Over the past decade, the Indian travel market has undergone a dramatic transformation. Driven by improving telecom and banking infrastructure, a growing Indian consumer class has migrated online, fueling explosive e-commerce growth.
Travelers initially lured online by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC) electronic ticketing have grown confident with online shopping, as innovative web and mobile offerings from Indian online travel agencies (OTAs) and suppliers keep the travel vertical at the forefront of India’s online revolution.
India is among the world’s most intriguing emerging travel markets. Yet, it is a highly complex and diverse nation, with substantial income disparity across urban and rural populations. Only a subset of Indians possesses the financial means and desire or ability to indulge in leisure travel.
Online or offline?
Digital sources play a key role in planning Indians’ most significant leisure trip (the trip with the most money spent and/or the longest duration). According to a new Phocuswright report, holiday travelers rely on a range of information sources, but websites via computer were the most common, with 54% of travelers going online to search and shop for travel components. Phocuswright’s Indian Holiday and Packages Market: Now Empowered, Travelers Take Control shows that travelers were nearly as likely to shop via smartphone (40%), underlining the substantial influence mobile websites and applications are having on travel planning.
An analysis of payment methods, however, indicates that a few – nearly four out of 10 – prepackaged holiday travelers used an online payment method. While the payment distinction is important within the travel industry, travelers themselves are often unclear on what constitutes an online booking.
Many are searching online but still reserving through call centers or visiting storefronts to make payments. Indian travelers use the best of both worlds to shop and book their travels.
As holiday travelers go down the funnel, they start moving back to offline channels. While price is most important, other factors such as trust, convenience, content and validation from peers or professionals are also big influencers when searching and shopping for travel components.
Destination selection: family meeting
When choosing a destination, recommendations from friends and family are among the most influential factors, and 35% of holiday travelers were motivated by personal advice when planning their most significant leisure trip. Although price is not a primary motivator for most important leisure trips, three in 10 holiday travelers were inspired by a great deal.
Holiday travelers showed a strong preference for domestic destinations when planning their leisure trips. When considering every leisure trip taken by holiday travelers in the past 12 months, 68% were to domestic destinations. But for the most significant trip, holiday travelers chose a domestic destination 82% of the time.
Product type: prepackaged wins out
Travelers have a range of product options when purchasing a leisure trip. At one end of the spectrum, they may select a prepackaged holiday that combines multiple products (such as flight, hotel, transfers, meals) into a trip of predetermined length.
At the other end, they may choose to design the entire trip themselves, purchasing travel components separately at different times and prices. Alternatively, a custom vacation package enables travelers to purchase products for a bundled price with the opportunity to customize every aspect of their holiday.
For holiday travelers, prepackaged trips are the most popular option, with nearly half of travelers (48%) choosing to purchase a set package for their most significant leisure trip. In other words, with a lengthy or expensive vacation, many Indian travelers prefer to leave the details to the professionals (i.e., a travel provider or an intermediary) to avoid taking risks.
Just over half of Indian travelers take matters into their own hands, with custom and non-packaged holidays (21% and 31%, respectively),showing a maturation of the Indian traveler who is getting more involved in holiday planning and purchase decisions.
Despite the rapid pace of change, India remains a mix of tradition and modernity, old and new. For many travelers, the shift online has not been absolute. Offline channels continue to play a role, with online purchases driven primarily by relatively low-ticket items.
A highly competitive online travel landscape has further contributed to eroding travel margins for suppliers and intermediaries. With Indian consumers primed to embrace higher-value online purchases, packaged travel poses a significant opportunity for India’s online travel market.