This entrepreneur argues the need to push for government initiated consolidated travel microsites, as Indian travel SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses) scramble to digitise.
While the Government of India has initiated multiple awareness campaigns for tourism, for example, Rajasthan: Jaane Kya Dikh Jaaye, Madhya Pradesh: The heart of India, Jammu & Kashmir: Where Time Stands Still, Gujarat: Khushboo Gujarat Ki and more; an initiative to provide businesses to sell and transact on any platform has been missing. This has driven SMBs to digitise their businesses, since agregators ask for large commission fees. Of course, COVID-19 further pushed the need for digitisation.
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With this digitisation, the travel industry in India faces several challenges. While most SMBs today are integrating their businesses with email, WhatsApp, Google Pay, etc., it’s happening in an unorganised manner with lag in development of digital booking portals, putting up service catalogues, pricing details, and allowing customers to be able to access business for booking 24/7, paying digitally and receiving an automated invoice confirmation, etc.
Government portals heavily market destinations, sending traffic to these SMBs. However, these SMBs find themselves unable in converting this traffic into transactions.
The travel industry faces several challenges in converting the traffic that comes through the government portals that heavily market destinations and it’s difficult to convert that traffic into transactions.
The Tech Panda spoke to entrepreneur, business leader, and investment banking and IT expert, Viineit Toshniiwal, who is also the Founder of Bizzo, a startup helping entrepreneurs create sophisticated booking portals to help automate the intake of bookings 24×7 and ensure that a booking-related query is never missed out on.
SMBs tend to depend a lot on the aggregators for bringing business, which compromises the brand. As a result, they have to shell out huge commissions without customer data
Toshniiwal truly believes that the government and the travel industry need to push the gears for development of micro businesses. He says it’s the need of the hour to organise the manner in which SMBs are digitising themselves.
“SMBs tend to depend a lot on the aggregators for bringing business, which compromises the brand. As a result, they have to shell out huge commissions without customer data. So, direct approaches by customers lead to businesses saving on commissions with collection of valuable customer data,” he explains.
“The COVID pandemic brought about a certain kind of vulnerability in Indian travel SMBs with the sector facing major disruption as all travel came to a halt. Therefore, companies understood the importance of revamping their business models with digitization,” he adds.
With the havoc of COVID-19, companies like OYO teched up with perks and upgrades to be able to provide high quality experiences, even as they put up a brave face in adverse times.
How the Govt. Can Help SMBs Sell & Transact on Any Platform
SMBs in the tourism sector are often scrambling to integrate the various facets of their business, creating a need for a central location to function from. According to Toshniiwal, the government can help in this regard.
“The government must invite all businesses in the tourism sector and give them a platform to list their business digitally, which allows them to build a website of their business, put up the inventory, with pricing availability and link for payments,” he says.
The government must invite all businesses in the tourism sector and give them a platform to list their business digitally, which allows them to build a website of their business, put up the inventory, with pricing availability and link for payments
“Through the carrot and stick approach, by giving incentives to businesses to list themselves digitally and promote them by giving some sort of tax break the government can encourage the digitisation of the travel sector. It will be an economic multiplier and the digital digitisation will actually lead to wider discoverability with more ready business,” he adds with conviction.
He further adds that with this approach, the government can take an active role in promoting the tourism industry.
“In addition, the government could promote these businesses on its own portals, helping to drive traffic to their websites. By converting traffic into transactions, and capturing transactions digitally, it will be possible to increase transparency significantly due to the fact that digital transactions will ensure a universal digital record of all tourism transactions. Besides promoting transparency, it will also contribute to the collection of more taxes,” he explains.
“Thus, the government will have a common list of all the businesses on its portal. Once the listing is done, the government can promote the tourism industry in a big way. All the traffic that comes to the government portals can now be converted from traffic to transactions which is the single biggest challenge for the government,” he adds.
How Teched Up Should Indian Travel SMBs Be?
Indian travel SMBs are in the process of digitising, with many recognising the importance of their digital presence. However, says Toshniiwal, there is still some way to go in terms of how much digitisation is ideal.
“Many SMBs are yet to create a website or invest in online booking systems, and there is still a reliance on traditional marketing methods such as print advertising,” he reveals.
In terms of the ideal amount of digitisation, Indian travel SMBs should aim to have a comprehensive online presence that includes a well-designed website, online booking system and active social media channels. This will help them to better compete in the digital age
Social media is beginning to be used more by Indian travel SMBs. As Archana Vohra, Director, Small and Medium Businesses, Facebook India, told Outlook India, “We’ve seen a trend of travel startups relying more on customised communication by using Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to keep guests updated on the latest regulations, and rules of visit and stay at their properties.”
Still, there is scope for improvement in terms of engagement and audience reach, says Toshniiwal.
“In terms of the ideal amount of digitisation, Indian travel SMBs should aim to have a comprehensive online presence that includes a well-designed website, online booking system and active social media channels. This will help them to better compete in the digital age,” he says.
Is There a Solution?
The pandemic brought about a certain kind of vulnerability in Indian travel SMBs with the sector facing major disruption as all travel came to a halt. Therefore, companies understood the importance of revamping their business models with digitisation.
Businesses can be leveraged with the power of technology, says Toshniiwal, but being tech savvy is a big part of that solution.
“There lies a long road ahead for Indian travel SMBs in adopting full-fledged digitisation. For that, technology and the internet have to seep into the Indian mass psyche. Major players in this sector and the government should partner with travel SMBs in providing support. Then, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
He also emphasises the need for a single central portal to operate from for a more organised and regulated sector.
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“The digitisation of travel SMBs should also be regularised on a common platform or portal. Once the traffic converts to transactions, and transactions are all recorded digitally, it will increase transparency in a huge way as digital transactions will mean that there is a universal digital record for all the payments made in the tourism sector. The central body/government can access the records, and this will promote not only transparency, but also give higher tax collections. The data can be used to promote the Indian travel industry,” he concludes.
A CISCO report ranked India 9th in the SMB digital maturity list in the Asia Pacific region. Within this, travel SMBs have some way to go. It’s time to bring them up to speed.