India's aviation industry is set to witness the next wave of growth from smaller towns. This presents a valuable opportunity for travel companies to tap into this market and attract individuals currently opting for trains or buses to choose flights instead.
Indian online travel agency Ixigo is establishing its own independent hotel booking platform, co-founder and group CEO, Aloke Bajpai told Skift – currently, it works with Booking.com for those transactions.
Bajpai said that while Ixigo would partner with Booking.com “in some shape and form,” it is now focused on offering its own hotel reservations. He anticipates developments on this effort later this year.
Furthermore, the company is actively exploring potential revenue streams, including from packages and tours. To bolster its packages section, the company recently joined forces with travel-tech startup Pick Your Trail. The platform now has around 67 million monthly active users.
The next 50 million Indian Fliers: Airlines in India carried 123.2 million domestic passengers in 2022. Bajpai predicted that the next 50 million will emerge from smaller towns — the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. “The Covid pandemic also acted as a catalyst to expand Ixigo’s user base as those train and bus travelers had to come online to buy their tickets,” he said. He sees opportunity in attracting individuals who currently opt for train or bus travel to choose flights instead. Ixigo has already observed a positive trend in converting some of these train and bus bookers into flight travelers.
Ixigo’s acquisition strategy: In 2021, Ixigo made two acquisitions in rapid succession — train booking platform Confirmtkt and bus ticketing platform AbhiBus. The company aims to cross-sell and upsell: Both Confirmtkt and AbhiBus apps offer train bookings as well as flight and bus ticket purchases.
Bajpai emphasized that there are no immediate acquisition plans. Any future purchase would serve one of two purposes — either strengthening its existing verticals of flights, trains, and buses or tapping into a new vertical such as hotels, packages, or tours.
The role of artificial intelligence: Ixigo recently unveiled an AI-based trip planner. However, Bajpai noted the company has been using AI since 2010, with the launch of its flight fare prediction feature. Subsequently, in 2012, they rolled out a trip planning tool using natural language search. In 2013, they launched a train ticket confirmation prediction service. “We were the first company in India to have an AI chatbot answering customer queries back in 2017. Now, we are the first Indian tech company with an officially-listed plugin on Chat GPT,” said Bajpai.
Happy about the increasing use of AI by travel companies, he called trip planning “the hardest unsolved problem in travel.” Highlighting the complexity of harmonizing individual preferences with the abundance of available data, he said, “This feat could only be achieved through an AI tool, as the sheer number of choices would overwhelm any human.”
IPO sentiment in India: Responding to a question on the much-anticipated Ixigo IPO, Bajpai’s response shed light on the current state of tech IPOs.
Bajpai said that Ixigo is currently “waiting in the wings” and observing the overall market sentiment. Bajpai said that since Ixigo has already been profitable, there is no pressing need for them to tap into funding from an IPO.
“In hindsight, this cautious approach seems wise, as many tech companies that went public in the past year experienced a period of negative trading,” he said. “Only recently has the rebound started.”
Ixigo had received a regulatory nod for its proposed Rs 1,600-crore ($200 million) IPO in December 2021.
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Photo credit: The next 50 million travelers in India will come from the smaller towns and cities says Ixigo chief Aloke Bajpai. Rahul Shah / Pexels