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Friday, 23 January, 2015, 17 : 00 PM [IST] Betting on smartphone users to increase market share

Travel aggregator, recently completed five years in the OTA business. The company has always maintained speed and reliability as its core value differentiators, according to its CEO, Sanjay Bhasin. He tells Akansha Pandey about Goibibo’s journey and how they look forward to innovating with future offerings
sanjay_bhasin.jpg, which is often included among the leading OTAs in India, enables travellers to buy air tickets, bus tickets, book hotels, and car rentals. Within a short span of time, Goibibo has created a niche for itself. Coming up with the fastest process for rescheduling, cancellation and refunds, Goibibo has offered unmatched consumer experience over the years. It was recently voted as the winner of ‘Best Website’ in the leisure and travel category by Website of the Year India (WOTY) - the annual online public award of its kind in India. Innovations in operations and the technology back-end have enabled Goibibo to become leaders in the Indian online travel space and the brand is motivated to set higher, unprecedented benchmarks going forward.

The Start

Goibibo was a late entrant as compared to the other OTAs, when it began operations in September 2009. Then called ibibo - the parent company - it was a social networking platform that had reached over five to seven million visitor numbers a month. That was a sizeable number and realising the competition in the social space, the brand was looking forward to an alternative to attract visitors. At that moment, over 90 per cent of e-commerce business was into travel, and thus it became an obvious choice to go ahead.

ibibo decided to venture piece by piece. Unlike others who opened all verticals at one go, Goibibo started off only with the domestic flights. “We slowly built up on traffic and our own technology with time. The whole technology base was set up in-house from scratch, and we feel proud of the same today. Nothing was outsourced. Soon we took on a sizeable number of transactions per day with regard to domestic flights. The start was slow, but we picked up fast in 2011-12. We changed the way the online business was being conducted at that point of time. We primarily focused on two things - one was the speed in which a customer completes a transaction and the other was to ensure a reliable transaction. The competition had over eight to nine pages to complete the process of domestic flight bookings. We at Goibibo cut that down to four pages. We aimed to attract relevant traffic to our website and enabled conversion for domestic flight bookings,” added Bhasin. The other OTA players were still struggling in technology related to bookings of international flights, hotels, and holiday packages.

For cancellation and rescheduling, the refund used to come after 21 days. “We decided not to wait for the refund and process the same instantly. This gave us an edge over our competitors,” said Bhasin.

Thereafter, Goibibo eyed innovating with its customer care department. The touchpoint when the customer contacts them needed to be correct and refreshing, they realised. Bhasin shared that they undertook fresh hirings paying over 30-40 per cent above the prevailing salary slab and ensured quality experience for customers. Moreover, people whom they employed were cherry-picked and even today Goibibo has a young team onboard aged between 24 and 31 years.

Goibibo’s 5-year journey

2009: Started with a seed investment of USD 50,000 and a team size of 8 members

2011: Witnessed a y-o-y growth of 180% and had roped in partners like MasterCard, Citibank, & HDFC

2013: Team size grown to 80 members and developments like acquisition, launch of android and iOS apps

2014: Witnesses 25% transaction on mobile phones and already has a tie-up with 15,000 domestic hotels

Closing in on 2012, Goibibo had captured the top two positions in tje domestic flight booking segment. The visitor traffic to the website increased significantly and the time was ripe to endeavour with international flights and hotel bookings.

In November 2013, Goibibo launched its mobile application (app). “Today 50 per cent of the domestic flight and hotel bookings at Goibibo happen over the mobile app. We believe the future growth lies not online but in the hands of smartphone users. eMarketer (a research and analysis firm) has revealed that India will exceed 200 million smartphone users, topping the US as the world's second largest smartphone market by 2016. We aim to be the top-ranking OTA player. Keeping the same in mind, whatever innovation takes place is first designed keeping in mind mobile phone users. Goibibo is more focused on mobile phones than web,” asserted Bhasin.

Moreover Goibibo’s customer base has also grown over the years and the OTA brand has witnessed over 45-55 per cent of repeat traffic, with a growing base.

The Year That Was
In 2014, Goibibo acquired online bus ticketing platform, and saw an approximate 15 per cent increase over 2013. Today, Goibibo ranks among the top three online travel aggregators of India. In B2C bookings, the website crossed MakeMyTrip in the third quarter of 2014. The brand’s sales team directly contracted over 14,000 hotels across India with the company. The GDS of Goibibo has been developed in-house and is easily operational by the hotel staff as they have been updating the inventory and rates (of the day) correctly.

Commenting on the business trends last year, Bhasin outlined, “Last year, we noticed that our partner hotels have seen a decline in prices, but the volume of business or the occupancy rates have shot up. Hotels across India, especially in Goa and Kerala, have also seen domestic guests giving better yield than inbound. Domestic guests, along with their families, have stayed for three nights on an average, and have spent heavily on food and beverage.”

Moreover the flood-hit Kashmir’s loss has been Goa’s gain. Due to the natural calamity, visitor traffic shifted to Goa, which was also struggling with the decline of the Russian Ruble.

Future Plans
“For Goibibo, pricing is oxygen, and we will leave no stone unturned to match the lowest pricing among our competitors,” stressed Bhasin. The future growth depends on the mobile phone clientele (Android, iOS, and Windows), and Goibibo is designing its offerings primarily for this segment, followed by web users, Bhasin informed.

Likewise, Goibibo has seen good response to combo deals (flights and hotels). Therefore, the site will be coming up with more package deals this year. The site has also started a feedback platform wherein customers and hotel staff can share their experiences (by means of photo reviews) and the current scenario/features at the hotel premises. “Not only will this add to authenticity of the experience, but would also add an element of novelty to reviews. We will be reducing the human interface and will ensure a speedy redressal over e-mail, within a stipulated time period. Information would be at the forefront and the human interface would be at the back end,” Bhasin concluded.
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