Saujanya Shrivastava, Group Chief Marketing Officer, MakeMyTrip talks about the challenges the online travel portal faces, and says hyper-personalization is the way to move forward


By Neeta Nair

Q] You are a leading brand in online hotel bookings, but even today just 15% of the total hotel bookings are made online, how are you overcoming that barrier?

Today there are about 100 million e-commerce shoppers and about 50-60 million of them are using digital payments to transact. But if you look at the audience across OTA (online travel agent) the size is about 30 million. Therefore we believe there is a huge gap between people who are e-commerce ready and those who are transacting online for travel. We are hoping to reduce that. Also, over the past year and a half we have been trying brick by brick to dismantle barriers that consumers have towards online hotel bookings. We provide them compelling value proposition from time to time, like the most recent ‘first-night free’ offer on bookings. This current campaign also attempts to tackle a barrier called choice inertia where the offline consumer is content with his current choices because of ignorance on what they are missing out.

Q] What is the marketing mix for this campaign?

We don’t look at one medium versus the other, we look at it in totality. So, we are targeting TV and Digital, have activation plans around Tier I, Tier II cities at high congregation points and finally Cinema and Radio. We tied up with the India-Australia series as associate sponsors and have presence on Radio. It’s as big as it can get.

Q] The Ranveer-Alia pair has worked wonders for MMT as far as top of the mind recall goes, how have they helped in driving sales and traffic to your site?

MakeMyTrip Group has a very strong orientation in terms of getting the returns on marketing investments. The overarching metrics that we look at when we invest money on any value proposition is squarely measured on what’s the direct traffic growth on my app and website; the organic download velocity of my mobile app, whether we have managed to bring new users into the category and lastly the standalone hotel growth. From the time we got Ranveer and Alia on board, each quarter we have registered record growth on direct traffic, new user acquisitions, and online hotels. As per our latest earnings report, room night growth of standalone hotels grew by 192% y-o-y for the first quarter of this year. At our scale, we are still clocking slightly under 200% growth on standalone hotels, you can imagine the impact our campaigns and value propositions have.

Q] So has your strategy of shifting focus from online ticket booking service to hotel bookings paid off?

So, in online flights booking space, which is a mature market, we are undisputed leaders. MakeMyTrip was first known for flight bookings, and even in Q1 this year, our air ticketing business has grown by 65% year on year. It is a very healthy growth for such a mature market. So, in that sense, yes there is consolidation and we are building on our leadership position in flights, while we continue to grow the pie for online hotel. That’s the dual strategy we are following.

Q] What is the market-share in both categories?

In the online hotel market as a group, we will be close to about 60%. In flight bookings, MakeMyTrip alone has greater than 50% market share. In that sense we are clear leaders, but I think that leadership position has to be seen in the context of the headroom for growth. In overall hotel bookings across the country, the online penetration is just 15%-16%, there is so much more left to be achieved.

Q] MMT has increased the gap over rivals including Yatra with the $720 million acquisition of Goibibo. What is the strategy here on?

The merger, though very successful, is still underway. We want both these brands to maintain their separate identities. We have done a campaign for Goibibo as well as MakeMyTrip because there are loyal customers for both. Goibibo audience is younger, tech savvy, more transaction focused while MakeMyTrip audience is looking for a more complete travel experience and they are slightly older in profiles, and more affluent. So our strategy is to appeal to the core audiences of both brands by continuing to drive the hotels business, and flight business individually.

Q] Last year, you removed Oyo rooms from the MMT platform but still have hotel chains like Treebo and FabHotels, what is the parameter to be retained on MMT?

There are a lot of considerations behind those decisions. Our supply and business development team gets into the negotiations and discussions on what works and what doesn’t. One of the things we try and control is customer experience. Therefore we only retain those properties on our platform which provides customer satisfaction. There needs to be consistency and standardized experience in these hotels, which is the reason why we even came up with something called MMT assured hotels. MMT assured provides handpicked hotels that promise a stay experience guarantee around rooms, service and 24/7 hotline. So, that’s the governing principle in terms of selecting hotels that have great customer feedback, recent reviews, pictures that are authentic etc, and that determines the choice of hotels that we have on our platform.

Q] So, Oyo rooms which has now tied up with your competitor was not living up to that standard, according to you?

Yes, that’s right.

Q] How important is discounting in the market that you operate in?

Discounting is a lever in the online travel sector of course, but beyond discounting, like I mentioned people are also looking at choice, range, selection, product experience, ease of transaction, reliability of the platform. Each of these areas is something that we deeply invest in from an engineering product technology standpoint. We believe that we are one of the most reliable platforms in the country. We also have the largest selection of hotels, the best pricing, and are competitive on that front. We continue to provide reasons to customers to come online and book hotels with us through options like-- pay at hotels, zero cancellation, MMT assured hotels which are handpicked hotels, etc.

Q] What other innovative features is MMT going to bring to its users this year?

The MMT app is now looking at personalization in a deep way and hyper personalization is going to be a big focus area for us. If you search for Delhi to Mumbai flights, or hotels in Bangalore or Mumbai, the next time you open the MMT app, you will have recommendations around the previous search. For example if you always stay in 5-star hotels in Bangalore, you will see options only around 5-star hotels in Bangalore. The whole range of personalization that is possible in the context of online travel, hotels and flights is just immense. I travel very frequently from Delhi to Calcutta. What MakeMyTrip very intelligently gives me is a fare alert every time the flight fare from Delhi to Calcutta drops. So, it results in great savings for me, similarly for other travelers.

Q] How much does your hotel business contribute to the group’s overall revenue?

It contributes to around 57% of the Group’s revenue.


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