Startups a new reality; personalization future of travel, says Urrshila Kerkar

Urrshila Kerkar, Executive Director, Cox & Kings talked about the future of online travel noting that today’s consumer expected personalized service. She also argued that online startups were here to stay.


FITs had been pivotal to Cox & Kings, felt Urrshila Kerkar, Executive Director, Cox & Kings. She said that they sold individually designed customer packages that could range from two to fifty days – catering to a wide range of FITs. When asked about the difference between operating in India as compared to developed markets like Canada, and European markets, she stressed that Indians took their holidays very seriously. “It is for those five-seven days they are off work, and life is hard as it is. People generally go online, but travellers in India like coming to us because they want their visa formalities to be taken care of. They don’t like last-minute hassle at all,” she said. 

Yet she agreed that there were certain challenges which included users understanding limitations of service providers. “For a consumer, it is still difficult to comprehend that they would be charged a cancellation fee, if their visa is denied – they argue that it was not their fault which is fair enough,” she explained. She termed India a challenging place to operate because of consumer’s orientation of seeking discounts. Reflecting on prevailing strategies adopted by new age players to corner footfalls in the hotel segment, she said that there was a race to acquire new customers. “However, these hefty discounts are being offered by these players on someone else’s money. They are hoping to kill competition and become the sole player,” she explained.

Adding that India was, also, different because there was no scope for getting complacent, she said “Whenever you (as a company) start believing that you have the market covered, a company pops out of nowhere which has a unique idea. It simply keeps you on your toes, all the time.”

 Pointing towards issues like limited credit limits on credit cards which hindered from making a family of four pay for the full trip at once, she argued that these were some unique challenges operating in India. However, she commended the innate Indian ability of creating hybrid solutions for almost everything. “We roll our sleeves and throw a hundred people at it, but we get the work done. At the end, it is all about delivery; the customer wants delivery. He wants the job done on a single screen at a few clicks of the mouse,” noted Urrshila Kerkar.

Looking ahead, she was of the opinion that the larger challenge lying ahead for the industry operators was to design engaging consumer interaction. “How do I get my message across to the customer so that he can discover easily? He must be able to share and research easily. He must be able to figure out what to buy, and buy it easily. As service providers, consumers expect you to know them, not on a day to day basis, but at least where they have been, and are likely to go,” she said.

 There was a muted laughter at her sally that most travellers were better travelled than travel companies staff offering services. Stating that the need was to go the extra mile, she reflected that she had been to certain trips she felt were below her expectation. “As a traveller, I would want to feel special and taken care of. The trend of personalization married with technology has manifestations that we cannot fathom. Who knows what changes will come about in the next twenty years? These are great times; these are exciting times. I do not understand when people call it terrifying,” said Urrshila Kerkar.

 She made a passionate plea for a collective need to learn taking advantage of tools by opening up their minds, and sharing their understanding with other companies. “Sometimes you are a buyer, sometimes a seller and sometimes just an enabler; it does not matter, because in the end it’s all going to go. The market waits for no one,” she said, philosophically. 

Calling startups in the online space a new reality, she was of the opinion that, with time, every traditional player needed to better engage with them. “These startups are going to be a part of reality. I have, myself, invested in a few of them,” she added. On a lighter note, when asked whether she wanted to talk about it, she said she would rather zip her mouth than divulging any details.

Talking about her company, she said that they were, probably, the only online booking company in India that was profitable. “One of the important things we do is distribution and generate a lot of online content. We believe in content; our website has a lot of deep-dive content material. We are working on very different technology platforms which will make us not only a content enabler, but technology and content enabler,” she shared with the gathering. 

 Sharing her understanding of the economic climate for acquisitions and selloffs, she said “I am sure those who got some crazy evaluation got them at the right time, and they would have surely loved it. The economic climate, right now, is not exactly favourable for this. It is a cycle; it will go up and down. So, it depends on the intent of the operator. Are you there to make a quick buck or are you there for the long haul. What’s your purpose and end-game is what decides your action,” she said.

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