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How to engage with India’s tech-savvy travellers

Responsive mobile-ready websites are vital for a country where all age groups don't bat an eyelid using smartphones to research and book travel, says Carolyn Childs, co-founder, MyTravelResearch.com.

During Australia Business Week in India in January our delegation couldn’t help but notice Indians’ tech-savviness.
 
India is now thought to have overtaken the US and become the second largest internet market globally (behind China), according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB (Indian Market Research Bureau) International. The report said that between 2013 and 2014, India had shown a year on year growth in Internet usage of 32%.
 
Much of this increase can be attributed to the decrease in hardware costs and the resulting increase in mobile penetration. A mobile handset that used to cost $200 in 2012 can now be bought for $50. According to Nielsen 36% of Indian mobile phone users are using smartphones.
 
As we noted in our first post on the Indian Inbound Market, the recommendations of friends and family are of utmost importance to Indian travellers when planning a trip. Hot on the heels of personal recommendations is travel-specific information on the Internet.
 
In India, online information plays a significant role in both the ‘dreaming’ and ‘planning’ stages of the traveller’s path to purchase.
 
Amadeus reports that 17% of Indian leisure travellers used their smartphones for travel arrangements, while no less than 42% of Indian business travellers did so.
 
This trend is not confined to the young. Some 7-8% of Indians over 65 used smartphones to make travel bookings, whilst 28% of 18-30 year olds did the same.
 
Australian smartphone usage for travel planning pales in comparison. In the survey, no one over 65 years old used smartphones for this purpose, and only 15% of 18-30 year olds did so.
 
Aside from travel planning and research, Amadeus also indicated that Indian travellers love to use social media, during and after their travels. The report stated that 47% of Indians used social media frequently during their travels – a figure that was forecast to rise sharply in the years ahead.
 
The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), in its Global Tourism Watch report, established that a large percentage of Indian travellers share experiences both during and after their trip. Blogging, online review sites and other social media were the most popular forums.
 
The CTC study noted that:
– 52% used a computer during their trip to help determine what they wanted to see or do and to share photos or messages to their social networks;
– 41% used a mobile phone to share on social media;
– 31% used a mobile app to help decide what activities they wanted to do; and
– 27% submitted reviews and opinions about specific attractions, restaurants and hotels to review sites.
 
Further more, once safely back on Indian home soil:
– 70% talked to friends and family about their trip;
– 63% shared photos with friends and family either in person or via email;
– 56% shared photos, messages and information about their trip on their social networks; and
– 31% submitted reviews about the attractions, hotels and restaurants they had used.
 
TA discovered that 74% of all active internet users in urban India used social media, with its usage ranking only behind email (80%) in terms of online activities. The most accessed social website in India is Facebook, followed by Google+ and LinkedIn. My experience on the ground in India is that WhatsApp and Instagram are also widely used. In 2013, China’s WeChat app launched in English. India was one of the markets that took it up fastest.
 
TA found that the use of social media in India for pre-trip research was slightly higher than average, compared to Australia’s other inbound markets. As in the Canadian research, the IVS showed that around half of Indians accessed the Internet on their visit to Australia. But most did so via a laptop – perhaps reflecting the absence of Wi-Fi coverage in Australia relative to Canada (something I have experienced myself).
 
But, before you move your entire marketing spend to online distribution channels to attract the Indian inbound market, note that travel agents remain extremely influential in India. According to the CTC some 80% of Indian travellers consult with an agent at the planning stage. So make sure that you have both a sound digital strategy and good relationships with the travel trade.
 
Around 50% of Indian internet traffic for travel-related purposes now goes to online travel agencies. However, many of these agencies have recently established bricks-and-mortar agencies or call centres as additional distribution channels. In India, more than most markets, there is convergence between the online and offline worlds.
 
So how can destinations around the world leverage India’s tech-savviness?
 
As we noted above, make sure you are both digitally ready and well connected to the travel trade.
 
It is also important that your content is mobile friendly. Indian travellers are comfortable with browsing on the Internet and with receiving and responding to mobile ads.
 
At MyTravelResearch.com we believe that two strategies can work: either keep it very simple (a straight forward text) or make it VERY engaging. In each case, around half of Indian smartphone users say they are happy to engage with ads of either kind.
 
Commute times in India are often long and many middle-income families have a driver. So placing ads in front of people at commute times can be a great approach.
 
Like everyone else, Indians judge brands by the speed with which their sites download. So make sure you know that your content can reach them quickly. This is true everywhere. But in a country of 1 billion people where most of your key users are in crowded locations, it becomes even more important.
 
Similarly make sure your users can find their way back to where they were when they found you. More than half the Indians surveyed in the Nielsen study said that they were less likely to use or be influenced by sites that took them away from their original start point.
 
Finally, once they are in destination (or close to a travel agent in India) use geo-location well. Indian travellers are very open to ads or promotions that are relevant to the location they are in.
 
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