With plastic money (credit and debit cards) being the most favoured mode of payment amongst the public, Online Travel Agencies bears the surcharge each time a customer uses his credit card on their portal. “We are expecting the government to look into the issue and show us a better solution,” says Manish Amin, Co-Founder and CIO, Yatra.com. Manish is a veteran of the travel industry with over 20 years experience in the Travel and IT industry, 15 of which were with Ebookers where in his last role he was the head of technology infrastructure. In an interview with Ankush Kumar, he talks about the transformation that Indian Tourism industry has undergone with the proliferation of smartphones, social media and online bookings. He also talks about the challenges that OTA’s are facing with respect to infrastructure and regulatory framework.
How do you see the evolution of Indian Tourism industry in the last one decade? What will you consider as the most significant incident that has transformed this sector?
The Indian Tourism Industry has evolved drastically over the last decade. The progression started somewhere in 2002 when IRCTC transitioned to online bookings and since then the industry has moved leaps and bounds. From rail tickets to flights and buses to now hotel bookings being available to the consumer over a single click, travel and tourism has grown to become one of the largest serviced industry in India. There are lot of attributes to the development- rapidly increasing purchasing power, evolving lifestyle and increased awareness amongst the people to name a few. Additionally, Online Travel Agencies such as Yatra have taken the tourism market by storm as they offer value for money/economical holiday destinations which has also been a key driver of growth. With India being one of the fastest growing internet markets combined with smartphone penetration and social media influence have all led to a lot more inquisitiveness which in turn has driven people to explore and travel the world.
What kind of opportunities and challenges Yatra has seen in India so far ? Any major roadblocks that the company is still facing?
Yatra started its journey in 2006 and we have overcome a lot of challenges along the nine years of our journey. One of the biggest challenges which we still face are basic infrastructure issues which include low bandwidth and power problems. This is a major hindrance which has also led to limitation of content being available on the portal. Another challenge for us when we started out was the lack of real time information. Yatra was in fact the first OTA that was able to display real time rates from airline websites for its consumers.
One of the opportunities that came forward was to tap the spending power of the customers. At Yatra, we look at foreseeing trends amongst our consumers so that we help provide products that are best suited for their needs, thus helping us maintain our share of being one of the leading online travel portals in the country. Another key opportunity is the smartphone usage increasing manifolds in the country. The user is now on the move and hence it is important for the information to be available at all times. OTAs have definitely been able to reach their end consumer with personalized products and offerings because of the smartphone penetration.
How important is the role of IT for your business? How effectively it has been used for expansion and growth?
IT like in any organization has been a very big contributor to our business. Technology in Yatra has always been driven by three aspects – sustainability, security and speed. It has been integral to our system and has been a useful medium across all segments- basic processing of transactions, helping customers interact with the organization, managing remote offices, front end website to name a few. IT has played a strategic role in our business expansion as it has helped develop tools to collect, store, manage, secure and distribute data effectively.
What are some of the innovative applications/ solutions launched by your company in recent times?
At Yatra, we are always making a continued effort to innovate. For holiday bookings, our internal system is built in such a way that you can browse, book and confirm your holiday packages in real time. Holiday booking has a lot of components (flights, hotels etc) and the system checks everything in real time before confirming someone’s booking. In addition, you can also tailor your package according to your wish and itinerary. Keeping the trend of online payments in mind, we also offer eCash where people can easily get refunds and park their money to be used in the future. With Yatra’s eCash option, people can not only enjoy hassle free refunds but also benefit by earning on every booking as well.
Please share some of the latest IT trends that are gaining popularity in this sector?
These days everyone is online and we foresee phenomenal adoptions by businesses in technology to transform themselves in the sector. Cloud computing is definitely going to be a natural evolution in the industry. Also, with cloud servers now being physically located in the country, this looks like a definite move by a lot of players. Additionally, Social Media Marketing has also seen a lot of interest by businesses. There is a special focus on this segment as social media is now considered the best way to reach out to the public. Companies are conversing, taking suggestions, running campaigns dedicated to social media in order to develop a rapport with the audience and widen their reach. Lastly, Mobile innovation is always a key aspect. Enterprises are continuously looking at innovative ways of engaging with people through their personal devices.
What are your policy expectations from the Indian Government? Are you satisfied with the current regulatory framework?
We have always seen that the role of the government in tourism development has been redefined from that of a regulator to that of a catalyst. While the government is showing a renewed focus on the travel industry, there are still some major loopholes that need to be addressed. Infrastructure, as mentioned earlier needs a lot of attention. The bandwidth needs to be streamlined in order for us to effortlessly communicate with the people. Also, payment gateways for the eCommerce sites needs attention. Currently, Yatra bears the surcharge each time a customer uses his credit card on our portal. With plastic money (credit and debit cards) being the most favoured mode of payment amongst the public, we are expecting the government to look into the issue and show us a better solution.