Mobility to travel from metros to Tier 2 & 3 cities is bound to grow: Swapnil Tripathi
Shrugging off the disruptions of last year, businesses and agencies are looking for a strong revival in 2021. Adgully – as part of our annual TRENDING NOW endeavour – has been presenting the strategies and views of a cross-section of industry leaders as they go about reclaiming lost time and market opportunities and build for a stronger future, armed with the lessons of 2020.
In conversation with Adgully, Swapnil Tripathi, Chief Business Officer, Intercity RailYatri, gives an overview of the travel industry in the pandemic era.
Outlook for 2021
The year 2020 started with a complete lockdown and we were stuck in a faceoff-like situation with an uncertain and unknown new normal. However, as mobility started in July, non-discretionary travel (work & social travel) picked up faster and that led us to touch our pre-COVID volumes in November 2020. With revived travel sentiments and ease in mobility, we were able to close this financial year at 50-60% Y-On-Y growth, specifically from our main business centers across 14 states of India where our fleet operates.
The pandemic impacted the intercity mobility segment as emergency measures and safety protocols were put in place to prohibit the public movement to restrict the spread of the virus. It was a sudden jolt to the industry as well as travelers. We conserved our energy and utilised lockdown period to understand the consumer behaviour and their changed habits/ priorities to get our product and operations ready for the changed lifestyle.
Our research taught us that pandemic changed the passengers’ expectations in intercity mobility, where hygiene, cleanliness & social distancing became the bigger priorities as compared to the comfort and on-time arrival and departure.
The intercity mobility by bus & train improved throughout August 2020 to March 2021 and reached around 75-80% of pre-COVID levels. Simultaneously, we could create a better consumer stickiness for Intercity SmartBus because of the differentiated experience offered to our travelers with Safe+ program along with a fleet having Bus Captain, onboard washroom, live tracking on the app, just to name a few.
While we are cautious as the second wave of COVID-19 has hit the country and it may impact the mobility in April, which otherwise is a higher intensity travel period because of the onset of summer vacations. The year 2021 will be far better in general since industry and we, in particular, are far better prepared. Besides the government also does not intend to impact mobility, that being the lifeline of the economy.
We look forward to 2021, where our current 10-15% month-on-month growth should continue after the initial phase of slow movement due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus. We are currently running an all-time high fleet of 130+ Intercity SmartBus running across 630+ routes in India which should reach around 400-500 buses by year-end.
The intercity bus landscape has changed significantly with the entry of technology-based players like ours, who at the current juncture dominate the industry with their presence on the most prominent routes in India. The pandemic has not only changed how the customers’ travel preferences but they are biased and have gained awareness towards organized players who are providing better hygiene, sanitization, and safe travel.
We launched a comprehensive Safe+ program in July 2020, which now has become the industry norm, especially amongst organised players.
However, a certain balance in consumer expectations emerged by December 2020, when along with hygiene and sanitization the earlier expectations around on-time arrival & departure and comfortable journey experience became a priority again.
We can now clearly establish that hygiene and sanitization is not a phase and has now become a standard expectation from the travelers along with on-time performance, safe boarding and journey comfort. Hence, our initiatives of onboard washroom, boarding lounges, Bus Captain, journey management app along with Safe+ program helped establish leadership and gain consumer mind space. Additional benefits such as complimentary travel Insurance, Flexi ticket, sanitization kit are also drawing more and more customer travelers’ attention.
Key learnings from 2020
The year 2020 made us stronger and we realised that every crisis brings us a new possibility and one should always put the best step forward to transform it into a bigger opportunity/ learning. Our capability to reach our travelers and accumulate consumer insights and implementing those changes in our product helped us stay ahead on the growth curve.
I would like to conclude by saying that evolution is the only constant for a brand to achieve its business growth not only today, but for the future and hence fast learning, listening to customers and enable those to your product are the keys to success.
Outlook for the travel industry
We expect the industry to go faster after struggling with a slow start in the coming months. COVID-19 vaccine slots will not only ensure containment of the spread of the virus, but also infuse a liberation thought in the consumers’ minds to start traveling. As a result, mobility to travel from metros to Tier 2 and 3 cities is bound to grow, which, in return, would give a boost to the economy.
Besides, the emergence of technology-based brands in the inter-city bus segment and fully digital train booking platforms are going to ensure that both modes grow to offer integrated mobility across the two primary modes of intercity travel in India. We are highly optimistic about non-discretionary travel for work, education, and social reasons to grow in 2021.