GLOBAL REPORT—As more and more hoteliers look to capitalize on an emerging travel market in India, understanding that emerging traveler’s behavior with respect to travel is critically important.
For example, the adoption of social media as a travel research tool in India has accelerated much faster than any other region of the world, according to PhoCusWright researchers on a webinar Wednesday titled “Upward and Onward: PhoCusWright’s Indian Consumer Travel.”
The top three websites visited when researching travel in India are Facebook, Orkut (a social networking and discussion site operated by Google) and Twitter, according to PhoCusWright research. Therefore, hoteliers who want to successfully capture demand need to tweak their social-media strategies to target Indian travelers.
“There is tremendous opportunity for travel providers because India is still a developing market,” said Julien Beresford, senior research analyst at PhoCusWright. “It’s critically important to know that a single channel will not work. It’s critical to have a multichannel strategy.”
Understanding the demographics
There are more than 19 million broadband users in India, according to PhoCusWright, signifying an accelerated Internet and mobile adoption rate. Wireless coverage is increasing dramatically in the area and 4G networks will be popping up in India later this year. There has been a surge in rich-media content and social networking, which has had exponential effects on India’s travel market.
There are more than 46 million Facebook users in India. The country has a population of 1.21 billion; 339 million of those are urban residents and approximately 61 million are considered “upper echelon,” which is the group doing most of the traveling in India today.
India has seen significant investment related to its tourism industry, including the expansion of four metro airports.
All of this has led to approximately 55,000 rooms in India’s hotel development pipeline, according to PhoCusWright.
The typical Indian traveler is a young male between the ages of 25 and 44 and has a graduate degree. While regional languages are spoken primarily, most Indian residents read English primarily, which presents an opportunity for international hoteliers.
Young Indians are spending much more than they did just two years ago, said Deepak Jain,
research associate with PhoCusWright. Significantly more travelers today are doing so with friends, family and other adults, as opposed to traveling alone. Fifty-eight percent of upper-echelon Indians take just one trip in a year; one in four plan to take three or more leisure trips.
“Even though they are traveling less (than U.S. travelers), they are optimistic about future plans. Indians plan to take more trips, spend more and stay longer,” Jain said.
India’s channel mix
Approximately 6 billion travel bookings are made online in India on an annual basis. Recently, more than 2 billion (about 33%) of those bookings were made with online-travel agents and the remaining 4 billion were made directly with suppliers, according to PhoCusWright research. However, approximately 50% of those supplier-direct bookings were made on RailToursimIndia.com; without those bookings, the mix would be spilt about 50-50 between OTAs and supplier direct, Jain said.
When researching travel, the most-used online destinations are search engines and social media. Forty-five percent of Indian travelers reported using social media as a primary research tool, much higher than PhoCusWright has seen in any other region, Beresford said.
When it comes to booking online versus offline, many travelers in India still book travel through traditional offline travel. According to PhoCusWright research, 31% of Indian travelers “usually or always” book online, while 42% “usually or always” book offline. When asked how their last trip was booked, an overwhelming number of survey respondents reported booking offline.
Mobile and social media
In India, 55% of leisure travelers have a smartphone. Only 2% of Indian travelers don’t have a mobile phone at all, according to PhoCusWright research.
Social networks are a primary travel tool. Indian travelers are using the sites primarily to get travel advice, get recommendations about activities, plan trips collaboratively and share travel updates.
“There has been some activity by the telecom operators to drive consumers to social-networking sites by lowering data charges,” Beresford said. “But I think it’s more than that. There is an acceptance of social networking to interact with travel providers and OTAs to an extent we don’t see yet in the U.S. and Europe.”