EP #33: Booking a Customer-Focused Path to Re-growth Like Via.com

EP #33: Booking a Customer-Focused Path to Re-growth Like Via.com

About this Podcast


The travel industry has been majorly impacted in the COVID-19 era. The recovery process has to be guided by customer-centricity and by re-strategizing customer engagement through a digital-first approach. To understand this in greater detail, we caught up with Venkat N, Marketing Manager at Via.com, India. Incorporated in 2007 , Via.com is one of the fastest growing and most profitable travel companies in Asia’s online travel space; driven by technology. The company is a leading distributor of transportation ticketing , accommodation reservation, packaged tours, and much more. Venkat accentuates the following:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel industry
  •  The shift in consumer behavior due to COVID-19
  • The important KPIs needed to measure customer engagement
  • The need to have a data-first mindset to deliver end-to-end 1:1 personalization
  • The key role of technology in re-strategizing multi-channel marketing communication

Join us to learn from a leading online travel player in Via.com, on the important role of data-driven marketing automation and personalization in delivering value to travel customers at scale.


Episode Transcripts

Alok Kumar: Hello everyone! This is Alok here from Netcore Solutions and in this episode of the podcast, we are going to be talking to the Marketing Manager of Ebix travel, which is popularly known as Via. So I proudly present to you, Mr. Venkat Naresh. Hi Venkat! 

Venkat Naresh: Hello. How are you doing?

Alok Kumar: I’m doing great. How are you?

Venkat Naresh: I’m doing great. Thanks for asking.

Alok Kumar: Okay, so in today’s episode we will primarily be talking to you about how Covid has impacted the travel industry; how it has affected your company, and how the future is going to be? So it would be great if you can throw some light on how Covid has impacted your industry in general?

Venkat Naresh: So Covid has impacted the travel industry very badly because the travel industry is like having multiple business models like cabs, buses, trains, flights, holiday packages, and other business aspects. So what was happened is like going from first four months where the business was zero like people were not willing to travel and the government of India had put a lockdown on travel and other aspects So the impact was very bad and we are just started to recover the business because the government of India has given some relaxations in the lockdown. So we have just started doing business. 

Alok Kumar: And how has it impacted your company in general?

Venkat Naresh: It’s not only our company. It has impacted every other company which is operating in the field of holidays or traveling like all the big companies, small companies which are operating in travel are being affected as people are not traveling. We don’t have any transactions; we have searched on the platform, but the transactions were not there as they are not there as people are not clear on when to travel and how to travel so we are just waiting for this thing. 

Alok Kumar: Absolutely correct, completely agree with you. Yes, just for the benefit of our viewers as we all know Covid has actually not only impacted the travel industry but it has impacted all the industries in general as we all know people are limited and confined to their homes now. They are working from home. They’re doing everything from home itself. They are not able to go out and the two industries which are the worst affected by this are other travel and entertainment or I’ll call it the outdoor entertainment industry now.

Venkat Naresh: So yeah the travel industry is very much affected and the entertainment industry is very affected. But the travel industry as compared to the entertainment being affected the most because we have close to like direct or indirect people who are working in the travel industry is like five root people who are working. So it’s difficult for most of the people who are working in the travel industry like travel agents and the people who operate private cabs, the people who operate agencies in a local holiday destination. All these have been affected. 

Alok Kumar: I’m very sure it must have affected all the hoteliers also badly. 

Venkat Naresh: Yes, hoteliers have been affected badly. Now as the relaxation has been given we just need to wait and see on how it’s going to impact on the business and how the people behaving because majorly known of as of now, the people are not willing to travel to any other state nor any local destination depends on how the people are willing to travel; once the people are ready to travel then we can have a clear answer on how the business would impact and how it’s going to grow definitely depends on the people that’s not on the end of anybody right. 

Alok Kumar: Correct, absolutely correct. Now with the environment changing so much and the government playing an important role in the movement of people from one place to another; what do you think as an organization it is changing to sustain the growth and also in short that you’re maintaining the safety of the people. 

Venkat Naresh: Now coming to the safety of the passengers or customers who are traveling like IT companies, the government of India has given incentives and taken some good measures in the airport. And even the Airlines takes good measures in the supplies on how to like how the passenger travel how they should maintain social distancing, on how they should plan their trips and everything like every single precaution have been given by the government of India and the Airlines, they are saying these are the precautions which you need to take, these are the precautions which you need to do when you’re traveling from house to the airport. 

Alok Kumar: So how are you sustaining the growth during these times and how are you planning to grow during these difficult times? 

Venkat Naresh: See during these times we are just planning on how we should be ready once the market is completely open and the people are willing to travel; as of now we don’t know about international travel. So until we get clarity on the number of cases internationally and other permissions from the government of India for traveling internationally until then I don’t know what the position of traveling is for a holiday or any other thing. Now let us majorly focus on the holidays and other state travels and start promoting the travel basis on cross-state like a person who is staying in Bangalore can opt for like destination which is in Karnataka only which is like 200 kilometers from Bangalore and they can travel by cab or their own transport and you know other arrangements can be done accordingly like getting a sightseeing package for them and like Hotel. And we will have to come out with some specific guidelines from our side and also like saying and all these are the sanitation things which are happening at the hotel rooms. And these are the sanitation techniques which are happening in the cabs; everything will have to give complete information to the passengers so they are keen and okay and cannot think of how should we travel and maintain hygiene clearly in the cabs so we will have to come out with the strategy where we are talking of everything in such a way like the cabs are completely sanitized, rooms are completely sanitized, the place where the passengers or customers are traveling should be clean and hygiene and all the safety measures like social distancing, sanitization to taking care and we’ll have to give complete authority to the passengers that we are watching you or you will not be in any trouble. We’ll be there to support you anytime if there’s any issue during the time of travel. 

Alok Kumar: So that’s really great to hear, so I’m very sure that the travel landscape is going to completely change and the domestic travel is definitely going to boom because people are going to be a bit reluctant to travel internationally people are going to be a bit reluctant to take the public transportation systems like let’s say flights or trains or buses even for that matter, but I’m very sure as you rightly said that the nearby destinations are going to see a huge amount of growth because people will obviously not start traveling but yes, they would want to travel very safely so completely agree with you. Now with this changing time what marketing technologies are you used to interact with the user?

Venkat Naresh: So the marketing technologies, which are present we are using is like automation and we also are coming up with a chat board, which you’ll have the for the passengers or the customers are the people who are visiting our website to have a clear input on what they need to do and what kind of information they’re looking for and we’re coming out with some innovations are saying that based on the person’s intent or the personalization of intent. We will be showing the packages to them based on their IP location based on their previous search history. Everything will be taken into consideration and we’ll be starting to push out some campaigns to the people.

Alok Kumar: And how are these technologies helping in communicating with the users? Are you seeing an increase in the engagement of users?

Venkat Naresh: Yes, we have seen good engagement with the users once we do this engagement because the communication, let’s say a push notification or app notification or email which goes to the customer is based on the search what they have done on the system. So we send them automated mail or notification saying that- Hi this is the search you have done so we have some exclusive offer for you with additional details of packages so that the passengers know what they are searching for and what we are offering them.

Alok Kumar: Okay got it. I completely agree with you that these tools must be helping you out. Now when you are using these tools to interact with the users or engage with the users, what are the KPIs that you are measuring, what are the KPIs that you are using to measure the user engagement?

Venkat Naresh: It completely depends on product to product like what is your requirement or what do you need to achieve through that KPI or user engagement or what is happening. It completely depends. So for example I would say where did the customers come to the platform and where did they exit and what was his search and what was he trying to do on the platform. Was he trying to book, was he trying to just look at the information? Everything matters. We people just do research and say like I am searching for a particular date but the rates are higher so I’ll be searching for a complete 15 or 20 days because they are not clear with the probable date they want to go. So it depends on the user’s intent to also say what he wants to do; based on our campaign and our marketing activities change. For example, there is a user who is just researching on the platform, the communication which goes to him is different and we find the customer. Let’s say the customer is ready for a transaction but he is looking out for something else then the communication to him would be different. So it completely depends on the user’s intent.

Alok Kumar: And how are you using the captured data in your future communication? Now, what I meant to say is let’s say if you understand that yes, the user is just searching but not booking probably because pricing is high or probably that person is just doing them some research then how are you using the data captured in your future communication or if I have to say to personalize the user experience in the future touchpoints?

Venkat Naresh: Yes, so for this, what we do is like based on the searcher user intent search. We know what date the passenger or the customer has searched for a flight or hotel or a bus. So we also would understand what would be the rate he would be searching for because based on his previous search or data we will know that Okay this person is looking for a specific destination at a particular rate. We can also analyze our data and send him an email saying that if you’re willing to travel on a particular date, you can let us know we’ll send you an email with a rate that is available. It’s completely on the data what’s going to happen and how much is going to happen like, how are we capturing the data and how are we communicating to the customer, and how are we sending communication letters to the customer based on the data that we have captured. If you’re traveling or if you’re willing to travel one or two days before the date, the rates would be higher but if you are willing to travel 5-6 days before the date, the rates would be cheaper. You know, it’s completely to the personalization to the customer and we are showing customized feed to him saying that these are the rates on a particular day, which you can choose from many days with you would like to travel that, they’re also happy saying that we are showing them personalized data and one more thing is like, there are some passengers would like to travel in particular flight like someone like to travel in Air-Asia, someone likes to go by Indigo, someone would like to travel Go-Air. Based on their previous searches and bookings we can even personalize the results which are coming on the platform. So they are also keen on hand. They don’t have to use filters or they don’t have to use any other things and they can just see the data or the results of the Airlines with which they will be willing to travel. It completely matters. So we can come in the personal data according to the searches or bookings or based on the travel history and many other aspects. We can take multiple metrics into consideration. 

Alok Kumar: Okay. Now since you guys are capturing so much data and I am very sure this also must be capturing a lot of information on the users like what kind of interaction are they doing? What kind of site searches are they doing? Kind of locations are just searching from and from which devices are they coming from? Which location are they coming from? All of this user information; are you using it to personalize the experience when they’re coming to your website or app for the next time because what we feel is with so much data in our hands we can definitely start personalizing the end-to-end touchpoints with the customers. 

Venkat Naresh: Yes I do agree that but we have some checks and causes saying that we cannot interfere or do much with the data or the data which we have got through the customer search because see, now what happens is that we don’t capture much data of the customer. We only know whatever says they’re doing but through IP and everything based on that we can do something but because we are very keen on not getting customer data, but we don’t want to get into their personal things and understand what’s happening because we again have legal issues to come up. So we are spectators to what we’re doing. 

Alok Kumar: But the customer data that you’re capturing on your websites can be used if I’m not wrong.

Venkat Naresh: Yes that can be used. So what is all we can do; like the personalization mail which can be sent on a specific offer which we can send to them. We’re all doing that and personalization is still under development. So we need to wait and see how it’s going to behave and how the behavior of the customer would be once their personalization is implemented on a platform. Because people are happy saying yes, you can use my data for each person for doing important mails and automated notification during meetings of the body but few people would be skeptical about sharing the data. It depends from person to person. So we’ll have to be very careful when we are doing things in personalization. 

Alok Kumar: Okay, got the point. So that’s actually great to hear Venkat. I was just reading somewhere and then what I realized is that nowadays companies are using IP data/ the user device data the user interaction data with the website and app to personalize The Experience. I’ll just give you an example. Now one of the e-commerce websites, whenever somebody comes to them let’s say from Bangalore as a location. They show them the products which are popular in Bangalore. If you come to their website from Mumbai, they will show you different items similarly for devices also. If you browse their website from iPhone they’ll be showing the premium set up products or the premium five stars four-star or three-star hotels, but if you’re coming from a let’s say a high-end Android device then also you will be shown the premium products on premium hotels but it’s a coming from a low-end Android device, you will be shown lower and the medium-priced hotel. So companies are using not only the user interaction data, but also the user device data to personalize the user experience on the website, and I’m very sure you guys must be planning to do something like that. 

Venkat Naresh: Yes Alok, see what you have said is correct. But you know, what is happening? So my perception on this is different. See it doesn’t depend on saying that the rich person would carry an iPhone or Android or Apple high-end Android phone. It changes from person to person. Let me say, an example would be a person who is very desirable to purchase the iPhone who is earning 30 to 40K in a month. He’ll be saving his money and buying an iPhone and no one particular time, he might buy a phone on a loan or he might buy a phone now when he’s having money. So yeah, seeing the personalization based on the device type or the IP address or the location or the system that they’re using is good. But you know, we cannot constrain the results based on the device that they’re using as I understand because I have three to four phones, which are all high-end phones, but they don’t understand whether I do purchase a particular personal property or four-star property. They can only show me results based on my previous history of booking or searches which I have done. If you book by device type it’s going to be a little bit tricky thing for companies to manage it so that has to figure out whether this person is using iPhone own or smartphone Android smartphone, which is costly from all very long time based on their data with steps toward they can find it out whether he’s using a top-end phone or alike the iPhone from past six-seven years then only they can analyze and say okay this guy we can show him some good properties or well we might not so because yeah, I might change my phone every six months. I might change my phone whenever I require it might be any phone which I would like to take. Based on that, it keeps changing. So we’ll have to be very keen and understand how to play with it and understand something that we cannot say on the device we have to send this product.

Alok Kumar: Absolutely completely agree that it’s not only the devices but we should make a combination of the device data, the interaction data, the location data, cookie data, and then come up with the personalized content for the user who’s browsing our website or the app. Anyways now, with the time is changing and how do you think this industry is going to go or what do you think is the future of the travel industry?

Venkat Naresh: Travel industry was always good and people in India and other worldwide like to travel and explore destinations and food and you know many other things they would like to explore. Yes. It is a difficult time for everybody as of now for travel or even the organizations who operate travel companies are having a tough time. It’s what we were expecting and recently the government of India has given some permissions for domestic travel and everything is starting to open and people are a little bit spectacle on traveling, but we see that people are traveling but they are taking their own measures and trying to understand us so we travel and other parts. We don’t see any dumb downfall or anything. Yes. We’ll just have to wait for some time and see how it’s going to work. Then we will able to understand because it’s just like 15 days the business and travel started for flights and buses started last week and even if people are willing to travel there are some restrictions which are saying that they have to be under quarantine for 14 days or like some told you to have to be in quarantine for seven days. And if you’re traveling from a particular state where the cases are high, you’ll have to be in a state government quarantine, so it’s completely different. So until people feel that I am ready to travel but I’ll have to take some precautions and I have to be in quarantine then why would I travel? If yes, if the government says you’re not to be under quarantine, then the people might think okay I can travel here and do some things like I can go visit some my parents or visit some of my friends then I’ll be happy to travel but if people are thinking that if I travel to a particular state, and state government says that you have to be in quarantine for 14 days of 15 days. It might be privately with self-quarantine or have to be under quarantine of government organization. So it depends so until people understand what we should do and how we should do until then it’s going to be tough. 

Alok Kumar: Absolutely and what I also feel is as you rightly said during the start of a conversation that people are going to look to travel to a nearby destination. So let’s say if I’m living in Bangalore and if I want to travel, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to go out of the state. I can explore the locations which are near to me. I can probably go to my sort or I can go to Mangalore, any other locations which are near to me because I’ll be traveling within this state and I may not be required to quarantine and most importantly I don’t need to take public transport to do that. I can complete a safe and sanitized car from via.com when I can go there. So I completely agree with you that yes domestic and to be more precise within the state, travel is going to flourish for sure in the future. 

Venkat Naresh: That’s going to be very true because we are already seeing people are looking out for destinations that are close by and recently the search queries in Google have the pace for the local destinations in the state. So yes if you agree we are just planning on how we should take the local destinations and give information to the customers. What kind of a destination they can visit, everything would be perfect for them. And we could be happy to help you back and deal with any kind of information which they are looking for.

 Alok Kumar: Absolutely correct. I completely agree. So that brings us to the end of our broadcast, so thanks, Venkat. Thanks a lot for giving us the time to speak to us today.

Venkat Naresh: It’s my pleasure to speak to you and discuss the points during the Covid. 

Alok Kumar: Thanks a lot Venkat. Have a great day.

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