This week, Travel Daily India chats with Vishal Suri, managing director of SOTC, about his company’s latest initiatives and the current trends in the Indian travel sector…
Q) SOTC has launched initiatives like Holiday Bazaar and Holiday Essentials Kit. What has the response been like so far?
Response to initiatives like these has been very positive. We created these initiatives keeping in mind the customers needs and preferences. We at SOTC have put together a “Holiday Kit” of all the essential items that a customer must take along on his holiday. This kit has been designed based on extensive research and also after speaking to our well-travelled customers.
The concept of Holiday Bazaar is associated with great offers at the most affordable price. To make holidays memorable for all Indian travellers planning to explore international destinations, this initiative seeks to provide an exceptional vacation experience to travelers at the best rates and is extremely popular with our customer base.
We have been performing significantly well in the Indian market. The tourism industry is one of the most flourishing industries in India and we are seeking to further bring up the satisfaction level among our customers by offering innovative holiday offerings. We look forward to tap the boundless expertise and talent pool available at SOTC to enhance the holiday experience of the travelers.
Q) How is the Indian outbound sector performing in business and leisure markets?
Indian travellers’ mind-set has evolved significantly over the past few years. Indians are increasingly travelling abroad. The travel and tourism industry has emerged as one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors globally.
Much of India’s outbound growth may be attributed to increasing disposable income, decreasing cost of international airfares and availability of affordable travel packages. In particular, the rise of low-cost carriers in India has impacted the way Indians travel as they now have more alternatives, beyond domestic travel, when planning for short holidays. Travel is seen as a mode of self-realisation, exploration and experiencing different forms of lifestyles. Leisure travel is not a product of luxury but rather considered a necessity to consolidate one’s energy. Explore new regions, amongst both young upper-middle-class Indians is gaining prominence. With regards to the trends and the evolution of the Indian Market, Customised Holidays have certainly gained prominence.
Customised holidays is the growth segment of the future. The destination portfolio has become broader, similar to development in Europe. Indians are getting more exploratory and are travelling to all corners of the world.
With the growth of the online travel industry, in all its different guises, people now have a lot more information at their fingertips and the research process has become a larger, richer part of holiday planning. At the same time, travel industry providers have grown exponentially in India, so visitors now have more options than ever. In turn, this means that India has to work harder to keep up with demand, and demands.
Indians are starting to take their holidays seriously. Today, we find that people are travelling through the year; they are taking many shorter breaks, looking at the destinations that are a few hours’ distance away. They are also going for more experiential holidays. Budget travel is on the rise, where people are willing to compromise on accommodation and travel expenses. We have seen an increased interest from non-metro cities. Long weekends have changed the way travellers and the tourism industry look at the Indian traveller. This has created a market for alternate travel possibilities such as recently observed growth in festive tourism, tiger tourism, wedding tourism, monsoon tourism and the like.
Q) Which are the other destinations you are looking at for expansion?
Constant innovation is the key to succeed in the travel industry. And for us to steer SOTC to even greater heights, we are continuously evolving to cater to the rapidly expanding and advancing customer base. SOTC is a leader in offering enhanced and distinctive holiday experiences to holidaymakers. We introduced a new initiative called “Co-Created”. It allows our valuable customers to be a part of their holiday creation process. Customers across key markets of India spelt out their most important expectations, destinations from a Holiday and thus allowing us to enhance and deliver an enriching holiday experience to meet their expectations.
We offer products for every segment and budgets. Apart from bringing in new destinations, we have added new experiences and products to top destinations. Some destinations are Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, Peru, Scandinavia, Vietnam and Cambodia, Lisbon, Sorrento, Israel, Florence and Prague, to name a few.
Q) How does your growth strategy differ from your online competitors?
For us online is not about reduction in customer acquisition cost but allows customer multi-channel options to engage with us while planning their dream holiday. Our endeavour as a business is to make our customer acquisition more efficient and we have made investments in a robust CRM solution which also integrates with our online/digital platform. Our focus is on customer convenience and we allow the customer to seamlessly interact with us across all platforms (holiday outlets, call centre & online); our processes are being engineered to allow seamless handover of a customer transaction across these channels.
We have observed that walk-in bookings are still popular with the customers. Customers prefer to be personally counseled while making the final bookings. Personally meeting the travel agents gives a sense of assurance to the travelers and their counseling helps in enhancing the holiday experience of the travelers.
With many first time travelers, they prefer to be guided by expert travel agents who they can trust for guidance and advice. Holidays have become an indulgence these days and before splurging on the tour packages, travelers seek to ensure that they are being offered superior value and services. This confidence can only be gained through interaction with the travel agents.
Q) What are the key priorities for SOTC in 2016?
Customer Centricity and value driven affordability in all our holiday propositions, driving Growth through Value Creation and embracing technology and improving online capability. These priorities are apt, contemporary and relevant to our business and will set the way forward for 2016.