Skyscanner India's boss Reshmi Roy believes that having a great product and unique features is the best long-term marketing strategy to build up a loyal customer base.
Her official job title is "senior growth manager and product owner - India", and building the brand and user base needs both growth and product input.
Conversations around customer acquisition costs and marketing spend "come up constantly" she said, but Skyscanner India "is not playing the game" when it comes to the high-cost discounts, incentives and brand ambassadors favoured by the country's leading OTAs.
"All our marketing spend needs to be ROI-driven, and we're no different in India from other Skyscanner sites in that it's all about the measurement. What we hope will win over the customer in the long-term is a superior product, providing features that other do not provide."
Currently its main marketing activity is via its own social channels and PR. Roy noted that data-driven initiatives work well in India, with its self-explanatory "Best Time to Book" campaign earlier this year garnering lots of mainstream attention.
Content is also an important element in its brand-building approach - with its customers showing interest in general destination-based posts as well as information around visa-free travel.
Earlier this year, in a Medium post Skyscanner explained how, globally, it was "embedding consumer PR into a growth structure".
The competitive landscape in India is currently working in Skyscanner's favour, Roy insists. There are other metas in the market - a home-grown meta in Ixigo, corporate competition from Kayak India, with Roy also namechecking Google Flights, which launched in India early in 2015, as being on its radar.
"Price comparison is popular in India generally, across other verticals, and Indians like a deal, so they can be disloyal at the same time," she said.
Competition in the meta space is dependent on a healthy ecosystem of suppliers willing to take part in the channel. "The OTAs are our partners, so competition in that space is good for us," she added.
In its early days. Skyscanner India found that the OTAs had "some reservations, but soon saw us as another distribution channel". One aspect which appealled to them was Skyscanner's strong international presence.
Today, metas are more established, while the distinctions between OTAs and meta have become less clear-cut. But there have been other changes over the past few years which Skyscanner India has worked to its advantage - namely voice search and bots.
Voice search in particular is of interest to Skyscanner's OTA partners, Roy said. "OTAs and others are interested in more than just getting traffic to their website," she said. "They work with us because we are ahead of the curve when it comes to getting tech innovations, such as voice and bots, into the market, and they value us for that."
Its English-language Facebook Messenger bot, which launched in India at the same time as the global launch in May2016, has handled some 1.3 million conversations, "which makes India one of our most engaged audiences and confirms the appetite among some Indian travellers for the channel".
The Messenger bot uses natural language processing to provide up to date and contextually accurate responses to complex questions by connecting with various Skyscanner assets such as its flights API. The bots learn from every user interaction and feed information back into the AI systems to continuously optimize and improve.
Skyscanner India is very much plugged in to strategy of the global mothership, which includes its facilitated booking mechanism. It is live on the Indian site with Singapore-based low-cost carrier Scoot as its launch - and only so far - partner.
"We believe that [facilitated booking] is the way forward, giving users a seamless experience within Skyscanner, not transferring to other sites," she said, saying that early interest from consumers and suppliers has been positive.
"We are running iterations and tests all the time to make this work for consumers and suppliers," she said, hinting that the blockage in getting more facilitated bookability onto the site is caused by suppliers' tech issues rather than anything at Skyscanner's end.
"The market sentiment from suppliers is generally good for the product, but it's a question about their ability to integrate with us effectively, rather than their not wanting to take part."
Related reading from tnooz:
Ixigo predicts machine learning will make the difference (July17)
Goomo raises $50 million to challenge online travel giants of India (Jun17)
Skyscanner’s take on the future of distribution (March17)