Hoping for a bumper Christmas harvest after a slowdown, Cleartrip has lined up a marketing campaign, various discounts,...
- Hoping for a bumper Christmas harvest after a slowdown, Cleartrip has lined up a marketing campaign, various discounts, and special products to make the most of this month.
- Having a multi-market strategy across a few international geographies has helped Cleartrip set a strong foothold in India, despite the economic slowdown.
- We spoke to Indroneel Dutt, CFO, Cleartrip to understand how hopeful over-the-air market is for Christmas, what lies ahead for the industry, investment plans for marketing, and the company’s vision.
With the economic slowdown, the travel industry also took a hit. It only picked up in the latter half of the year -- during the festive season starting from September. Cleartrip, however, had an edge in the market for 50% of its business is based out of India. It is present in eight markets and India, UAE and KSA are its strongest. It has captured about 18-20% market share in India.
This year, Cleartrip booked 15 million flight tickets, hotel room nights, and in-destination experiences through its platforms and grew at a rate of 20%.
Cleartrip is in full swing to leverage the opportunity that Christmas brings. It has launched initiatives like ‘Cleartrip for Work,’ which makes corporate fares available to individual travellers and partnership with PayBack India to offer affordability. It will also continue to market how it solves customer problems in its B2C communications.
We spoke to Indroneel Dutt, CFO, Cleartrip to understand how hopeful over-the-air market is for Christmas, what lies ahead for the industry, investment plans for marketing, and the company’s vision.
December is a month when a lot of people plan their travels. So what are your expectations? How are you Creating a pull-factor for Cleartrip?
The travel sentiment picked up in the latter part as we approached the festive season and we saw an increased buying behaviour closer to the festive season. Additionally, being the largest OTA in the Middle East, Cleartrip enjoys a significant share of the India – ME corridor which is a busy route during Diwali.
The aviation market in the country is witnessing a broad slowdown for various reasons. As an OTA, this is not the first time we are seeing such cycles and believe this slowdown is just a blip. India being the fastest-growing
Dominated mainly by group and family bookings, we see that India is all set to spend some quality time travelling with near and dear ones this winter. Winter travel has grown big for the metro as well as non-metro-based travellers this year. Overall, we are seeing an 8% increase in fares over last year for the upcoming Christmas-New Year period. We expect the prices to increase further as the holidays approach. We are cautiously optimistic about the travel zeal being high this winter. Recently, we have made some very interesting announcements like the launch of Cleartrip for Work which makes corporate fares available to individual travellers and partnership with PAYBACK India for our customers to make the most of their travel budget and will continue to keep our focus on going deep into solving customer problems.
Which was the most buzzing place? How many flight tickets were sold and hotel rooms were booked this year?
With over 15 million flight tickets, hotel room nights and in-destination experiences and activities sold annually through its platforms, Cleartrip today occupies a leading market position in the Air, Accommodation and Experiences categories. The festive seasons mark one of the peak periods of sales during the year.
This year North East was a big attraction for the travellers. With the rains subsided and the winters yet to come, Guwahati and Bagdogra were among the top leisure destinations. Kochi, Jaipur were popular as well. Goa continued to be the choicest place for those looking to take a break during the festive time. On the international front, we saw the trajectory of festive travel move to towards SEA with Bangkok, Singapore, Phuket and Colombo being among the popular destinations that travellers headed to.
When you say Cleartrip has introduced several groundbreaking new features and services and has numerous firsts in the online travel industry to its name, can you tell us what were the initiatives that make you ground-breaking?
We are a digital-first company, and digital is pretty much at the core of what we do, how we were born, and who we are. While we are today credited for our pioneering approach and introducing many industry-firsts in the travel space, the key driving factor has always been to provide a superlative user experience for our customers. I am glad to talk about some of these. In April 2012, Cleartrip became the first company to launch a split-screen search feature to facilitate round-trip search results. Till then you could see only one-way details in one screen. In our knowledge, this was a global-first.
While the online payments ecosystem was still in its nascent stage, Cleartrip in March 2012, launched Expressway India’s first stored card solution on mobile. In 2015, Cleartrip became the first Indian OTA to featured on the Apple watch. Cleartrip continued the streak with the introduction of multi-city-bookings and then the first app globally to allow in-app amendments. Later it became the first Indian OTA to launch the most comprehensive set of experiences under the brand name of Cleartrip Activities ( formerly called Cleartrip Local).
Designed to save travellers who need to change their travel schedule from the hefty charges associated with amending a flight booking, Flexifly is first such offering by an OTA introduced by Cleartrip in 2019.
Our latest offering Cleartrip for Work, democratises corporate travel and makes the benefits of corporate travel available to individuals travellers. This means that travellers across the board can get all that a corporate fares has to offer (free amendments, free meals, reduced cancellation fee) in the slick Cleartrip experience that our customers love us for, and not be bogged down by archaic corporate travel environment.
Can you walk us through your larger marketing strategy?
Simply put, our marketing strategy is an extension of our product-first strategy. Our consumers have choices and we are extremely conscious that they come back to us repeatedly because of our absolute commitment to understanding our customer problems and requirements and solving for them. Our Marketing stack follows the same pattern by always being at the side of the consumer but not on their face. We pride ourselves in being a distinct brand which is always there, always trustworthy yet doesn’t create unwarranted intrusions in an already cluttered social habitat.
We leverage machine-learning driven customisation, to offer hyper-personalised suggestions to our customers to help them plan their trip and activities in an optimal manner.
What are your revenue expectations for the year?
We are on the path of clocking a total revenue in excess of $100 M in FY20. Globally, as a business, we clock close to $1.8 billion worth of gross booking value (GBV).
What would be the main factors driving your growth this year -- helping you reach your set targets?
Our multi-market strategy across key international emerging geographies has played an important role in establishing Cleartrip amongst the industry frontrunners in the global travel technology domain.
The markets that we are present in are at various points of the maturity curve. We have been growing at an aggregate rate of over 30% globally in the last four years. India growth is around 20%, which is higher than the market growth rate. The markets outside of India are growing at a rate of 40%+.
Some of the key trends you have lately observed in the industry and amongst consumers?
The new age traveller is evolving from the emulative approach to creating a bespoke experience where they make a hyper customised itinerary for one self-based on personal preferences.
The theme here revolves around making travel truly experiential. Through experiential trips, travelers immerse themselves in the native culture and history of their chosen destination.
Travel inspired by culinary experiences is gaining popularity. Such trips let you unwind from your daily routine in a culinary experience that makes your travel truly experiential. This particularly clicks with International customers and lately domestic millennials as well. Food tours, adventure travel, and music tourism are other emerging trends in this space.
Which are some of your strongest markets, where are your expansion plans?
Today we are the 2nd largest OTA in India. With over 60% of the total market share, we are the largest online travel portal, as well as one of the top consumer businesses in the Middle-East region. We have also been rapidly expanding our presence in the SAMENA region (South Asia, Middle East and North Africa) and more than 50% of our business comes from outside India.
Cleartrip continues to expand into additional markets in the Middle East and North Africa as we reinforce our position to be the emerging market OTA. Additionally, we have several pilot tests running in a number of countries including Jordan and Lebanon. Newer markets are being continuously added into the pilot test as we look to expand our overall network and product base.
Some of the key innovation and technologies that you have invested in lately or planning to do in the near future?
The driving vision for Cleartrip, since its inception, has been to leverage technology to simplify travel for our customers. Machine learning (ML) and data science are two of the most prominent technologies that we use to solve major user issues. We use data analytics and ML to streamline discovery and provide a smooth booking process. We also use data science models for cashback optimisation, offering more personalised deals to users.
Cleartrip is investing in next-generation technologies to create better end-user solutions and build greater efficiencies. We have deployed Robotics Process Automation (RPA) to remove process redundancies across key functions such as finance and customer experience. Using RPA, we have diminished the scale of operational task time from weeks to hours.
Voice is another technology that we have invested in.
Reflecting back, how has your journey been? What is your focus area today at Cleartrip? Coming from a travel industry yourself, how often do you travel?
As Cleartrip turns a teenager, this is a good time to reflect on the journey that started 13 years ago. What has changed most significantly are some of the opportunity statements that we were trying to solve then vs. what we are trying to solve now. We started with the idea of ‘making travel simple’. At that point in time, making travel simple meant the ability to run a transaction without having it fail halfway through, optimizing and compressing the packet sizes of data so that it can be done in a lower volume bandwidth connection, or finding content which was not readily available and making it available online.
I had once put by mistake Seat 13 C as my residential address and that should tell you how often I travel. Some of the best stories of my life are found on the pages of my passport.