants to change that.

It has announced the launch of a marketing initiative called ‘Cleartrip Tatkaal’ that aims to gamify the booking experience for flight tickets as well as hotel bookings. If people are able to book tickets on Cleartrip Tatkaal with a coupon code, then they will be able to avail flat 50% off on bookings made at noon every day.

The company has also released a campaign, conceptualised and created in-house to promote its Tatkaal offering. Both ads make a reference to ‘good news’ - in one case, pregnancy, and in the other, a startup founder receiving funding.

Over a Zoom call, Cleartrip’s CMO Kunal Dubey mentions that it is a digital-first campaign. He says that since most people, who use the platform, are digital-first users, it makes sense to target them where they’re already spending time.

“The campaign is 80-90% primarily on digital and we haven’t advertised on IPL this year. We have been seeing a lot of visibility in the avenue of connected TVs (CTVs)… More users are seeing our ads on TV.”

Dubey says that Cleartrip has an audience of around 25-30 million, who have seen the ads on CTVs.

He mentions that when it comes to travel, people are no longer hesitant. In fact, they want to get out and travel.

“People were really cautious about making bookings last year, since travel plans were susceptible to last minute changes. Travel planning is a lot more relaxed now. My prediction is that travel is going to increase. Staycations will go up too.”

Kunal Dubey
Kunal Dubey

Dubey points out that airlines are functioning at 90% capacity, as compared to pre-COVID levels, which is indicative of demand increasing, for not just road trips, but flights and air travel too. He adds that hotels are also seeing demand akin to pre-COVID levels. It is a hopeful sign for the tourism and hospitality industry.

“Earlier, people would plan for one big trip or one long vacation, but that magnitude of travel has changed. Now, people are making shorter, more frequent trips. In that sense, weekends and long weekends have become more important than ever for both tourists and the sector at large.”

It is not just domestic travel that is seeing an uptick right now. The demand for international travel is increasing too. “Passenger traffic for domestic travel is at 98% of pre-COVID levels. For international destinations such as the Maldives, Middle East, etc., many countries have relaxed their travel restrictions and we are seeing demand on this side again,” adds Dubey.

Largely, there are two types of travel - one for leisure and one for business. According to Dubey, the company is seeing bounce back in the B2B travel and the corporate travel segment. “The rate of growth in this segment has been phenomenally higher than leisure travel.”

In the past, Cleartrip would compete with other online travel aggregators (OTAs) such as MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo, EaseMyTrip, etc. Cleartrip also competes with offline travel agents, who have physical office spaces and helped customers book tickets for a fee.

Despite the pandemic, Dubey tells us that the ecosystem has not changed vastly. The company still competes with both these types of ticket booking avenues. Now, users also book tickets directly from the airlines’ websites.

Pre-pandemic, deep discounts used to be the basis on which a person chose between these many similar looking services, but that’s not the case anymore. “It all boils down to the trust that a brand creates. A brand may offer deep discounts, but if people don’t trust the brand, they won’t fall for it. The service experience with ticket bookings, cancellations and overall flexibility, when it comes to travel, also matters a lot,” he says.

Dubey, who has a history of working as a digital marketer, says that the strategy to build trust also applies to any other online service or brand. Some brands he's worked with in the past include Vedantu - an edtech platform (as head of marketing), PhonePe - a digital payments app (as head of business marketing), Flipkart (as director of brand marketing), and eBay India (as head of brand management).

He also had an entrepreneurial stint at Dentsu Slingshot, along with Lucky Saini (who currently heads marketing at Meesho - an online shopping site).

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