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Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 11 : 00 AM [IST]

Social media networking sites and UGC take centre stage at Travel Distribution Summit India 2009

The Internet has become the most lucrative channel for marketing. The offline medium is no match for the ‘click & go’ trend. The fourth edition of the Travel Distribution Summit India 2009 organised by EyeforTravel focused on the latest trends in global and Indian online travel space. Social media networking sites and User Generated Content were the key topics discussed among the panelists and delegates. Anita Jain presents the highlights of the two-day conference
Over the years, the online travel world has grown, barriers to enter the online space has reduced and today anyone can create a web presence. The rules for engaging the customer with the brand has changed since the advent of the Internet. Today travel companies have to explore a wide range of media to build their presence online and keep themselves at the forefront of the customer’s mind. This was evident at the recently concluded Travel Distribution Summit India 2009 (TDSI) organised by EyeforTravel in Mumbai. The event focused on the changing trends in the online travel space and highlighted the growing importance of social media networking sites, innovative ways of online marketing and sales as well as changing behavior patterns of customers booking online.

151009_if_2.jpg‘UGC’ takes centre stage
Social media networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. and video sites like Youtube were the fastest growing categories in the online media last year and grew steadily over the last six years, a fact that any marketer would be silly to ignore. During a business session, Sharat Dhall, Managing Director – India, TripAdvisor emphasised that the impact and reach of social media networking is tremendous and a marketer cannot afford to avoid social media channels and User Generated Content (UGC) as emerging marketing tools. “Clearly, conversations are taking place online, where users are talking about their experiences – negative or positive in an open environment and marketing experts should use this medium. Knowing the potential of social media networks and UGCs, experts have to identify the relevant community or site for their products and services to be able to get strong Return on Investments (RoI). It is important for a marketer to be transparent, honest and positive in responding to any type of feedback, be it negative or positive,” stated Dhall.

Savio Barretto, Marketing Manager, Google India said, “The scope offered by social media networks is immense and a marketer needs to not only connect two users but also ensure that the user connects with the product or brand and also recruit users to engage in interactive sessions, thus promoting the product or brand. They also need to anticipate the changing technology and keep pace with the same and eventually also protect their brand.” According to Forrester Research Inc., in approximately two years social networks will be more powerful than corporate web sites and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, as individual identities and relationships are built on this platform. Thus, social media will change CRM forever.

151009_if_3.jpgFuture of online travel
Each online market is different and takes its own time to evolve and mature based on the market conditions. The fact is that, online market needs to monitor itself to be able to grow with the potential it holds. Glenn Fogel, Executive Vice President Corporate Development, said, “If one has to look at the similarities and differences of the Indian online market as against the evolved markets, there have been a lot of similarities like excess capital, first mover thinking, many products, commission’s threat, Meta threat and entry of foreign players. Is it good and viable for an OTA to have many products or focus on one product and work towards it? Are Meta search engine threatening the OTA? Meta search engines have not been a threat but have been successful in driving traffic for OTAs. Foreign players entering the market will definitely have an effect on the local players.”

151009_if_4.jpgDhruv Shringi, Founder and Executive Director, said, “Online space is booming in India due to the lack of physical infrastructure. For instance, the Indian Railways online model has been the largest e-commerce website outside China, as Indians are comfortable to visit a cyber café, use credit cards and book a rail ticket online, as against standing in a queue for long hours. The online model of the Indian Railways has been the most successful one as it offers the convenience to end consumers.”  On hotel inventory, Shringi opined that the sector has immense potential and one needs to look for more options.

Deep Kalra, Founder and CEO, admitted the fact that the Indian market takes time to adapt to new business models. “The online market took time to be accepted. However, if one has to go by the numbers, the Indian online market has performed well compared to the Internet penetration. The Indian online market stands at 24 per cent, while the Internet penetration is as low as five per cent. The US online market stands at 60 per cent while the Internet penetration is 70 to 75 per cent, Europe online market stands at 50 per cent with Internet penetration of 50 per cent and China online market stands at 30 per cent with Internet penetration of 28 to 30 per cent. The B2B2C market is booming as there are a lot of Indian consumers who don’t have Internet access and are willing to book through a retail agent. The B2B business model is booming and one should look at capitalising on the same as it is a major growth area,” mentioned Kalra.

151009_if_5.jpgThe future of OTA segment has been highly debated upon many times. With the advent of international OTAs in the Indian market, the landscape of the online industry has changed dramatically. Shaun Dubash, Vice President, Business Development, said, “OTAs as a distribution channel help strongly to bring value to both suppliers and consumers. One of the main advantages the OTA can provide to the suppliers is ensuring their visibility to a larger database. This significantly helps the independent property owners. On the other hand, customers can be ensured of quality through videos and user comments. OTAs also help hotels for better conversion rates due to the concept of paying when booking.”

Nobody knows what the future holds but it is clear that the online travel sector in India is going to reach new heights through innovative marketing strategies and business models. Noel Swain, Vice President – Marketing, said, “The Indian online industry needs events like TDSI to know the latest updates and trends in the global and Indian travel market. This event was helpful in enhancing the knowledge about the importance of social networking sites and how OTAs can use it; increasing online fraud in bookings and how OTAs can minimise it; the changing trends in marketing and sales in online travel. Thus, the event provided an overall review of the Indian online travel sector and preview of its future.”
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