set to grow its Indian inventory; domestic bookings in the driving seat

Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston had recently commented: “India seems to have unending potential for us.” And going by the India-specific numbers furnished by Vikas Bhola, Area Manager (India Subcontinent),, the company’s efforts to tap this ‘unending potential’ since 2012 has begun bearing fruits.


Going by conventional wisdom, for any major global OTA a mere enlisting of 500 properties in its expansive worldwide inventory list could hardly be a trigger to adopt an aggressive stance in any specific market. But if the market is of the size of India where internet penetration is on a rapid rise and there is a visible surge in per capita earning, a contrarian approach can well come into play, eventually paying rich dividends. This is how the Indian story of (owned by the US-based Priceline Group, one of the leading internet companies in the world with over $USD 63 billion market cap), seems to be panning out. When it had set up base of its own in the country in 2012 (prior to that the Indian market was handled by its APAC regional headquarters in Singapore), the volume of listed Indian properties was just close to 500. But since then, the sky is the limit, as is clearly visible from the growing Indian inventory base of the world’s leading online accommodation booking platform, which globally had earned a revenue of over 55 billion last year (earning of the Priceline Group with the lion’s share of the contribution coming from The gigantic size and scale of the company is also suitably reflected by other hard statistics: it has over 860,000 properties (apart from hotels, it includes apartments, villas, hostels, farm stays, bungalows, boats) in its global inventory and averages a little less than a million room night booked every 24-hours.

Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston had recently commented: “India seems to have unending potential for us.” And going by the India-specific numbers furnished by Vikas Bhola, Area Manager (India Subcontinent),, the company’s efforts to tap this ‘unending potential’ since 2012 has begun bearing fruits. “Our real story in India had begun in 2012 when we set up a dedicated team here and opened three offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore in quick succession. Since then there has been a whopping surge in our Indian inventory. Today we have around 14,500 properties registered in India and this number is growing at a fast pace,” Bhola told TourismFirst in a recent exclusive conversation.

Talk to market observers and they will tell you that they’ve never seen in any major above the line advertising or publicity campaigns for its business in India, compared to some of its esteemed rivals (both international and domestic). Vikas Bhola says the first and foremost objective of the teams operations was to create a substantial base in terms of inventory. “To date, we have been able to scale and build a thriving business in India without the large investments that come with advertising campaigns. We have been able to focus 100% on the product and the customer offering, we’ve focussed on getting the best accommodation options and availability for our customers,” he says.

And even without a high-octane promotional drive, the platform has managed to strike a rapport with India’s domestic travellers almost purely via solid web marketing and a seamless, highly-optimised and intuitive site. “When customers use, they come to find an incredibly easy-to-use, intuitive platform with enhanced and tailored products for different types of travellers to anticipate specific needs and reduce frustration.”

“More than the whopping growth in property count, what is more satisfying for us is the changing complexion of our Indian business. In early 2014 for example, more properties being booked on were by international travellers. Since then, the ratio of international bookers to domestic bookers has dramatically changed, meaning we see more domestic bookings than international bookings. This is highly indicative of our growing popularity among local customers,” Bhola pointed out.

According to Bhola, there are some other critical elements of’s growing presence in India. While the company continues to provide a wide selection of leisure-centric accommodation options, it is also working to expand its business portfolio (a global strategy now). “Globally, nearly one in five bookings on are made for business travel. The job of our team in India is to ensure we have the best options available on for any type of travel need.”

And secondly, unlike some of its peers, it has not shown any aversion to operate in the lower mid segment. “Our mission has always been a simple one – to help leisure and business travelers, whatever their budgets, easily discover, book and enjoy the world’s best places to stay. We follow the philosophy of responding to every demand that we can. And there is enormous scope in the business-travel segment,” Bhola underlined. The company has also forged partnerships with some popular new age aggregators (read the box piece) to spread its wings.

In terms of inventory building in India, in the last few years has primarily focused on India’s leading metros, particularly Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi along with its NCR zones has become the leading inventory pocket within India with over 1500 accommodation options. But after having built a base of over 14,000 properties, the company will now start to intensely focus on other important leisure markets in the immediate run. “We will be targeting to have more properties with us from leisure destinations in India like Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan and some of the popular hill stations in the country. Considering our growth trajectory in the recent past and the growing internet penetration in the country, we are confident we will dramatically increase our inventory this year,” he said.

Small unit aggregation is a typical Indian innovation

Within the Indian hospitality circle, confusion still remains if the new age small unit aggregators are adding value to the business. In the view of many, these are disruptive forces and many hospitality majors are now talking of revamping their own online platforms as part of the counter strategy. But according to Vikas Bhola, Area Manager, India Subcontinent,, there is no merit in staying in a denial mode on the rising influence of small hotel aggregators.

“There was a distressed inventory about which nobody was aware, nor did the owners of these units have the tools or resources to effectively promote themselves. These units are increasingly becoming part of the mainstream inventory. In Europe and the US, we have seen aggregators in villas and resort segments. But what has happened here in terms of bringing small units on online platform is a typical Indian innovation. In fact, following its success in India, many such tech outfits are popping up in South-East Asian markets,” Bhola pointed out. itself has forged partnerships with small unit Indian aggregators like Oyo, Fabhotels and Vista Rooms, showing theirproperties in’s listing, in line with its own specifications.

Commenting on these companies Bhola said “Striking a balance between scaling inventory and delivering quality has been challenging in this segment. But even as a disruptive force, they are making their contribution.”

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