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While alternative accommodation has been a hot topic elsewhere for years, India has been slow to take an interest. MakeMyTrip Group, the country’s largest online travel business, only began marketing the category of alternative accommodations last year.
But the pandemic has sped up the adoption of alternative accommodations, said company executives on Tuesday during an earnings call. Many consumers have begun looking for vacation lodging that doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of crowded hotels.
The growth has still been too modest to be a financial lifesaver for the Gurugram-based company during the pandemic. The group only generated $21.1 million in revenue during the quarter that ended September 30. That was 18.9 percent of the revenue it booked in the same period a year earlier, as measured in constant currency.
The company suffered a loss of $26.1 million for the quarter. Among other factors, the company reduced the commissions it charges for some suppliers, which reduced its adjusted margins for the sales of hotels and vacation packages.
But in a notable trend, consumers have skewed toward booking independent villas and cottages and homestays, along with premium resorts, said Deep Kalra, group executive chairman, during the earnings call.
The comments echoed ones Kalra made about consumers looking for choices beyond big-box format hotels during Skift Forum Asia earlier this month. Middle class and upper class Indians tend to drive five to six hours on average out of cities to head to homestays and resorts.
In a turnabout for the category from a year ago, there’s now more demand than supply.
“Homestays are not a huge market in India,” Kalra said at Skift Forum Asia. “Availability of homestays is a direct function of wealth and ownership of secondary homes. What’s been accelerated a lot during Covid is the emergence of local service providers in resort towns like Goa that will clean your house, send you a cooking service if you need, and maintain your property. So that is encouraging a lot of owners to give up their second homes for use by other people while maintaining them for the times they want to be there.”
MakeMyTrip Group isn’t alone in seeing the change. Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky visited India to much fanfare in 2017. Still, bookings of apartments, guest houses, and homestays have remained modest. Airbnb only has “tens of thousands” of hosts so far, Chesky said last month.
A prolonged downturn could harm MakeMyTrip Group’s liquidity. As of September 30, the group had cash and cash equivalents of $197.7 million. It also had credit and guarantee facilities of about $100 million, including a $70 million facility from an affiliate of its largest shareholder Trip.com Group that it hadn’t touched as of September 30. The company benefited from the timely receipt of about $12 million in tax refunds.
MakeMyTrip Group has tried to use the crisis as a chance to boost its direct business and create new lines of revenue.
The company has gone back through its records of people who have interacted with it online and tried to coax them to revisit its sites and apps. The company has also used search engine optimization techniques. Traffic has grown consistently, with organic traffic touching 90 percent of its total traffic. That saves the company from spending on paid digital marketing.
The company has also seen a rise in new users since May, suggesting the company is gaining share, including from offline agencies that may be closed or offer reduced in-person service during the pandemic.
MakeMyTrip Group came up with an idea during the lockdown of creating a self-serve advertising platform. Advertisers can buy ad space on MakeMyTrip Group’s brands and use a bidding system for sponsored listings.
In recent months the company introduced home-to-home transport options within its flight product to offer or suggest the online booking of safe cabs or other ground transport to and from airports.
The company also relaunched its MakeMyTrip Black loyalty program, which has enrolled 820,000 members. Its Goibibo debuted a loyalty program called GoTribe.
“One of the silver linings from this pandemic has been the acceleration of digital and e-commerce adoption globally and across India, driven by increased demand for contactless transactions as a result of social distancing and greater hygiene awareness,” Kalra said on Tuesday. “This trend towards online will provide a long-term growth tailwind for companies like ourselves, considering that a majority of travel in this country is still booked offline.”