Travel and tour operators in India need to look at ways to provide new experiences for their guests to be successful in a highly competitive space, according to one of the industry’s most respected professionals.
Mr Himmat Anand, the founder and CEO of Jaipur-based Tree of Life Resort & Spa, says that tourism business in the country has often tended to get stuck in traditional offerings that have remained unchanged.
In his talk at the International Conference on Travel Technology (ICTT) India on how traditional tour operators can handle competition from online players, Mr Anand said: “Look, for example, at the welcome given to tourists in north India, with the tilak, the aarti and the garland – it has stayed the same for decades, down to the flowers used for the garland. While traditions are nice, it is time for the industry to rethink the way we do business.”
He was of the opinion that tourism is yet to become a priority for India as a whole, which leaves the industry to device its own ways to push growth. “Kerala is perhaps the only state to excel in tourism; most others have been left behind,” Mr Anand said. “Tour operators in Kerala are also successful because they are no longer handling agents for people sitting elsewhere, which are a great business model.”
He advised tour operators to specialise and find niche areas like weddings, meetings and incentives. “Give customers new experiences, don’t make it repetitive. Guests are your ambassadors; if you provide them great service they will effectively do your marketing for free through word-of-mouth.”
He also urged them to leverage the power of digital space through online video marketing, creating partnerships with bloggers, rewarding customer loyalty, engaging through social media, including responsible travel in packages and using powerful and unique visual imagery to promote themselves.
Sessions on the third and final day of ICTT India on Sunday dealt with the subjects of review management and handling competition, revenue management and business intelligence, generating leads and the future of travel technology.
India’s first conference on travel technology, organised by the Association of Tourism Trade Organizations, India (ATTOI), with the support of Kerala Tourism, attracted more than 250 delegates and featured 23 sessions by 17 eminent speakers on a number of subjects relevant to the industry.
Mr Avijit Arya, the founder and CEO of Internet Moguls, in his talk on managing reviews, pointed out that as much as 85% of hotel business can be lost due to poor reviews resulting from poor customer service.
“Most of the reviews for a hotel are a function of what is being done offline, at the property,” he said. “Travellers tend to get influenced by people they haven’t even met and these days they are always connected, so they have an opportunity to share their experiences instantly and it goes viral. Reviews are the next level of word-of-mouth and bad reviews can be very damaging.”
His advice to hoteliers was to see reviews as a constructive platform for feedback, respond in a timely manner, use professional language and use search engine friendly content on the internet.
Ms Sheila Scarborough, a US-based writer and speaker specialising in tourism, said that the social media space must be seen by businesses more as a platform for social interaction than simply a medium for promoting themselves.
“Don’t get wound up about the tool. You are still the same business, just having access to a powerful communication medium. Act the same way online and offline and give yourself bigger ears to listen to the customer and respond accordingly,” she said.
Tour operators at the conference were given tips on how to create a niche in the crowded online space by consultant and web entrepreneur Mr Jaydip Parikh, the founder and CEO of digital marketing company Tej SolPro.
Mr Tarun Lakhanpal, the General Manager for the Lemon Tree Company, spoke about revenue management strategies for hotels and maximising revenues through value-added ancillary services.
Social Media was among the most discussed topic at the three-day conference with speakers elaborating on how the power of the internet could be leveraged by the travel industry.
UK-based social networking entrepreneur, Mr. Philip Calvert in a presentation earlier said people are in the ‘Do It Yourself’mode and social media is the best platform to creatively engage with them. “Friends and connections will influence travel decisions and social media should also be used as a listening tool,” he said. Mr. Calvert spoke on the trends in social media such as powerful imagery and visuals, short content, visualisation, and engagement and emphasised the importance of using info graphic tools such as icharts, visual.ly, infogram and instagram strategically.
Elaborating on the new revenue slogan SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile), Mr Siddharth Dabhade, Industry Manager Travel for Google India, spoke about the convergence of social, local and mobile mediums. “Indians have a high propensity to share on social networks. E –commerce is expected to grow to 40 billion in 2015 and 80% of it will be travel customers,” he said.
He pointed out that the five stages of travel namely dreaming, researching, booking, experiencing and sharing will all be greatly influenced by the latest advancements in technology.
Mr Karthick Prabu, General Manager, Asia, Tnooz, India, a thought leader in the travel technology space spoke on mobile application for service industry, its need and value generation. In tune with his stand that ‘Travel is mobile’, he advocated some tips for making the best use of mobiles such as building a mobile web, compressing images, placing tap to call links and banking on location based services.
“Cost reach and trust get better online and therefore distribution is getting more and more online”, said Ms Namrita Sehgal , Director of internet marketing at Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, India. Ms. Sehgal whose forte lies in creating next-gen marketing solutions that are at the intersection of business, brand and technology spoke on how and why it is important to distribute a hotel online.
Mr Bicky Carlra, Founder & President of TraVision Inc, centred his presentation on the need to sell on value additions and not discounts. “Customise your products by tiering them. Offload last minute inventory for much less”, he said. He stressed on the importance of price parity and rate integrity how to effectively use tools such as early bird discounts and friend rates.
ICTT India, organised at The Leela, Kovalam from June 7-9, 2013, is a first-of-its-kind, aimed at helping the country’s tourism sector take advantage of the huge marketing potential of the web and social media.