Google and YouTube help Cleartrip connect with travellers

The Life: When Cleartrip, a popular online travel portal based in India, decided to move into the UAE and Saudi Arabian markets, the staff were perplexed.

Marie de Ducla, Google's head of travel for the Arabian Gulf, is shown at the company's office in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
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When Cleartrip, a popular online travel portal based in India, decided to move into the UAE and Saudi Arabian markets, the staff were perplexed.

Although they received a lot of traffic to the company's smartphone app, very few visits resulted in actual bookings.

What were they doing wrong, they wondered.

Cleartrip representatives approached Google's travel experts in Dubai for help, explaining that they felt they were missing an opportunity. Google suggested adding a click-to-call button that would immediately connect the user with an operator at Cleartrip. Customers who weren't comfortable using the mobile app to make a booking could speak to an agent.

Sales quickly ballooned.

"They can click on the link and go to the mobile app or they can click on the phone number and talk to someone," says Marie de Ducla, Google's head of travel for the Arabian Gulf. "You give them the choice. There is really no excuse for businesses not to provide these experiences."

Google's travel team was set up at the start of last year (Ms de Ducla declined to say how many people are on the team). Its main job is to talk to businesses in the travel industry and assist them in developing the best digital strategy.

To do this, the team first set out to understand UAE and Saudi travellers' needs by conducting an analysis of their behaviour during the five stages of a trip - dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing.

The first major finding revealed that, after consulting friends and family, many travellers in these nations turn to the internet to plan their trips: 40 per cent of travellers start out by going online compared to 35 per cent who initially consult travel agents.

There are some variations between the sites UAE and Saudi residents visit. In the UAE, business travellers visit Google Maps, then airline websites and then the google search page; leisure travellers prefer to search on Google. In Saudi, business travellers click on airline websites, then to online travel agents and finally Google's search page; leisure travellers visit social media sites, then the Google search site.

The second finding was that YouTube plays a powerful role in travellers' decision making. This is unique to the Gulf region.

"There is a massive consumption of videos," Ms Ducla says. "We knew it was a fact [for the general population] but we didn't know it was the same for travellers. They watch videos several times a week and they watch them on YouTube. When we asked if seeing a brand advertised on a video platform has an impact, more than 70 per cent [of the people surveyed] said 'Yes, it makes me consider the brand, I start remembering it.' It's very specific to this region."

The third finding revealed that many travellers rely on their smartphones to research travel options. In fact, of those who plan their trips using the internet, 50 per cent do so using their smartphone. However, many searches fail to result in bookings because of the limitations of the app being used.

"The only thing that is blocking the booking is the poor user experience," Ms Ducla says. "This is a key opportunity for business."

Because people reach for whichever device is closest to them - computer, smartphone or tablet - it's vital to ensure that the quality of the experience is the same, Ms Ducla says.

"The user wants a similar type of experience as on a desktop so why do you provide him with a [poor] experience on his mobile?" she asks. "There must be a seamless experience across all devices. It's the same customer and maybe it's a business customer or a first class customer who is very valuable."

Ms Ducla also points out that many businesses spend heavily on advertising and, because Google charges its customers by the click, if travellers click on an ad but fail to make a booking because the app is not good enough, it is money wasted.

"If you bring a lot of people into a store but there is no one there to help the customer or to give them information, it's not going to work," Ms Ducla adds. "We can offer a lot of ways for travel businesses to become closer to their customers."