Hari Nair of HolidayIQ talks about the impact of falling rupee on holidays

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In the first part of this interview, Hari Nair, founder & CEO, HolidayIQ.com spoke about the Uttarakhand calamity and various developments at the startup.

On the impact of the falling rupee on holidays.Our data suggests that the decline of the rupee has practically had no impact on the number of people planning a holiday abroad. We are seeing roughly the same growth rate that we saw last year. The decline has obviously affected budgets as the amount of money travellers planned to spend in INR remains the same, so there is a reduction in what they get in terms of foreign exchange value. The implication we are seeing on HolidayIQ.com is that people who were planning to go to Europe are now opting for destinations in the Middle East and South East Asia a lot more. A lot of travellers are also looking at accommodation budget lower than what they were planning for initially. It is fascinating to see how just as the rupee fell, the trend in average trip budget reduced.

With the decline of the rupee and the Uttarakhand disaster wiping out Himalayan destinations as a holiday option, people who want to travel are choosing international destinations. What they are compromising on is the distance they travel and the budgets they allocated for the same. We will witness a boom in travel to nearby holiday destinations. (Audio)

Brand initiatives from HolidayIQ.com.

We are working on a lot of exciting initiatives. By and large they fall into three buckets:

a) To help users and travellers in India to contribute information to our site and to be able to them consume that information effectively.

b) Help travel trade, whether hotels or travel agents, improve their ability to service travellers better in line with their needs.

c) HolidayIQ.com wants to work with policymakers and governments to help them understand information and data behind tourism in India and help them crystallise their thoughts around the kind of policies which will actually make tourism do what it is supposed to do, which is to create lot of jobs and wealth in rural areas.

Let me elaborate on each.

We have recently launched ReviewDirect, which arises out of a single-point agenda of HolidayIQ.com, which is to see how every traveller in India can be made a person who gives a review, and shares an opinion about travel. We believe that unless every traveller in India becomes an opinion-giver, we will not be able to improve travel.

The most important stakeholders in travel are not the travel trade or governments, it is the traveller and they are the ones who have to make a difference, and we believe, the simplest and the most powerful way to make a difference is to give your opinion about what you experienced when you travel.

With ReviewDirect, we work with hoteliers across the spectrum, from the biggest 5-star property to the smallest homestay. What we do with them is we run a program wherein we try and get as many guests who stay with them to write a review on HolidayIQ.com and we do that in multiple ways. We tell the hotelier, share with us the people who stayed with you and we will contact them on your behalf to get them to become reviewers. Remember, this is a very difficult thing in India because the act of writing a review is still an alien habit in this country. So we put in a lot of effort on our resources to make this happen.

ReviewDirect is a major initiative and we are currently working with 1,500-2,000 hotels across India, strengthening it further. It has been fairly successful in the sense hoteliers seem to be keen to join it. We are essentially trying to fulfil the core responsibility of HolidayIQ.com which is to get as many travellers as possible to write reviews.

To ensure travellers get access to information garnered through ReviewDirect, we are constantly working on improving our website and mobile app. So we have recently launched a new Hotel Overview page. All 30,000 hotels have a new page which is extremely powerful in the analytics it offers.

To mention an example, for the first time in India, we now launched a feature where every prospective guest to a hotel can read reviews from his/her own city. If you are from Mumbai heading to Sikkim, you can see what others from Mumbai have to say about Sikkim! What this feature recognises is that India is a very large country and that people coming from different parts of India have different cultural requirements, and because we are sitting on this very powerful information we empowered users to find this information in the way most helpful to them.

It is a very interesting page and I would definitely request all readers of YourStory.in to take a look at it. This is a place where we have actually listened closely to the requirements of the Indian traveller and created a new feature which is very meaningful and valuable.

Another thing I would like to speak about is an interesting initiative called ‘India Says Yes’. We get a lot of reviews from travellers, and we wanted to use these reviews to give the public’s recognition to the travel trade. So we created a certificate program entirely powered by reviews from Indian travellers free of any commercial bias. The first accolade program in the world to be done exclusively by Indian travellers. We have started giving out certificates which recognise certain superior facets of certain hotels based on ratings and reviews. For instance, travellers love some hotels for their food, some other hotels for their location, etc.

Typically many of these certificates are given by trade organisations or travel agents. We see hoteliers recognising the value and power in receiving an accolade like this from actual travellers. Currently, we have rolled out India Says Yes only for hotels; in future, we will roll it out for all sorts of travel players including airlines, travel agencies and so on.

Yet another initiative I would like to talk about is CenterStage; it is a unique advertising product we have for hoteliers. Traditionally, hoteliers were not able to reach out to prospective customers. They may have to advertise in ‘The Times of India’ in Delhi or ‘The Hindu’ in Chennai. The cost of such an approach is very high and only a very small percentage of people seeing this ad will actually travel to the destination, leading to fair amount of wastage of resources in terms of advertising. CenterStage is basically a competitively-priced targeted advertising proposition that allows hoteliers to advertise their product only in the relevant destination pages of HolidayIQ.com. So if I own a hotel in Lonavla, I can advertise only on the Lonavla page.

This product was researched extensively with hoteliers. We wanted to understand the pain points they were struggling with and what it is we could do to solve it. We realised their problem was ROI in advertising. They wanted a cost-efficient medium of advertising which gives them good returns and that is what HolidayIQ.com has done with CenterStage.

The last initiative I would like to talk about is what HolidayIQ.com would like to do with the policymakers. HolidayIQ.com is the largest repository of factual information in domestic tourism. It is extremely powerful and granular information. We feel this data will play a big role in policy making. A number of tourism boards like Kerala tourism, Goa tourism, Maharashtra tourism have started displaying our reviews on their websites. All these tourism boards run resorts across their respective states and they have realised the reviews from Indian travellers are the best way to convince people about the quality of the product. They have implemented widgets on their sites enabling travellers to find these reviews. I think it is an extremely positive step demonstrating a certain openness and willingness of state governments to leverage user information and traveller reviews.

The other is the large volume of data on HolidayIQ.com. As of now, decision-making in India is based on intuition and not data. If policy makers begin harnessing this information based entirely on data, then decision-making will become much sharper.

For instance, every tourism board should know where they will allocate their marketing budgets and which audiences are their most natural customer sets. We have realised that, for any tourism board, the most natural customer base sits first in your own state, and secondly in the nearest metro. So, if I am the Tamil Nadu government, first and foremost I should ensure that my product, which is the tourism offerings of Tamil Nadu are communicated to every citizen of Tamil Nadu, and then in the metros of Bangalore and Hyderabad because the potential purchasing power of travellers from here is very high; and secondly, there is a lot of familiarity with the state which allows people to simply buy it. This approach can give fantastic immediate returns.

HolidayIQ.com would love to work with governments in the future. For the moment, we are continued to be focused on creating a compelling user proposition which is building up a huge bank of data and information. (Audio)

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