Apurva Chamaria, Chief Revenue Officer, RateGain, one of the world's leading SaaS provider to travel and hospitality sectors is a versatile and accomplished specialist. He is also a best-selling author, Top 10 Investor, Campaign Asia 40 Under 40 and Ex-Head of Marketing - HCL Tech.
He speaks in an exclusive to Today's Traveller on how Covid19 impacts the Travel and Hospitality industry and the post-Corona era...
TT Bureau: These are challenging times, especially for the travel and hospitality industry. In what way can the challenge be converted into an opportunity?
Apurva Chamaria: Indeed these times are challenging and it’s difficult to say what the world is going to look like over the next 6-12 months especially in light of how little we know. What we are witnessing now carries a severe and deep impact and we can only wonder for how long will this continue?
With any forward-looking exercise, the natural thing to do is to look to the past. Unfortunately, given the extraordinary size and scale of this crisis, whereby all commerce has come to a halt, history may not provide or provide a little context on how the future will shape up. One thing we do know for sure, with every downturn there were technological advancements. For example, going back to the year 2000-2002, the emergence of OTA’s post “dot com” bubble which itself triggered the need for more data to enable the travel industry to price effectively and competitively.
We saw innovation take hold again during the 2008-2009 great recession, whereby more budget and discount travel sites appeared to take advantage of the times. Hotels teamed up with package distributors to offload inventory.
History has shown that some very successful enterprises have come up in the midst of a crisis. Hyatt, Fed-Ex, AirBnB are a few in a long list of success stories that have capitalized on the challenges.
For the travel and hospitality industry, the current scenario gives organizations an opportunity to make their processes more agile, increase technology adoption and penetration to become dependent on data-based insights, create new product offerings and improve guest experience processes currently in place.
We are in the midst of a crisis but things could have been worse. A Tsunami or Tornado could have hit us. At least that is not the case. The hospitality and travel assets and properties are not damaged and it’s a temporary setback of operations. Although, it might take some time for the market to recuperate, yet, things are on a brighter side for us. This is the time for us to rethink and prepare ourselves for the upcoming opportunities like:
Rise in Domestic Travel: Millions of people travel from one country to another. Due to the current situation, they are not going anywhere, cross border travel is ceased and everyone is bounded in places they are. This indicates that they will travel within boundaries and to a drivable distance, which means domestic travel will increase.
Multi-skilling and Versatility: To survive the crisis, multi-skilling is the need of time. Front office, housekeeping, and F&B will have to train themselves in many skills. With furloughs and layoffs on the cards, hospitality professionals are for the first time willing to do this. This indicates a mindset change with a positive note. It also recognizes the “dignity of labour” notion coming to action.
Cost-Effectiveness: In the present-day context budget only the “must-have” costs and avoid the “good-to-have”. The industry should be looking at a considerable percentage of reduction in fixed costs. Consider reducing overheads such as manpower and electricity. Find innovative ways such as convenience food, new ways of cooking from the F&B perspective, etc.
Revamping Business Strategy: This is the time to invest in reconsidering and revamping Pricing, Revenue Management, Distribution and other crucial Business strategies. Earlier we were all too busy with our day-to-day things and did not have a lot of time to dedicate to things like these. Since the business is not that much right now, we have the opportunity to dedicate a considerable amount of our bandwidth towards these strategies.
This way enterprises in the travel and hospitality industries can unlock the revenue generation streams to create a #BetterTomorrow.
TT Bureau: What change would there be in the Guest Experience Technologies offered by RateGain in a post-COVID situation?
Apurva Chamaria: We at RateGain want to help create an end to end digital journey for travellers. The inevitable existence of consumer friction in our industry represents big opportunities. Anytime we can reduce friction for travellers we eliminate waste and add value.
This creates a competitive advantage in improving guest lifetime value. This can be done through creating an ecosystem that enables disparate applications to talk to each other enabling interoperability. An increased focus on recreating brand experiences across all digital touchpoints and giving more control and information to the traveller.
TT Bureau: Your book ''Master Growth Hacking'' becomes a must-read with technology playing a role in everything. Share some important insights.
Apurva Chamaria: Master Growth Hacking tackles pertinent start-up related questions that often intrigue growth-oriented minds. The book, lets one learn from the pioneers of growth hacking in India, which is a combination of coding, data intelligence and marketing. The book covers interviews with the founders and growth hacking leaders of the major start-up in India.
In the era of instant gratification, new age business owners are looking for that winning formula that assures success and growth. This book attempts at decoding the “what-clicked” and “what-worked” for the founders of the major start-ups like Zomato, IndiaMART, ShopClues, UrbanClap, Paisabazaar, Furlenco, FusionCharts, WittyFeed, UpGrad to learn from the pioneers of growth hacking in India, which is a combination of coding, data intelligence and marketing.
The book showcases the importance of creativity, smart data analysis and agility in a competitive business ecosystem where everyone is vying to grab the attention through differentiation and convert lookers into bookers. Growth hacking is the new growth mantra that start-ups are using and don't want you to learn about!
TT Bureau: Which segments within the Travel Industry will show early recovery?
Apurva Chamaria: To answer this one we first need to determine when do we anticipate a rebound to begin. This is not just a health pandemic but has quickly transformed into an economic crisis as well. There are many factors at play here and I believe it starts with flattening the curve. Once we see a flattening of the curve and cities gradually open up for commerce, we will start to see economic activity pick up albeit, slowly. We believe there will be various stages of rebound as we see the market picking up.
The first signs of uptick will be amongst the business travellers. Although we don’t expect travel activity to bounce back to pre-COVID levels in the short term, we believe there is pent up demand from businesses to get moving again. This could be a U shaped recovery.
The leisure traveller will follow and the gradual increase will be dependent on the situation around COVID 19. The leisure traveller will probably start with domestic and the local travel will be driven by the COVID impact. This could be a swoosh shaped recovery.
We see “Drive-cations” becoming popular with travellers looking to rent or drive self-owned vehicles as they offer safe, sanitized and hygienic environments as opposed to other modes of transport available.
International Leisure travel will be the last to recover in the category however with a pent-up demand existing in the ecosystem this will make a strong comeback.
TT Bureau: What do Hotels need to do to recover faster? In what way do you help Hotel chains and Hospitality providers regain their market footing and profitability streams?
Apurva Chamaria: As certain parts of Europe and Asia open for business this is the number one on the priority list for our customers and prospects, recovering revenue lost and regenerating traveller trust.
Our dedicated solution portfolio custom created to address the unique challenges of the hospitality industry helps them understand and track market movements with competitive intelligence. Our Smart distribution solution is uniquely positioned to accelerate delivery by helping hotels overcome distribution related challenges, identify new source markets to connect, new demand partners to distribute inventory, expedite mapping leveraging AI-based mapping recommender, benchmark against similar properties and seamlessly connect to 900+ tour operators globally.
This way once restrictions are lifted and travellers kickstart their booking journey, hotels can ensure visibility to attract guests with the right value, at the right price and deliver unparalleled experiences.
TT Bureau: How will the way we do business change post-Corona?
Apurva Chamaria: The core nature of business generation i.e. identify a problem and deliver a solution that is unique to your capability will remain unchanged. However, we see the mode of deliverance adapting with the changing times.
No longer will there be a requirement be an expectation from customers for large contingents to meet and court in-person, technology will make this part of the nurture journey easier.
Sustainability, Safety and Health will dominate the conversation and operational routine of businesses. However, the importance of human interaction, connect and relationship will persist and thrive.
People will yearn and look at meeting people. These interactions will be no longer be taken lightly or constituted routine operations. The value of in-person interactions will be higher.
TT Bureau: Does Work-Life balance have a new meaning now?
Apurva Chamaria: The definition of what constitutes balance has evolved drastically in the past few months. I believe that how efficiently are we able to integrate the focus that work demands and delivers the attention family needs amidst the chaos is what defines the work-life balance in the new normal.
It is easy to lose track since we don’t have physical movement between the office and home marking the “working hours” but adhering to a schedule and clear communication between your co-workers and the work ecosystem are essential to laying the foundation to a new-age balance.