Senior Vice President - Product & Operations (Outbound), Thomas Cook India
Furnishing the travel rage
Tapping the current travel trends, interests of the emerging Indian travellers and the growing usage of internet and technology; Thomas cook India has developed innovative ways to make travel easy and accessible to all, says Shibani Phadkar.
How exactly has travel business been this holiday season for outbound travel?
Travellers from India have looked at the Christmas and New Year holiday as an impactful opportunity to indulge in short breaks. We at Thomas Cook India have witnessed an impressive upswing of over 26 per cent for international holidays.
Short haul destinations such as Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have been in demand due to easy access of an under 5 hour flight.
Destinations that have been trending for long hauls are our group departures to France, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia.
What kind of growth do you anticipate in the travel and hospitality industry?
The upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand, is anticipated to garner keen interest from Indian cricket aficionados – not merely to watch the matches live on ground, but equally to explore the delightful diversity that both destinations offer. The Trans-Tasman joint visa agreement, for the match is truly an impactful strategic move by the Australian and New Zealand Governments- easing documentation and building catalysng momentum in fuelling demand.
At Thomas Cook India, our sales teams are reporting a strong 25 per cent increase in queries, with interest not just from the corporate world, but also from Gen Y, ad hoc groups of friends and family, also the discerning luxury traveller; and interestingly MICE groups too. Despite Australia and New Zealand being long haul destinations and prices at peak levels, the Indian consumers’ growing interest augurs well for Sports Tourism.
With ground-breaking developments like the Irish-UK Visa Deal taking place, this year is certain to enjoy higher outbound travel for both leisure as well as MICE travel.
For 2015, we also are looking forward to number of newer travel trends in reference to special interest tours surfacing this year whether they are culinary tours, wine & whiskey trails, mono destinations, treks & adventure etc
How is Thomas Cook different from the existing players in the market?
Our unique hybrid “clicks + bricks” strategy – is truly empowering to Indian customers, offering them the entire spectrum of travel related services, with the speed and simplicity of our online platform and the convenience and reassuring comfort of our extensive offline network – for personal interaction, comfort, personalisation and peace of mind is a potent combination of range and reach.
Given the wide range of people across various stages of comfort with use of digital and e-commerce solutions that we serve in India – this hybrid model works well because, we are geared to address a travel customer’s needs right across the spectrum of their needs and comfort – from pure online to pure offline – and most significantly for every stage in between, where we believe the real market opportunity today lies!
What are the innovative measures that one can expect to see in this space in the times to come? How proactive is the organisation in promoting novelties in the itineraries?
We at Thomas Cook India, focus on providing travellers with end-to-end travel solutions. Our research teams are constantly engaged towards catering to broad segments of travellers through our innovative offerings. Our research team highlighted the emergence of an impatient last-minute traveller and hence the launch of our “48 Hour Holidays” product; the 48 hour processing time for a French visa makes it an amazing fit!
Our innovative, “City Breaks” offer bite size options with flexibility and a delightful diversity of add-ons to as many as 91 favourite global cities.
The “Personalised Holidays”, offers unique flexibility and freedom and creates dream itineraries that include stays in castles in Britain, a tree hotel in Malaysia or even a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff in California!
“Fusion Holidays”, brings a unique two pronged benefit to a new market segment- value to cater to increasing price sensitivity while respecting individuality with the flexibility and freedom of personalised options.
For the sophisticated palate of today’s discerning Chandigarh traveller, Thomas Cook India’s luxury brand “Indulgence” has created uber chic experiences from sightseeing with a twist in New Zealand-on a Harley Davidson or truffle and beer trails in Belgium; decadent spa and wellness programs at South Africa’s award winning Karkloof spa set amidst a private game reserve; Chiang Mai Thailand’s 45m abseil down a 350-year old banyan tree, or Canada’s spectacular chasing the aurora borealis escapades!
Thomas Cook India has also created a specialised “University Tours” – aimed at providing a glimpse into the university life experiences with visits to US colleges, insightful interactions with both counsellors and students and in-depth meetings with university admission advisors. The student community’s rising interest to examine and assess the right university has not only resulted in bookings of around 4-5 tours but also a 15 per cent surge in queries from Tier I & II cities of India.
Additionally, our travel quiz competition, “Travel Quest” offers students from classes 6 to 9 a wonderful opportunity to explore their knowledge about the travel and to put it to the test as well. Travel Quest touches base with students through an innovative and fresh approach to encourage awareness among young Indians.
Our educational arm, “Centre of Learning (COL)” with a team of top professionals in the industry, strive to develop talent for the organisation as well as for the industry. We have conceptualised appropriate programmes and training workshops, in partnership with prominent institutes to build talent and raise the benchmark in the industry.
We have also focused on the untapped opportunity of addressing the special needs of senior citizens by introducing a product line “Silver Breaks” to offer senior citizen an opportunity to travel where they do not have to worry or compromise. Our specialised “Silver Breaks” product line itineraries offer support for special dietary needs, on- trip medical assistance, handpicked elder friendly hotels, experienced tour managers accompaniment, pre departure meetings, entertainment evenings and high quality easy access vehicles.
Another trend that we have witnessed is, the world of web has recently shifted its interface from desktops/laptops to mobiles, especially among business travellers who are getting increasingly dependent on their mobiles during their official travel. In this backdrop, it’s natural to expect the travel management to have a mobile interface. The development is already on-going and we will be launching an app from our business travellers shortly.
Our integration of online travel technology with “ExpenseAnywhere”, a global expense management solution has enhanced the capability of our solution and offering to the market. The technology offers end-to-end automation of the travel and expense processes for an organisation.
The recent launch of ‘Holiday Savings Account’, seeks to cater to the Indian who aspires to a dream holiday but the upfront payment unfortunately creates a distinct barrier. The “Borderless Prepaid Card” in collaboration with MasterCard made us the first non-banking entity in India to launch a Prepaid Foreign Exchange Travel Card that empowers travellers with the option of loading as many as eight currencies on a single card.
In addition to these products, we have also geared up for the summer of 2015, with the launch of our Summer Holidays packages. As we enter into the new season, our focus is to have innovative products with an “honest” pricing driven by value indicators. Our products have 3 clear differentiators: Premium/Value/Budget. In lieu of this, we are doing away with discounts and ensuring we have very competitive pricing strategy and cater to a larger travel hungry yet time constrained Indians with value for money products.
What is the difference between the earlier Indian tourists and those of today? What are the principal factors behind this evolution from your experience?
For the traditional Indian, visiting destinations was the major focus and they would readily settle for mere sightseeing while travelling. The traditional Indian’s main focus would be to indulge in at least one long holiday annually. Today, however, the evolved discerning traveller looks for a more experiential expedition rather than a vanilla vacation. Experiential travel is the main focus of an Indian traveller and various travel trends like hobby based itineraries, sports and adventure tourism, culinary travel, educational tours as well as religious tourism are gaining momentum.
Today a single annual vacation has been replaced by a series of short breaks throughout the year. The number of long weekends, air fare discounts, more flying options to choose from, international destinations choosing different methods to woo the Indian audience and the number of attractive travel deals offered by tour advisors have been instrumental in creating this trend. Also, the discerning Indian traveller is getting more and more habituated to online booking. The increase in broadband penetration, safer modes of payments and the commoditisation of tickets, air or rail, have further added . The online space offers a viable platform for the end supplier such as airlines and hotels to manage distressed inventory; spur demand via early bird offers, increase loyalty with online frequent flyer benefits.
Increased marketing via traditional & digital media ensures impactful consumer visibility and awareness, further propelling the shift.
Which destinations/players are most dynamic and proactive and have the potential to pick up?
Today increasing numbers of destinations are looking at India as a potential market. Short haul destinations as mentioned earlier are in top demand due to easy access. Recent trends indicate emerging interest for fresh options such as Oman, Japan, Flanders and Korea.