An online travel company in Sharjah is investing in India as growing numbers of Indian tourists visit the UAE.
Musafir.com, a six-year-old e-commerce platform which is part of Universal Travels and Tourism, is investing 100 million rupees (Dh59 million) over the next three years with a focus on increasing flight and hotel bookings, and visas for the UAE.
It has even roped in the Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to boost its marketing efforts.
“It’s a great market with a number of players already, but the category [of online travel bookings] is barely seven to eight years old,” said Albert Dias, the marketing director of Musafir.com. “So we see a market in its infancy as well as a growing middle class providing more and more opportunities.”
The company entered India in 2010 to build partnerships and affiliations ahead of its launch in India last month. While its headquarters in India will remain in Mumbai, Musafir.com says it will open 12 retail shops in large and medium-sized cities.
The Indian online travel market reached US$6.9 billion last year, up 15 per cent from 2011, according to the market research firm PhoCusWright’s Asia Pacific Online Travel Overview report published in October. It forecasts gross online bookings to reach $12.5bn in 2015.
Currently, three Indian players – MakeMyTrip.com, Yatra.com and Cleartrip – hold 85 per cent of the online consumer travel market.
Deepak Jain, a research analyst at PhoCusWright, said budget airlines and train travel had been leading the adoption of online travel bookings in India, and huge opportunities remained untapped in the global aviation, lodging and packages segment.
“If someone can offer the right product at a competitive price, the opportunity is immense,” Mr Jain said.
Musafir.com offers international hotel deals at more than 75,000 properties (of which 12,000 are in India), and flights to more than 3,000 destinations on 270 airlines. It will offer train and bus ticket bookings latenext year.
Mr Dias said his firm also wanted to double the revenue contribution of hotel and packages. Airline ticket sales in India currently comprise 90 per cent of its sales.
Meanwhile, foreign players have had mixed results in India. Travelocity, an American travel booking website which entered the country in 2007, shut its operations in February, according to media reports. Expedia entered a year later, and it has a small but growing market share.
Yatra.com, founded in 2006, has gross annual bookings of about $800 million, according to Sharat Dhall, the firm’s president.
Mr Dhall said having new players in an already crowded market did not worry him.
“It takes a bit of time to build the equity [that we have] and that’s a challenge for newer players at this stage,” he said.
Mobile software applications, which Musafir.com plans to launch in January, is another area where online travel companies are enjoying growth.
Yatra.com has five million unique visitors a month, and its Android application for mobile phones, launched two months ago, has been downloaded 100,000 times. Already, 10 per cent of its bookings comes through mobile phones.
The seven-year-old Cleartrip travel booking site, which launched in the UAE in 2010, gets about 2 per cent of its sales through mobile phones, according to Tarique Khatri, its senior vice president for business development.
The website has 4.5 million unique visitors a month.