Manu Sasidharan, Head of Hotels, Cleartrip spoke to Anirban Dasgupta on the ‘road to recovery of the hospitality sector and how Cleartrip is all prepared to serve its customers in tune with the new norms, advanced technology and customer service.
The tourism industry, perhaps facing its biggest challenges ever in the last couple of years, has shown some growth in the recent past. How do you perceive this situation and what would be your strategy to bring Cleartrip back on a fast-paced track?
We have seen a very positive recovery in all aspects – revenue for our partners, average room rates, and also occupancy in the last 2 quarters (from April). I am very positive that this momentum will continue in the upcoming quarters with tailwinds owing to seasonality. At Cleartrip, we focused our efforts on building our foundation in terms of technology and direct contracting with our hotel partners over the last 6 months and we started the season with “The Big Billion days on Cleartrip” which has set the stage for us to do a hockey stick growth.
Your view on the steps that are required to be taken by the corporate as well as the government to bring back the confidence of the consumers to the pre-pandemic levels?
During the pandemic, the ministry of tourism rolled out an initiative called SAATHI (System for Assessment, Awareness, and Training for Hospitality Industry) – tagging hotels that follow safety protocols. Travelers’ focus on health and hygiene continues to remain a priority. So, increased adoption of SAATHI will boost confidence further to travel. The hospitality industry is badly hit because of the pandemic, any reduction in tax slabs will further boost demand, which will increase the topline for hotels (because of increased non-room spending at hotels).
A sub-segment that has grown significantly within the hospitality sector is – alternate accommodation a.k.a homestays. Any initiative to enable homestays to showcase their health and hygiene aspects would boost confidence among travelers.
There is a change in the way people travel from the perspectives of selecting a hotel, and homestays as well as the mode of transportation, safety issues, etc. How the industry is coping with these new-travel parameters?
I feel the industry has aligned with the new norm of travelers around safety standards and hygiene. During the pandemic, we saw a change in customer behaviour in terms of length of stay and options for accommodation. Travelers started staying longer and staycations have become a norm where work and travel are combined. The accommodation partners have adapted to this requirement well in terms of providing a “work-friendly ecosystem”. In parallel, alternate accommodations like homestays have seen an uplift during the pandemic, which continues to be the trend and I am confident that this sector will continue to attract customers.
The impact of digitalization on the tourism industry is now more evident than ever. How does Cleartrip have an edge over the competition?
Cleartrip was always known and still stands for a clean and hassle-free customer experience. We will continue to double down on this.
Beyond the core booking process, we have invested heavily in technology to suit the ever-changing market needs. For example, we observed a lot of booking modifications and cancellations during the pandemic, so we invested in improving our customer experience, automating the modification process, and refund process. With this, we are able to process 99% of our refunds in 24 hours and are able to pick up the phone and answer a customer’s call in less than 30 seconds. These initiatives and more such have become a differentiating and value-adding offering to our customers, which we proudly call the “Cleartrip Advantage”.
If you can share a little about Cleartrip’s views on the growth of the OTA and Hotel industry post the onset of the pandemic?
OTAs have a significant part to play in terms of driving demand for our accommodation partners. The pandemic gave customers an understanding of what OTAs can bring to the table. OTAs will continue to gain a share of business because of the convenience and differentiated propositions that they can offer to the customers. Cleartrip will continue to add in this regard for hotels specifically and our hotel partners are positive about this. One major boost is the launch of hotels as a part of Flipkart travel which opens up hotels as a proposition to hundreds of millions of customers at Flipkart.