Why this former hotelier believes there is room for yet another online travel platform

Hookrooms is a Chennai-based startup that uses AI to give the right holiday, accommodation, and flight recommendations to consumers
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Anand Kumar had been working in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, predominantly in sales and marketing roles. And one thing he noticed over this period is how his hotel guests always had various booking sources. 

Anand first wanted to do something of his own in 2007 but owing to personal reasons, had to drop the idea for an online travel booking portal. However, as someone said, if things are destined to be, they will be, and 10 years later, Anand launched Hookrooms in 2017 out of Chennai. 

An online Business-to-Consumer (B2C) travel portal that is instructional and comes packaged in a user-friendly website, Hookrooms, the founder claims, guarantees the best available prices.

The startup provides business and leisure travellers with the most accessible and cost-effective way of discovering and booking a wide-range of accommodation, in every part of the world.

“When we started, we were at the cusp of boom in online travel agencies (OTAs). My thinking was that these online travel businesses had taken the inventory and made it available online so that you no longer needed travel agents to buy stuff and compare. Hookrooms helps travellers to travel better, more often, and for less money,” says Anand. 

That said, major challenges lay in bringing the new online travel product into the market and creating an online presence through social media ads, search engine optimisation (SEO) process, and building and ensuring a user-friendly system.

The Covid crisis

Hookrooms is focusing on customer service and the latest AI technology to enhance the customer UI experiences, since “very few other OTAs add real value to the consumer value proposition”, according to Anand. 

The COVID-19 crisis has conjured up a rare situation for the travel industry, probably the worst hit by the pandemic. However, with tourism gradually bouncing back, and with vaccinations being rolled out in most of the countries, it is expected that the situation will only significantly improve in the months ahead. 

“Tourism is an important sector that accounts for 10 percent of global gross domestic product and one in every 10 jobs. In fact, in recent years, the online travel industry has experienced an intense growth and the number of internet users who managed the travel reservations online has increased from around 40.6 million to 64 million,” adds Anand. 

Hookrooms’ AI-powered technology provides insights to consumers before it tries to sell something, whilst also guaranteeing best prices. While the team refused to share how much they charge, the business model is a commission-based one from travel suppliers. They also charge advertisement fees and have incentives/bonus from other suppliers.

Market and future 

An India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) report states that foreign exchange earnings significantly dipped in 2020 due to COVID. Some of the giants in the space include - EaseMyTrip, MakeMyTrip, ClearTrip, and OYO. 

Anand adds that hotel deals are high-margin businesses for online travel agencies, offering upto 10 to 12 percent margin. This is followed by international and domestic air tickets. Package holidays are another source of higher margins. 

“Within the next three years, Hookrooms will be one of the major OTA’s in the world and a pioneer in the Artificial Intelligence-powered travel technology,” signs off Anand. 

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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