Taking travel and tourism on the tech trail

Armed with a smartphone, today's tourists experience the thrills of a journey, even before they set out to explore India's wonders
Last Updated 18 September 2016, 18:31 IST
India is on the move! Indians have found new interests and reasons to tour this massive nation.

Travel in India weaves together a rich tapestry of exotic heritage and sublime nature, with uniquely ‘Indian’ experiences. And, apart from the usual modes of transportation, what’s really powering travel and tourism in India today, is technology.

A young, aware, interested, and indulging nation, ready to soak in new travel stories, has readily reaped the best of technology, making the most of the startup boom, mobile craze, and all that the internet has got to offer. Young companies have responded to the demand among modern travellers for fingertip solutions, and begun an innovation revolution in the realm of travel and tourism.

“With the emergence and growth of the online travel industry, in all its different forms, people now have a lot more information at their fingertips. The research process has become a larger, richer part of holiday planning. At the same time, travel industry providers have grown exponentially in India, showering visitors with more options,” opines online travel agency VIA CEO Swaminathan Vedaranyam.

Living out of a smartphone

If the advent of the mobile phone was a step forward, granting it some ‘smartness’ was a leap. The smartphone made the world an even smaller place, than the internet accessed on the PC around two decades earlier, and its relevance to travel and tourism — a sector literally on the ‘move’ — is paramount.

“The Indian tourism industry has evolved drastically over the last decade. These days everyone is online, and we foresee phenomenal adoptions by businesses in technology. Mobile innovation is the key aspect. Enterprises are continuously looking at innovative ways of engaging with people through their personal devices. Mobile has already become the preferred choice of the customers to access online travel services, and will dominate the discovery and transaction space in 2016,” says Subramanya Sharma, Chief Marketing Officer at Cleartrip.

It was during 2010-11 that Cleartrip launched its full-fledged mobile site, subsequently integrating it with many offerings such as Expressway, which allows users to store their credit card that comes in handy while traveling and booking tickets, and Quickies, which aids in last-minute hotel bookings. On a cumulative basis, the mobile app, which was developed in 2012, has seen over 14 million downloads.

Cleartrip recently rolled out a novel app-based offering — granting patrons the chance to make the most of limited time. “We understand that travel is a need-based product. On an average, travel purchase behaviour in India shows one trip in six months. We felt, why not reduce a trip’s duration from two days to few hours, allowing locals to take breaks and experience leisure in their own cities,” Sharma says.

Cleartrip’s ‘Local’ is a bold way of reimagining a trip in the context of one’s home-city. “Local provides a wide bouquet of offerings, from outdoor and indoor activities, adventure, theme parks, fitness, day outings, sightseeing, excursions, art and craft, skill and hobbies, to the best of F&B and gourmet experiences, and events in the city,” he adds.

If travel and tourism is more about experiences, than mere sight-seeing or shopping, technology has helped bridge the gap between curiosity and awareness. Companies have begun to integrate the latest innovations into their offerings, allowing users a unique ‘techno-trip’ of sorts, besides their planned tour.

Online travel community HolidayIQ, which boasts of a huge subscriber-base of 12 million, recently deployed geospatial fencing technology onto its app, which uses the GPS system in the phone to give a spontaneous flow of information, during vacations. The app also offers push notifications in the phone’s lock screen from the moment the user reach a new place, about the locales one can visit, hotels, routes, and food hangouts. “This feature is currently available in 1,200 cities across the country, and automatically starts working when a person is stationary in a new location for more than 30 minutes. This not only makes travelling easier for the novice and impromptu travellers, but also inspires experienced tourists to explore places that they might not have included in their itinerary,” informs Hari Nair, Founder and CEO of HolidayIQ.

What technology brings

While a look at the future may pose many intelligent prospects for tourism, the sector today is yet to garner the pace to achieve its full potential.  

The basic problem lies in the fact that while the market and demand go one way, the industry and its players have not adapted to that direction yet. “Historically, Indian tourism has been a small business, and it was mostly about few foreigners who came here on holiday. In the last two years, the major change taking place is that the demand is almost entirely being driven by the emerging Indian middle-class, but market players are still focussed on foreign tourists,” Nair says.

As per estimates, in 2014, India saw 4-5 million foreign tourists, out of 7.5 million total arrivals. Around 12-13 million Indians went abroad on holiday, while 300 million of them took domestic leisure vacations.

“My hypothesis has always been that Indian tourism will largely be driven by Indian travellers. The market is at an inflection point, with the Indian consumer at its centre. Obviously, the consumer class is growing, thanks to growth in income, but the biggest growth driver of this industry is going to be the mobile phone, along with new technologies in SIM, connectivity, and data-pricing,” he adds.

As technology brings disruptive changes in the way holidays are planned, ecommerce is bringing new business opportunities to the travel and tourism industry.

“Ecommerce and internet have impacted both consumer and industry behaviours in the areas of travel and tourism. Consumers have more options regarding vacation and budget-planning. Over 95% of web-users have searched online to gather travel-related information, 93% visited destination websites, and nearly one-half used email to gather travel-related information. Almost three-fourths of online travel buyers use search engines prior to making their purchases,” Sharma says.

“Technology can drive discoverability — helping users develop, and share, content and experiences,” adds Nair.

And what about technology trends in travel purchase? Says Vedaranyam, “Aggregating all kinds of travel content, and offering it to the customer through a single screen is a huge value-add that technology has enabled. VIA’s over 75,000 outlets across the country use this service to serve customers instantly. The mobile app has helped in connecting customers, based on their geographic location, to the nearest outlet. Such features ensure that customers have a choice of search, online, and purchase, either online or offline.”

While Indians pack their bags for yet another getaway, one mustn’t forget to carry their smartphone, for this tryst with technology, is surely bound to take Indian travel and tourism places.

(Published 18 September 2016, 16:07 IST)

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