Friday, September 7, 2018

What next for OTA apps?

So the question MMT very much struggles with, the one thing GoIbibo tries to change in their customer's habits, the problem with Indians still heavily depending on offline travel agents for booking tickets and making travel plans.

Why? Cant, they do this online? After all, MMT or iBibo are killing the middle man and in turn offering better discounts and offers to its customers! So why do people still book from travel agents?

MMT thinks (having worked on the brand) that middle class Indian is still very conservative and feels uncomfortable with online travel booking or using the internet for travel-related purposes.

Stat as quoted by one of these OTA's:
More than 80% of hotel bookings in India still happens offline via agents, calling the hotels directly or by walk-ins to the hotels. 

Major barriers being:
1. Lack of Authenticity
2. Fear of loss of Money in Advance Payments
3. The concern of spending a large sum of money online
4. The complexity of OTA Site
5. See no Advantage of booking through an OTA vs offline

That a typical uncle (Sharma ji) will lean on the society's youngsters (Rohan from SRCC) for guidance on how to use his smartphone better for shopping or learning how to use mobile banking on his phone.

That Sharma ji feels that there are hidden charges that he wouldn't anticipate and the same will come up at the last stage of booking.

The Sharma ji somehow believes that he will get a bad deal online or money will get deducted online while booking won't go through and hence considers an offline travel agent as an authority on the subject matter of travel booking and hence relays on him.

Correct, but this is half the truth. (and again I fail to understand why no one hires me as a product marketing manager) 

If you go out an investigate, ask a few different Sharma ji's in similar but different colonies, without pushing the agenda of a particular MMT or GoIbibo on to them will tell you this:

"The Raj Travel Agent who's shop is in the local market, who makes you wait and doesn't pick your calls sometimes is a better option because he is able to take care of your travel booking 'end to end'.

And quite literally at that.

Wait, wait, wait. before you say - Flights + stay is quite the definition of 'end to end', might i remind you that unlike you, Sharma Ji, who makes up for the larger chunk of the audience in and outside the top 10 metro cities of India is not used to booking himself an Uber or Ola at the airport or railway station casually as a means of self-service.

He thinks its a hassle and that the taxi stands at these respective locations overcharge the passengers as they are the only option for them.

Not to forget not having an itinerary of places to visit or things to do in a new city or a holiday that the travel agent otherwise arranges for along with a driver and car for all the days of the holiday or travel for Sharma Ji and his family.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that Sharma Ji feels a bit lost about what to expect or where to go for good food? While you narrow your eyes and pout and think of Zomato, trust me, he doesn't.

Which brings us to the root cause of the actual problem.
THE FACT THAT OTA's ARE SO CAUGHT UP IN PROVIDING FASTER APP / WEBSITES, CLEANER INTERFACE, MORE OPTIONS OF STAY OR PROVIDING CHEAPER FLIGHTS OR MORE BANKING OPTIONS etc, THAT THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN THE OTHER ENHANCEMENTS THEY ACTUALLY NEED TO MAKE TO TAKE ON AN ACTUAL OFFLINE TRAVEL AGENT!

I mean will it kill them to try these three things? 

1. Provide an option to pre-book your cab inside the app post confirmation of flight and/or hotel ticket? Tie up with an Ola / Uber or Meru's and integrate them at the point of confirmation. Full day hire exists in these options by the way.

2. Provide an option in mail or post flight and/or hotel booking in a city basis the number of days booked for options around the area for fine dining, budget meal, quick bites etc? Tie up with the likes of Zomato / Swiggy / Easy diner to be able to provide the same. Maybe even an option to book your meals and reserve a table for two at a restaurant worth trying apart from offering restaurant offers.

3. Local sightseeing recommendations basis the number of days the hotel is booked or between the dates of the round trip flights to choose and take a print out of? Trip advisor / Google guides integration at the point of confirmation.

I mean really, creating a lot of SEO friendly content and articles about places worth visiting etc are great, but what happens to this OTA'a intent after someone has gone ahead and actually made a booking through them? Where is the 'end-to'-end' experience being taken care of?

Especially when actual platforms already exist to integrated into OTA apps. There is no reinvention of the wheel needed here. Sure the OTA's might say that their penetration or reach is far beyond the top 10 metros and sometimes in cities where an Ola / Uber or Zomato may not yet have market share. But why deprive the markets where they do exist of these experiences?

Wouldnt it at least help in case the market share in the top 10 cities to being with?

(Or maybe I believe in a more connected and integrated world where tech giants are able to benefit off each other instead of only compete with each other)

Share your thoughts in the comments below.