Skift believes that the rise of emerging market travelers will be a defining trend over the coming years and studying the business strategies of current leaders in the space can be instructive to executives and investors everywhere.

Our newest Skift Research report, The State of Online Travel Agencies 2018 Part III: India and Latin America, examines the contours of these two crucial emerging markets by profiling their leading online travel sites, MakeMyTrip and Despegar, respectively.

As part of our research, we examine both of these businesses to understand what makes them tick. For each, we look at the broad market backdrop, examine business models, and perform a detailed financial analysis.

One of the top lessons we learned is how much care must be taken when localizing a travel offering. Both MakeMyTrip and Despegar are highly evolved to match their regional niches. What works in the U.S. or Europe cannot be copy-pasted to new markets.

This is the final part of our summer research series on online travel agencies. The first two parts of the series were geared toward an in-depth understanding of the business models at global booking sites Booking Holdings and Expedia Group. Part I deconstructed the advertising strategy of these two giants while Part II compared and contrasted the global supply networks of each.

Last week we launched the latest report in our Skift Research service, The State of Online Travel Agencies 2018 Part III: India and Latin America.

Below is an excerpt of the report focusing on just one region-specific initiative that MakeMyTrip employs to win in India. Get the full report here for our full analysis of other local tactics used MakeMyTrip in India and Despegar in Latin America. The report also includes our full financial rundown of both companies. 

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India Presents Unique Language Challenges and Opportunities

There is an astounding amount of diversity across India’s estimated 1.3 billion population, and this presents unique cultural and language challenges for MakeMyTrip and others doing business in the country. Hindi is the most widely spoken language and the primary tongue for 41% of the population. In addition, there are 15 other official languages and even more unofficial dialects.

This represents a subtle, but critical, barrier to entry for foreign competitors and even some regional domestic competitors. CEO Deep Kalra, in conversation with Skift Reseach, calls this both “a great challenge and opportunity for us.”

MakeMyTrip has an in-house translation and customer service teams for 12 languages and offers its app in both English and Hindi. It plans to offer perhaps four or five additional app dialects in time.

“It’s easy to jump to conclusions, that ‘hey, we’ve seen the readership data out there and people know English so we don’t have to get into the local language,’” says Kalra. English is, after all, an official language in India and widely spoken in political and commercial contexts. “But we’ve found,” Kalra is quick to point out, “that [even for English-speakers] the affinity is much higher as you get into the local language.”

MakeMyTrip advertising now emphasizes that its apps are available in multiple languages. The localized Indian versions of both Expedia.co.in and Agoda.com load in English.

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This is the latest in a series of research reports, analyst sessions, and data sheets aimed at analyzing the fault lines of disruption in travel. These reports are intended for the busy travel industry decision maker. Tap into the opinions and insights of our seasoned network of staffers and contributors. Over 200 hours of desk research, data collection, and/or analysis goes into each report.

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Photo Credit: Even if English is understood, many Indian travelers prefer to shop in their local dialects. Ian Brown / Flickr