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Wednesday, 25 February, 2009, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

Hotel ka Guru, Travelguru's key to selling hotels online

As one of the first five entrants in the online travel space, Travelguru started off its online venture by offering air tickets and later strategically changed its focus from air tickets to hotels. Krupa Vora traces the marketing strategy of the Hotel Ka Guru…Travelguru
As one of the first few entrants in the online travel industry of India, Travelguru, in late 2005 started its operations by offering air tickets to end consumers. To create visibility and the brand awareness in the market space, Travelguru started promoting its products and services through panels at the rear of public transport buses in Mumbai and other metro cities. These were essentially used as a marketing tool to create the much needed visibility in the market. At the same time, the company also tested some hoardings as an effective marketing tool to disseminate information about the services offered.

In early 2006, Travelguru introduced ‘Travel cheap or travel free,’ campaign, which guaranteed a choice of the most attractive and lowest priced domestic airfares on its website. “The bus panels and hoardings were also used as an effective medium to let the travel industry partners know of our existence. The ‘Travel cheap or travel free’ was our way of assuring users best deals and anyone who found out a cheaper deal than Travelguru was given a free ticket,” recalls Ashwin Damera, CEO and Founder, Travelguru. The promotion showcased Travelguru’s unique proposition to travellers which was a innovative and patent technology that offered travellers more options at better prices than any other player in online space that time.

In late 2006, Travelguru also acquired, a website focused on hotel offerings. The acquisition was an achievement for the travel portal and also marked a strategic shift in the core focus – its product offering. Travelguru shifted from the traditional air ticket offerings to hotels in India. The strategy changed from being an air ticket booking portal to something that was not touched in the online space – hotel bookings. “Larger part of 2007 was spent in integrating hotel inventory to Travelguru’s website. The year 2007 was a quiet year, wherein regular marketing activities were conducted with no specific introduction of any campaign,” said Damera.

Hotel Ka Guru
Continuing its focus on hotels and branding the company offerings to end consumers, Travelguru introduced the most interactive consumer marketing initiative – Hotel Ka Guru, Travelguru. The ‘Hotel Ka Guru’ feature specialises in particular geographical locations that potential customers plan to visit. The customer had to call on the hotline numbers and each `guru,’ or expert in a specific geographical region, would provide information to the traveller which is city specific. For example, if a customer is a first-time visitor to Chennai and is seeking details on the best area and property to book a hotel stay, Travelguru’s ‘Chennai Ka Guru’ provides details on hotels, neighbourhood, local activities, entertainment spots, eateries, must-see packages etc. The unique initiative was supported by print ads to start with, followed by campaigns in other media. An engaging element of the ads is that the models featured as Hotel Gurus in the ads are real life Travelguru employees.

“This was by far the most successful marketing campaign which sort of broke the clutter and informed end consumers about our seriousness to deliver hotels online. We invested in training our reservation centre executives by having each senior member of Travelguru being assigned one city to train the executives. The senior member of the team was called the ‘Maha Guru’ who eventually trained the reservation executives to be the ‘Hotel Ka Guru,” stated Damera. Hotel Ka Guru covered close to 30 different cities and was also a motivating factor for the executives in Travelguru. To make things more interesting, one specific destination guru was also given an opportunity to be a specialist in another destination. The marketing initiative-Hotel Ka Guru supported in conveying the company’s service focus and expertise to Indian consumers.

marketing_strategy_2.jpgTravel Guide and TAP
After the introduction of the Hotel Ka Guru campaign, the company also introduced the ‘Travel Guide’ product with initial emphasis on off-beat destinations, and this product will expand to encompass all key destinations in India. The ‘Travel Guide’ offered destination updates either theme-wise like adventure, beaches, heritage, hills, pilgrimage and wildlife or by regions like North, East, South, Western India. To strengthen its presence in the Indian market, Travelguru launched ‘The Travelguru Affiliate Programme’ (TAP) where programme offered website owners an opportunity to generate additional revenue by promoting Travelguru’s products and services on their website. TAP provided the best incentives across the industry with its products and services that would be promoted on the affiliate’s website.

Conversations and More
To follow up on the successful campaign of ‘Hotel Ka Guru, Travelguru’, the company started another campaign titled ‘Conversations.’ With 150 per cent growth in business after the launch of Hotel Ka Guru, Travelguru,’ the new campaign ‘Conversations’ was an interactive initiative where customers could speak with destination specialist `gurus.’ `Conversations’ was launched to make the last campaign `Hotel Ka Guru, Travelguru’ more personal and interactive by focusing on real customer needs and Travelguru’s unique solutions for them. “The primary goal was to show how Travelguru offered the most hotel options and can provide the most value for money,” said Damera. To enter the retail market Travelguru in mid-2008 launched its retail network under the banner ‘Travelguru Holidays. Travelguru Holidays was launched in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Indore, Ahmedabad, and Ludhiana.

Offer driven promotions
Travelguru recently introduced the ‘Dream Holiday’ offer with SBI card. All SBI Platinum Credit Cardholder can avail flat 15 per cent discount while all other SBI credit card holders can avail flat ten per cent discount on domestic hotel and holiday bookings done through Travelguru and transacted through SBI credit card. Travelguru recently launched `Magic Holidays’ where customers can book one night stay at a hotel and get the next one free. `Magic Holidays’ is being offered on hotels ranging from budget to four-star properties across 36 cities with over 100 hotels in India.

Considering the current market scenario, Travelguru will bring out innovative marketing strategies and build the brand accordingly. “Our marketing promotions will be more promotion and offers driven then anything specific. Our promotions and offers will help build the brand,” stated Damera.
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