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The dynamic woman who brought brilliance to the Yatra

In Conversation with Sabina Chopra, Co-Founder & COO, Corporate Travel & Head Industry Relations at Yatra Online Limited ("Yatra") How did you land in this industry? Being a woman entrepreneur, what major challenges did you face,

Like many other sectors, women entrepreneurs in the Online Travel Agency (OTA) industry face unique challenges.

There is a fierce competition among domestic and foreign competitors in the Indian OTA sector as they compete for market share. This fierce competition exerts immense pressure, leading to thin profit margins and necessitating a continuous drive for innovation to maintain a competitive edge.

The success of Yatra is deeply rooted in technology-driven solutions, and relies on the seamless integration of technological advancements to provide clients with an efficient and user-friendly booking experience. However, the dynamic nature of technology presents an ongoing challenge, demanding consistent efforts to stay updated with the latest trends and developments.

Balancing work and family responsibilities too remains a complex juggling act as there is no perfect lifestyle balance.. Additionally, the scarcity of female role models and mentors within this industry poses an added challenge, requiring perseverance and determination to overcome. Overcoming these challenges has required resilience, determination, and a commitment to breaking down gender barriers in entrepreneurship.

Throughout my career spanning over 33 years, I have always remained close to the travel industry. I had the opportunity to work with internationally recognized airlines and companies such as Japan Airlines, Canada Airlines, Hewitt Associates, Wyndham Destinations, ebookers (Mr Jet), and Rac Business Solutions (Aviva Plc). Each collaboration provided unique challenges and invaluable learning experiences, shaping my understanding of the industry landscape and consumer behavior. However, the most thrilling part of my journey emerged when I co-founded Yatra.com in 2006, alongside Dhruv Shringi and Manish Amin. Yatra’s establishment as an online travel agency marked the beginning of an incredible journey that transformed it into a key player in the Indian travel industry.

One of the most exhilarating aspects of being an entrepreneur in this field has been the continuous adaptation to meet changing market and customer preferences. We focused on introducing pioneering features like ‘Book Now, Pay Later’, ‘FlexiStay’, ‘Interest-Free EMI options’, and ‘Zero Cancellation’ to cater to the dynamic needs of our users. Furthermore, we emphasized emerging trends such as ‘spiritual and wellness’ travel and budget-friendly economy class travel options, ensuring that Yatra.com remained at the forefront of innovation in the industry.

Yatra leads the corporate travel segment with strong growth and performance. We serve around 813 large corporations, and over 58,000 SMEs, and have 29,000 registered travel agents on our platform. Our corporate customer retention rate is an impressive 98%. We work with 25% of the country’s top companies, including prominent accounting and technology firms, highlighting our exceptional customer service and technology capabilities. This segment is expected to grow rapidly as smaller travel agents shift to tech-enabled companies. Our expanding base of loyal, blue-chip customers reflects our success, demonstrating the strength of our technology and customer service.

Travellers of today are living in the moment and prioritizing travel every chance they get. One of the rapidly growing trend “Carpe diem” travel is fuelling the desire to savor as many new destinations and exciting experiences as possible in more authentic ways. While travelers still want to journey in comfort, the new definition of luxury is personalized adventures shared with family and friends. Due to these evolving preferences, we are noticing travelers are booking their journeys much closer to the travel date to be mindful of uncertainties in their plans. This, however, makes the travel far more expensive on the pocket. Ushering travelers to get more out of their travel and book the best deals much in advance, Yatra Prime with a subscription-based model allows zero convenience fees on domestic tickets, access to special fares and exciting ongoing offers enhancing the travel experiences of all individuals, especially those traveling with families.

Interestingly, domestic travel is on an upward trend since the start of the pandemic and will continue to see robust demand in the future as well. Travelers will continue to explore, experience and value off-beat destinations and hidden gems, including in tier II and III cities. Domestic travel has further propelled the rise of Religious, spiritual, and wellness tourism. On our platform, we have seen a significant 100% increase in search bookings and queries. Varanasi has become the most searched city for hotels, surpassing popular destinations like Goa. Amritsar, Katra, Shirdi, Tirupati, Ujjain, and others are now highly considered by travelers. To cater to this segment, Yatra offers FlexiStays, usage-based pricing wherein travellers can book hotel rooms on an hourly basis anywhere between 4 to 72 hours rather than paying per night costs. This is greatly beneficial for short-haul journeys. With BookNowPayLater (BNPL), one can plan their itineraries easily with payment flexibility. Travellers can place their seat reservation on hold, without any immediate payment.

Lastly, a growing focus on health and wellness has contributed to the rise of wellness travel. Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, and rejuvenation are key aspects that attract travelers seeking mind, body, and soul rejuvenation. People now view wellness and well-being as essential investments and integral parts of their daily routines. Bookings for wellness resorts and hotels have grown by 90%. Some travelers choose hiking and biking, while others prefer spa weekends or yoga retreats.

Our growth strategy focuses on both the B2C and corporate travel segments. While we anticipate benefiting from industry-wide growth, we expect our corporate business to outpace our B2C business. Our B2C growth is driven by our strong brand recall and organic traffic, complemented by partnerships with banks and other distribution channels. The contribution of the corporate travel segment is set to increase within our overall business mix, fuelled by the higher growth rate expected from this segment. As the largest corporate travel player in the country, we are well-positioned to capitalize on this changing dynamic and strengthen our market position. We prioritize customer satisfaction by offering cost-reduction measures and integrating with major HRMIS solutions and customer ERP systems for an end-to-end solution. 

Moreover, on September 28 this year, we got listed on BSE and NSE. We raised primary capital of INR 602 crores or US$72 Million in its Indian IPO. Strong tailwinds made it the right time to list Yatra.  We thought this is an apt time to enter the market. Given the presence of the existing players in this segment, and their growth, along with our attributes, our business, and the ecosystem, we have a strong position.

The company will invest in customer acquisition and go deeper into tier II and III markets. It will look at building a service platform for corporate businesses it works for.

We also entered into a partnership with Welspun World to manage their domestic travel requirements. Through this partnership, Yatra aims to offer tailored, end-to-end travel solutions for Welspun’s corporate employees. The user-friendly platform will enable Welspun employees to conveniently book flights, hotels, trains, and other services, including taxis and guest houses. Leveraging Yatra’s industry-leading expertise, global network, and advanced technology, the tool will optimize Welspun’s travel logistics and improve the travel experience for its employees.

Yatra tries to pass through the challenges that come up in the dynamic global economic conditions. Fluctuations in currency exchange rates can impact the overall cost of travel and accordingly influence travel demand. To sustain our momentum, we plan to focus on cost optimization and technology, ensuring that we provide competitive prices and value for our customers. We are committed to continued innovation in our services, including the development of new features and technologies to meet evolving customer expectations. Additionally, we are agile in adapting to changing customer preferences, staying responsive to the shifting dynamics of the travel industry. Our priority is to maintain a strong commitment to safety, ensuring that our customers can travel with confidence and peace of mind, even in uncertain times.

Yatra leads the corporate travel segment with strong growth and performance. We serve around 813 large corporates, and over 49,800 SMEs, and have over 29,800 registered travel agents on our platform. Our corporate customer retention rate is an impressive ~98%. We work with 25% of the country’s top companies, including prominent accounting and technology firms, highlighting our exceptional customer service and technology capabilities. This segment is expected to grow rapidly as smaller travel agents shift to tech-enabled companies. Our expanding base of loyal, blue-chip customers reflects our success, demonstrating the strength of our technology and customer service.

We have invested significantly in a secure, advanced, and scalable technology infrastructure. We provide our clients with online booking tools, and a vast inventory of flights, hotels, and cabs. Keeping in mind sustainable solutions, we not only showcase carbon footprints on travel booked but also provide a seamless technology solution to offset carbon footprint. Likewise, we are strengthening our hotel and cabs solutions on green and sustainability factors as well.

In December 2022, Yatra launched Corporate Platform Partner (CPP), a platform for corporate travelers. CPP is a unified SaaS platform that offers real-time updates on the best hotels, airline offers, and availability.The platform integrates with multiple GDS, HRMIS, expense management partners, and hotel suppliers, offering a complete solution for corporates. With a simple click, corporate travelers have access to a full range of services that meet all their travel needs seamlessly. Other travel management companies can now leverage Yatra’s CPP platform to provide superior capabilities to their customers. Yatra is also expanding the CPP platform internationally, starting with partnerships in the Middle East and Africa, targeting high-growth regions.

At Yatra, we are dedicated to providing excellent corporate travel solutions and streamlining the booking process for our partners. With our advanced technology platform, innovative tools, and outstanding customer service, we aim to establish more partnerships and acquire new clients in the future.

Over the last few years, technology has been key to growth in travel and making travel available to people residing in any part of the world.  I remember that in the 1990s, one had to go to a travel agency to make hotel or airline bookings.  Now this can be done instantly online using your mobile phone, and that too with immediate booking confirmation, something not possible a couple of decades ago.

Going forward, newer technologies that are based on artificial intelligence will influence travel.  With large language models (LLM) and generative AI becoming possible, customer calls can be handled by AI based computer programs.  The information can be shared with the customers both quickly and in large amounts.  

Using vision APIs, one can identify the location where the picture was taken.  Information about the location can be derived from content based systems such as Wikipedia and ChatGPT.  Videos integrated with virtual reality can be viewed by the customer to understand more about the place.  Machine learning based algorithms are widely used to detect fraud in online booking payments.  Entity extraction techniques can be used to analyze the query of the customer sent via email, and an automated intelligent response with pertinent information can be sent to the customer.  Possibilities of effectively using AI to make travel more enjoyable and easy are endless.  There are significant opportunities to not only enhance customer experience but also cut down costs.



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