Indian tour operators believe a 100% online or tech-enabled world will not work for local travellers, with face-to-face service still vitally important.
First of all, Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice chairman, Mercury Travels says face-to-face service will never go out of the equation for travel shoppers and the so-called Internet Of Things will not lead the next wave of evolution in the industry.
"The internet is fantastic at mass distribution, but it fails when there is a face-to-face service needed. The next big thing is not going to come from 'Internet Of Things', rather it is going to come from services.
"In future, either it is going to be 'Internet Of Services' or it is going to be 'Internet + Other Things That Need Physical Service'."
Kakkar substantiates his claim by saying that 65% of India's GDP comes from the services sector, whereas the contribution from web-enabled business is just 1.6% of India's GDP.
The Mercury exec was sharing a stage with Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook India, at a recent Bangalore conference (STB-WIT India Travel Executive Forum) run by the Singapore Tourism Board and WebInTravel.
Menon says Thomas Cook India customers are familiar with technology, however, they still desire a face-to-face service.
Thomas Cook India has used technology to run all of its branches in India - last year, for example, the company invested in a CRM system that works in the background of all its 200 branches and 159 franchisees across the country.
This effort by Thomas Cook India was to ensure that the brand maintains a consistent message across all of its consumer-facing channels.
"Currently, only a very small portion of our transaction comes via our online channel.
"Where we are heading, irrespective of the channel the customer reaches us (online, agency store), the touch and feel will be the same."
Thomas Cook India has also eliminated physical brochures across all of its branches, replacing instead with tablets. Now, when customers walk into a store, the agent will explain the product offering with a tablet that has rich media content for each product.
"From the next season, our tour managers will start carrying tablets, this will allow customers to give feedback instantly, given the fact that Indian customers love to complain.
"We are going to leverage technology, but without losing the face-to-face service. We will be a hybrid player."
Though there are a number of online trip planning services in India, tour operators say that the time spent researching a trip online isn't productive, and only human service will help.
"The amount of time user spends researching about the trip is significant. People spend their precious time in planning."
While comparing tour operators service with online travel agencies, Kakkar claimed face-to-face service is just one of their competitive advantage, adding:
"Internet is good at pre-trip. But, during the trip - when a travellers loses a passport in Greece, calling their online travel service provider won't help much. But, we have had cases where we helped in 20 minutes.
"An OTA cannot deliver high quality service that we do - an end to end service - right from passport processing to providing discount coupons for shopping in destination."
Categorizing Indian travellers
Kakkar categorized the Indian consumers in four categories:
- 700 million people are in the "precluded market" - people in this group either do not travel, or they have never been on a trip.
- 300 million people are in the "excluded market" - these users do not have a credit card, do not have connectivity, and they depend on cash payment.
- 150 million people are in the "included market" - these users carry a credit card, tech savvy, and has the language skills.
- 100 million people are in the "secluded market" - these users are cash-rich and time-poor as opposed to other category of users that are cash-poor and time-rich. The spending power of this group is almost as large as the "included market", this group needs high-touch to move them to the "included" category. Mercury Travels is going after this consumer profile.
image via Shutterstock.