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Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 15 : 08 PM [IST]

Calculating cost vs. RoI is a Challenge

A word that comes to mind is “change’. I’m sure in all the years that TravelBiz Monitor has been rocking the trade media scene, it has seen many changes, as have we all. And change, as they say, is the only constant.

To start with, travel for Indians is now no longer an option. It’s a necessity. No more of that “one main holiday a year” trend. Now everyone seems to be taking several shorter ones, even weekend breaks overseas. And by everyone, I mean even folks in smaller cities and towns. So this tells me that as an NTO, I need to either increase my marketing budget (good luck with that) or re-allocate budget to engage beyond the main metros. It used to be once that tourism boards used to gush about Delhi and Mumbai being their holy grails. That horse has bolted because the so-called 20-80 rule no longer applies.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but its having the opposite effect on the Indian traveller. Satellite TV, movies and the internet are creating curiosity and aspiration, resulting in a rocket of travel fuelled by rising incomes. Now it’s not just about “want to see” but also “want to experience” (“I’ve stood on the spot where Jon Snow fought the White Walkers. What a rush!”). Business travellers and VFR visitors are also extending their trips to become leisure converts and experience more of wherever they are.

Customer expectations and mindsets are changing too. This is good or bad news for the travel trade, depending on what one’s viewpoint is because it involves keeping up with customers, and today that invariably involves technology. And technology costs.

Keeping up with technology is inescapable. The big challenge is calculating cost v RoI. But whatever the result of that calculation, upgrading technology is unavoidable. Geek it up or perish because customers are constantly - and rapidly - taking to new tech themselves. And hey, small travel agent - it just got worse. Because now it’s not just your competitor next door that’s luring your previously loyal customer, it’s now also people who really had no business encroaching on your space – an online superstore, a big search engine (yes, those two) and big Chinese companies with fairytale names – all with unimaginably deep pockets to make massive investments in technology and innovation that make them slicker, faster and – oh no! - cheaper. So what’s the solution? Hard to say. Maybe to break it down into small steps, one project or innovation at a time rather than going for one massive investment. Easier said than done, I’m sure. Nevertheless, this is one steamroller that’s not going away.

The good news is that in India, what’s still relatively unchanged is the importance of the travel trade. Indians still rely on agents and tour operators to organise their travel, especially in segments like packaged travel, group tours and MICE. A travel website won’t negotiate price, offer credit, let you pay cash, present a backside to kick when something goes wrong or take your call from Antarctica at 3 am when you find your igloo can’t find your booking. Also, we Indians look for reassurance, and that too from a real person. On a website with a hundred reviews for something, you can be pretty sure there’ll be some saying it’s the best thing since sliced bread and others telling you it’s worse than badly cooked bitter gourd. What do you do? You ask your travel agent. And if they tell you not to stay in that igloo you’ll listen to them.

Now, that word “geopolitical”. I’m not great with political. So I’ll just write the stuff you’ve all heard a million times before and pretend its original. Various governments have given the travel industry a bit of a push up the hill, but I feel there’s still a lot of hills left to climb. Just off the top of my head - improving airport infrastructure, rationalising taxes on things like air tickets and jet fuel and many more bilateral visa agreements (we’ve all seen how even small changes in visa regimes result in exponential changes in visitor numbers, irrespective of destination). And the other 250 things that any trade association can list out much better than I can?

If you’re still reading this, thank you for your time. And thank you TravelBiz Monitor for yours, which I believe is 11 years. You are truly a bellwether of travel media in India, and that’s another thing that won’t change.

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