Offline travel centres gaining grounds
‘A well-travelled man is a knowledgeable man’ as travelling is the most effective medium to learn. With this thought in mind, Indians no longer consider travelling as once-in- a-year activity but as source of gaining knowledge and entertainment. In the past people had to stand in long queues and need to plan their trips in advance to get the reservations done for trains, buses or air planes. However the booking process today is just a phone call or a click away with the emergence of organised travel players and implementation of advanced technologies by these travel companies. The entire travel process has become convenient for travelers to plan their trip. Therefore to make their presence felt across the country most of the organised players have opted for franchise route. This emergence had been both via franchise centres and online travel portals. Both the formats have been doing great wonders, especially in franchising. However recently the trend of brick-and-mortar centres is again catching up.
Online portals with offline expansion
All the major brands have their presence online as well as offline but with consumers preferring brick and mortar centres, the brands are also turning their attention towards offline centres lately.
In a recent development MakeMyTrip.com a successful online portal shared its plans to expand the company’s offline retail stores. Initially the company opened its offline stores to put a face to their brand but seeing the success of offline centres, the company has plans to expand offline. Presently MakeMyTrip has 20 outlets in cities like Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru, among others.
Another popular online company Yatra.com also plans to add 100 offline franchise centres to its network. It presently has 40 outlets across the country.
Leisure travel major Cox and Kings has over 120 franchise sales outlets in 70 cities across 20 states in India. It plans to have 200 franchise outlets by the end of this fiscal.
To add to the list is Thomas Cook India that has 223 owned as well as franchised outlets across the country and plans to add more stores this year.
Offline versus online centres
As compared to earlier times travelers today are more aware and conscious to select places that they would like to visit. They like to know more about the place, its beauty, cuisines etc. Thereby most consumers prefer online information on net or travel guides as compared to travel guide books, which have to be brought. This has lead to the popularity of online travel portals. However in online franchising, the franchisee does not possess any real outlet or virtual office to work from. Therefore a large chunk of people still prefer to get their tickets as well as travel package booked from brick and mortar centres as they can see the concerned people and have a face to face interaction with them. Anshul Srivastava, Head of Sales, Arzoo.com shares: “Online travel portals will take time in achieving success in the Indian markets as till date only 20–30 per cent of the people make online travel bookings while 70-80 per cent still prefer to go to offline centres.” He further informs: “Online travel portals are getting popular because they are the best medium for entrepreneurs to run a travel agency from homes. Nevertheless, it will take time for Indian travel companies to adopt online portals and come in the league with the European nations, which have developed online travel sites.” In words of Debmalya Banerjee, Vice President, I-Nova Group: “We have an online division for people who are computer savvy. However, everyone can not understand and use the online presence. Moreover, internet handling requires two essential things, credit cards and internet facility. People who do not have this may not find it easy to travel. Therefore, to make life easier for everyone we have opted for outlets in all parts of India.”
To conclude it can be said that travel franchising as a whole has a lot of potential, be it offline outlets or online portals. But still due to consumers’ comfort level with offline outlets, the brick and mortar travel centres are gaining more expansion and popularity.