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Monday, 23 April, 2018, 11 : 48 AM [IST]

‘Experiential travel offerings is the only way to sustain’

SOTC is looking at aggressively establishing its foothold in the FIT vertical. In this direction, SOTC is curating itineraries for newer destinations for both the traveller segments. Amod Thatte, Head - Products & Innovation, B2C, SOTC, talks to Disha Shah Ghosh about their destination offerings, new products like Great Rail Journeys and Darshans.
QWhat are your Group & FIT offerings for 2018? How has the traveller trends evolved?
We envisage our West-bound long-haul packages by September every year. We launched Europe and USA packages by October 2017, covering 40 itineraries for group tour series with new products and destinations like Iceland and Greece. For the USA, we introduced itineraries for the second time traveller. We also have a single-destination focused itinerary for California. We link these with FIT product launches, and have more than 250 published itineraries by way of more than 5 destination brochures. The FIT segment is an important focus area for us and we have aligned targets of the front line staff in this direction. We keep engaging with our customer at regular intervals on a wide range of products.

The domestic product completes the portfolio for us. The scale at which domestic travel is poised to grow is tremendous. We are keen to expand our domestic vertical and launch a range of air-inclusive products. Products to Ladakh, Bhutan, North East are gaining popularity. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Wayanad, Shimla, Goa, Jaisalmer, Coorg, Srinagar, Darjeeling, Manali and Ooty are predicted top domestic hotspots. There has been a trend observed that long holidays are getting shorter, and repeat travel of lesser duration is gaining popularity. Shorter vacations (clubbed with a long weekend) has gone up by approx. 40-50% compared to longer holidays

QWhat is your customer acquisition and retention strategy?
Customer acquisition starts with the launch of brochures, publicity material and engagement through various media channels. We also undertake a lot of tactical targeted promotions on the online platforms. As far as retention of customers is concerned, it starts with product design and development. The delivery of the product with clear expectations laid down ensures retention. Another approach that we have adopted is the customer application. We offer a unique id and password for our customers on Android and iOS platforms to track status of their bookings in real time. The biggest gap between bookings and actual travel is the time in between, which leads to anxiety for the customer. The app allows us to be proactive and keep our customer informed. Moreover, there is no substitute for on-ground services. Recognizing the importance of language markets, SOTC also pioneered tours conducted in Marathi, Gujarati under the SOTC brand extensions: SOTC Brahman Mandal and SOTC Gurjar Vishwadarshan. SOTC came up with special Regional Tours for its South and North market after thorough market & customer research. Our well experienced regional tour managers ensure delivery of the essential elements of expertise and customer care.

Keeping in mind the preferences of our travellers, some of the USP’s include a stationed Chef in specific destinations and a kitchen caravan in Europe to cater to the specific culinary tastes of our customers.

QElaborate on your new product Great Rail Journeys.
Holidays are becoming increasingly experience-led instead of destination led. Activity based travel has expanded. Today travellers are looking for new experiences and therefore we launched Great Rail Journeys. We have partnered with a UK-based four-decade-old company Great Rail Journeys to offer select itineraries. The Great Rail Journeys is a product where the train is the USP. The entire experience of traversing on a train to scenic destinations becomes the We have been promoting self-drive holidays for some years now. 90% of our customers opting for self-drive prefer to travel to New Zealand. The concept is also becoming popular in Australia. The Garden Route is the most popular region in South Africa where customers prefer self-drive holidays. The concept is gaining popularity because of the acceptance of the English language driving license internationally. Self-drive lends independence to the customer and is a beautiful way to explore a destination at one’s own pace. For the domestic market, there are about 10 products that we have launched in different geographies in India; The self-drive opportunity exists in India and we are looking at tapping it. The concept, itineraries and contracting is ours. SOTC provides self-drive car rental on a set itinerary combining with choicest hotel stays on stay & breakfast basis. The itinerary has suggestions for tourists, which they can follow if they wish to. These packages offer great value for money and convenience for customers. With a fixed package, all hotel and car arrangements are taken care of, plus complimentary road maps and a detailed route

itinerary. The unique product offerings ensure a comfortable and hassle-free journey on wheels, for families, couples and ad hoc groups of friends.

QTell us about your focus on the religious tour segment?
We launched Darshans in August last year, which addresses the needs of travellers for want of exclusive offerings in temples across India. Initially, we launched 40 products and will keep adding on as we forge new partnerships. According to statistics, the biggest reason for travel in India is Religious Tourism. There are many people who require last mile experience. Customers have appreciated the uniqueness of our products due to its hassle free and handcrafted divine experiences of Abhishekam/Puja/ Homam etc. We are constantly innovating and adding valued services to provide our customers a seamless spiritual journey. These are most popular with customers in the age group above 50 years up to 65 years.

QWhich products and destinations gained popularity in the last year?
In the domestic market, destinations like Ladakh performed really well, also because of the perception about Kashmir in the past 3 years. We were surprised with the response to Bhutan and despite constraints of room inventory, the response has been good. Andaman also helped us generate good numbers. Barring the monsoon season, Andaman helps us ease out our business year-round. Rann of Kutch is another seasonal product that has gained very good traction. As far as the overseas division is concerned, Australia and New Zealand have been on an upswing year on year. Egypt was a big destination for us throughout the winter season, followed with Jordan. We added new destinations

- Vietnam and Cambodia to our portfolio that were well received In March 2018, the team handled a large groups to Japan (experiencing the Cherry Blossom), which is a great success. Europe continues to remain our top performing products. The FIT segment is also growing and helps us even out our business. Ad hoc FIT group is another segment that we are focusing on. We have dedicated back end teams and front line staff to cater to ad hoc FIT groups. Experiential travel in FIT is here to stay, and it is the only way an organised player like us can sustain the market.

QWhat are some of the operational challenges for SOTC?
Customers are well informed and very well researched. They are looking for newer experiences and niche offerings. Therefore it is important to curate new experiences to entice the customer. Our focus has always been being customer centric as this will further ensure that we take care of each and every aspect of their holiday and add immense value to our customers. Competition has increased because of influx of new players who are product specialists. The quality of skilled staff is a challenge and therefore talent acquisition is a concern.

QElaborate on your Perfect Moments product.
We launched the third edition of the coffee table book for Perfect Moments. The idea is to tap high-end luxury FIT customers through word-of-mouth publicity. Perfect Moments, Luxury Travel by SOTC seeks to redefine luxury travel cliches for connoisseurs. This is handled by a dedicated team of experts.
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