How is travel demand looking at the moment considering we are in what is thought of the typical off-season? How is advance booking for summer holidays?
This is the so-called lean season for leisure travel, which is because school exams are going on right now and we are in the period between winter and summer holidays. But the season for non-leisure travel, such as visiting friends and relatives [VFR], business or essential travel, say for medical or emergency requirements goes on for 12 months. So, on that front we are seeing that meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibition [MICE] travel is on, in full swing. Plus, wedding-related travel is also happening. As far as advanced purchase window is concerned for Indian travelers planning their summer holidays, the window is not long and varies between seven days to maximum three weeks, whereas Europeans plan their holiday as soon as they finish their first one. So, I don’t want to get into advance booking trends. But there is positivity since inflation rate in India is relatively low, and there is also a rationalisation of air fares and a strong consumer sentiment which is evident from our own surveys.
What are some of the travel trends that have been sparked by COVID-19, and continue to remain?
One trend that we have seen is linked partly to remote working, which is nearby travel. This was earlier linked with weekends or long weekends. But this is getting expanded and is now visible during the week also, because of the flexibility to work remotely. Second is the behaviourial change that we have seen post-COVID where people want to gain new experiences, either through entertainment or travel. But travel is a sweet spot for gaining both experience and relaxing. As a result we are seeing that the attitude prevalent in developed economies of earning and spending, and not necessarily saving, is also catching up here. What also contributes to this trend is improved accessibility such as through borrowed money or otherwise.
I want to also ask you about travel to Indonesia from India. So far there are no direct flights even though destinations such as Bali are popular among Indian travellers. And IndiGo has said that in FY 2024 it will launch flights to Jakarta. What does this announcement mean?
I think the announcement such as the one about direct flights to Jakarta could lead to demand doubling for travel to Indonesia from India. It is a very interesting destination. While it can be compared to Malaysia and Thailand, the travel time to places like Bali is as high as 12 hours because there are no direct flights, whereas to destinations like Thailand, it is three hours or so from Bengaluru. So, if travel time reduces, demand will automatically go up. Secondly, travellers look at attractions and activities such as parties or nightlife and Bali offers pretty much everything. Then there is the Hinduism connect which also draws travellers. Fourth, there is easy availability of vegetarian food which is an important consideration for Indian travellers, but remains a problem for places such as Turkey or European countries. And finally, it is also a global destination for holiday-makers as it sees a lot of tourists from Australia, which is another attraction. MakeMyTrip has evolved from just being a booking portal for air travel and hotels to now rail and bus bookings, homestays, insurance, forex, EMIs for travel, among others.
What is the vision for the company?
Our vision is to stay focused on travel, within which there are several useful cases such as retail customers, corporate customers, business to business to customers through travel agents. From a reach standpoint we will be present pan-India as far as domestic travel and Indians travelling overseas is concerned. We also have international operations such as our RedBus brand which is present in Malaysia, Singapore, Peru and Colombia, and we are willing to take it to other big international markets. We have also expanded into Gulf, starting with flight and hotel bookings in the UAE and take that to Saudi Arabia which has a vision to develop its tourism industry on the lines of Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Since language is a barrier there, we have also built a platform in Arabic. Our legacy international market is also travel between U.S. and India, which caters to the U.S. but that is a finite market. Largely, our market is Indians travelling within India and outside.