“The more innovation and more choices consumers have, the more of a need there is for a Kayak - because we make sense of all the clutter in a more accessible way,” says Imbert Fung, Director, Southeast Asia and India at Kayak. Though Kayak.co.in was the first country-specific website of the metasearch travel portal to go live back in 2009, so far the company has preferred to maintain a low profile in the region.
But that seems to be changing. Kayak hired its first - and so far, only - Indian employee last year in the form of Country Manager Abhijit Mishra, and Fung was in New Delhi earlier this month to signal the launch of a big marketing push. He says Kayak has spent years refining its product offerings, and is finally ready to start talking directly with the consumers.
"We capture all the price difference in one tab, [so] you can unearth that best deal or that best price, very quickly without having to navigate seven different sites," says Fung. That may not sound very different to any other price comparison site - or consolidator as they are called in the travel space - out there, but Fung believes it’s the additional tools that Kayak offers that can make all the difference.
"For example, maybe when you take a vacation, you have a budget in mind, but you are agnostic to the destination, you wanna explore offbeat locations," he explains. "So one of the tools we offer is called Explore, where you see a global map, you enter your budget and time frame, and we will show all of the global options you can reach within that budget. And hopefully that can inspire you and streamline your options as you plan your travel."
"Not just planning and booking your travels, but even during your travels," Fung says, as he starts talking about Trips, which looks very similar to the likes of Tripit and App in the Air. "When you get your hotel or airline confirmation, you just forward it to email@example.com and it’s populated on your app immediately. And on top of that, we send push notifications on your mobile phone when your gate has been assigned, your gate has been changed, if there’s been a revision to your depart time. And when you land, we even tell you which carousel your baggage is at."
Fung explains that all of these features are free to use, unlike Tripit and App in the Air that reserve some of these features for their premium customers.
The Indian travel market
According to Fung, the travel market in India is worth roughly $30 billion (approximately Rs. 2 lakh crore) in total, with online players grabbing 30 to 40 percent of that share. He says the number is to grow to $40 billion (approximately Rs. 2.7 lakh crore) by 2020, with 60-70 percent of that expected to be in the online travel segment.
"India, arguably, is the most dynamic market that at least I’m privy to, There has been a lot of big news on mergers and acquisitions, but there are also a lot of new entrants that have come into the market, and a lot of innovation in business model as well," says Fung. "For example, in lodging, India originated the idea where you can have an OTA/ boutique hotel brand hybrid that’s been emulated in other countries as well."
"There’s also a lot of other startups in India that are doing great things," Fung continues. "There are some trip itinerary planning companies where you can share more about what you wanna do and they connect with offline travel agencies to give you curated travel packages, that’s very innovative. Travellers have different needs and India is one place where there are startups left and right that are all catering to these different needs."
Does price overrule everything in India?
Kayak is present in a lot of markets across the globe and is privy to the buying habits of customers in these regions. So how do Indians compare to their global counterparts?
"Indians will definitely click on different options and will be more vigilant in researching different providers and deals available," Fung starts. "So we do see more clicks per sessions before they make a decision."
We couldn’t help be more direct and asked if Indians always click the lowest-priced result or if some other factors come into play as well?
"Yes, proportionately speaking, we do see more Indians clicking on the lowest price option, but it’s not as high as one might guess," Fung explains. "That also might be because a lot of people use Kayak for business travel as well, because our filters let you choose flight times best suited for your meeting schedule."
But there are other factors that are at play as well, as Fung points out.
"We do see one trend where an online travel agent is under-cutting an airline by Rs. 10 to 50," he says, "a lot of users will think to themselves, I enjoy the flexibility of modifying the trip I’ve booked, I enjoy the reassurance that there’s no middle man in my booking, so I’m gonna pay the extra money and book directly with the airline - so we see that as well."
Travel trends in 2017
We asked Fung what trends does he think will dominate in the Indian travel market in the near future.
"Alternate lodging will continue to innovate and there’s already been a lot of innovation in the past two to three years already in terms of bringing the moms and pops to the digital space," says Fung. "But alternative lodging in terms of unique types of stays - stays that are bundled maybe with a local tour guide, or timeshares or vacation rentals, all of these things will become more digitised and more easily selectable online."
With the government making it easier for new airlines to start international operators, Fung feels a lot more people will use 2017 to get a taste of international travel.
"For India also, there will a lot of movement in terms of the destinations available, with cheap fares," he says. "With nullification of the 5/20 rule, there’s going to be a lot more international offers available, a lot more airlines, more competitions, more prices, more destinations that Indians can explore."
"Last but not least I think there’s going to be continued innovation in terms of how people bundle their travel purchases," he adds. "So maybe there’s a way in terms of personalising packages, personalising tours, how companies are making that more easily accessible online."