The travel industry is undergoing a significant change, and the online travel aggregator (OTA) market has a crucial role to play, in informing travellers about this. We speak to Balu Ramachandran, senior vice president, Cleartrip for insights on how the OTA industry members are altering their platforms to accommodate this transition.

Impact of Covid-19 on India’s OTA market? What are the behavioural changes/patterns you are noticing in domestic travel bookings? 

The suspension of domestic and international travel due to the pandemic did cause significant disruption in the industry. Post resumption of domestic travel, we have seen a spurt in one-way bookings on our platform and these account for more than 90 per cent of bookings.

Additionally, the share of the metro to metro travel has come down significantly. Both indicate that most of the recent bookings by customers have happened for emergency reasons or to return back to their homes post lockdown. Our traffic data indicates that customers are keen on travelling but are being cautious due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

How do you intend to use your platform to revive the demand for travel? Share some frequent queries you get from travellers.

The resumption of domestic aviation and travel is encouraging for the industry. It indicates that governments and customers are willing to adapt to the presence of Covid-19 and not wait for the virus to be completely eradicated before opening up to travel. This to a large extent reduces uncertainty for the industry.

The pandemic has however created anxiety in the minds of customers. We get queries like “Should I travel now? Is it safe to travel”, “Are flights available for my route?”, “What are the safety and quarantine requirements I need to follow”, “If plans get changed due to airline cancellations or change in government rules then what happens to my money”?

These questions indicate that customers are concerned with issues relating to safety and flexibility in their travel plans. Hence, it is paramount for the industry participants like us to help provide clarity to customers that can alleviate their concerns around the same.

We at Cleartrip have built products such as Travel Safe and Flexifly to address concerns around safety and flexibility respectively.

What is Cleartrip’s role in highlighting the safety protocol of the respective destinations?

We specifically have addressed this with our latest offering – Travel Safe, where customers can get all safety-related information in one place by simply entering their source and destination airports.

Information provided includes quarantine protocols, safety guidelines to be adhered to during travel, and details of cancellations and amendments. Additionally, we have videos and other content from regulators, airports and airlines aggregated in a snackable format that makes it easy for customers to comprehend all details quickly and helps give them more confidence on their travel plans.

Which Indian state or region according to you will experience a rise in demand when travel opens up completely?

We expect the recovery to happen in phases with phase 1 being characterised by emergency travel.

In phase 2, we will see travel to destinations close by or within the same state with a preference to areas with a lower prevalence of the pandemic. Staycations will be the preferred choice with properties guaranteeing a higher level of safety garnering a disproportionate share of bookings.

In phase 3, we expect inter-state to travel in bubbles. For example, Kerala-Karnataka could be one such bubble. Again, the bubble is a function of the pandemic and preferred bubbles could change depending on the way the pandemic pans out.

In the last phase, we will start to see international travel returning again with a preference for destinations perceived to be safe.