Mumbai: EbixCash has been all over the news in the last few months and many trade pundits are closely watching this organisation to inject some much needed hope into the travel industry after recent unfortunate developments on the organised side of this business in India.

A subsidiary of NASDAQ listed Ebix Inc., the company will open 150 EbixCash Travel & Holidays Brand Shops across India within three years in a phased manner

In the travel trade industry in India, organised players account for around 30 per cent of the market. In this, very large players, a handful of them, individually own around 5 per cent market share each which translates to about Rs. 1100-1200 crore of revenue per player. The lion’s share is split in to tens of thousands of pieces by the unorganised segment.

EbixCash, a subsidiary of NASDAQ listed Ebix Inc. and a leader in the financial exchange industry has been mopping up travel companies – Via, Leisure Corp., Mercury Travels, Aha Taxis, Yatra and the inbound & corporate travel businesses of Cox & Kings. When all the transactions are fully consummated, EbixCash’s leadership in the corporate, luxury, leisure, sports and MICE businesses would be unrivaled by any player in the Indian market.

On the marketing and branding side, EbixCash is making waves too. It is the title sponsor for IPL team Kings XI Punjab in 2020. It is also the principal sponsor for Delhi Capitals for the 2020 and 2021 IPL seasons. In a unique tie-up, a first in news television industry across the world, EbixCash has partnered with Republic Media Network, to create the world’s first brand integrated news studio.

In November 2019, EbixCash announced the appointed of erstwhile COO of Cox & Kings, JP Singh as the COO of newly minted Travel & Holidays division. Destination Reporter caught up with Singh recently to understand his plans and priorities for the business.

Can you tell us more about EbixCash Travel & Holidays?
We are very excited to unveil a new brand under EbixCash called EbixCash Travel & Holidays. Due to certain unfortunate developments in the market in recent times, there has been a void. I would call it the absence of a credible national level player. Many are trying to fill that gap but nobody can match the credibility and distribution of EbixCash. This is a real game changer because of our brand identity and financial muscle. We have hand-picked a team of highly accomplished travel professionals – it’s a lean commando team. We are just starting to make our presence felt. We will have all the products: series departures targeting North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and ANZ; FIT; bespoke travel. We are also launching unique propositions like private luxury van tours. Short haul itineraries within four hours of flying distance – ‘sachet products’ in domestic and international holiday space. Sports holidays is a new line we are introducing leveraging the expertise of Leisure Corp.

What will be the market presence of the new business?
We are soon opening EbixCash Travel & Holidays Brand Shops – 50 across India in tier I and II cities. This is phase one and we intend to grow this to 150 outlets in the next three years. These offline stores will offer a one-stop travel solution – holidays, foreign exchange, insurance, cabs, ticketing, hotels – under one roof. The official launch will be in middle of January 2020.

How will you ensure reach in tier III and IV locations?
We will work with travel agents and tour operators in tier III and IV cities as we may not have presence there to start with. We will be doing multiple roadshows to engage and educate them on our products and services. It is going to be a win-win proposition thanks to our innovative products, compelling commission structure, robust marketing engine and above all a very long term outlook.

How important is online for your new business?
The focus is to get the offline multichannel distribution ecosystem working in place first. Having said that it’s important to emphasise that, at Ebix we strongly believe that a hybrid model comprising of physical retail presence complemented with digital efficiencies will enhance the customer experience substantially. At Ebix we call it our ‘Phygital Strategy’. Further, we are also revamping our website as in this market we do understand that online predominantly is being used for gathering information and still customers prefer offline mode when booking holidays. Our Holiday Counsellors with 3-5 years of experience will assist customers at our Brand Shops to choose and plan their holidays.

What are some of the hot destinations in 2020?
In 2020, hot destinations I would say are Iceland, Finland and CIS nations. South America is seeing a lot of interest and I believe has tremendous potential especially Brazil since it has announced visa on arrival. The Americas still continue to be a hot favorite. We want to offer attractive propositions to both the first time traveller and the mature travelers. We can be unique in two ways: in terms of offering new destinations and new experiences in already popular destinations. We don’t want to compete with similar products as competition when customer decision boils down to a price benefit. We want to compete on the merit of our unique products and experiences.

How about offering adventure, luxury camping, self drive, disable travel holidays etc.?
To be frank, the market for some of these like self drive or luxury camping has not picked up. At the moment we are focusing on segments that have a ready market and where we can pick up scale fast. We are getting the kitchen set and as we know the consumer is already there – 50 million outbound travelers from India by 2020 says UNWTO. We are here for the long run and as we progress, we will unveil products which focus on niche customer segments. By then the market will also be ready.

Is it going to be only outbound or even domestic travel will be a focus?
We are looking at domestic travel in a big way. All the more after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged us to visit at least 15 tourist destinations within India by 2022. His Independence Day address has given a huge fillip to domestic tourism.

How do you see your mandate?
As we discussed earlier, there is an opportunity now for a large credible national player in the organised side of the business. My mandate is to establish and grow the holidays business while also from an industry standpoint, see how to make the organised piece of the travel trade pie bigger by encouraging more and more customers to migrate from the unorganised side to the organised side. We will do this by developing products which are aligned to market requirements and sentiment.

The economy is performing badly. The consumer sentiment is low. Is it the right time to launch something so ambitious?
The economy will bounce back. We all know that it’s just a matter of time. Holidays are not anymore an aspirational category as it used to be. Today it is a mandatory indulgence. Just look at our cities which get empty when there is an extended weekend. Having said that, one needs to be very rational in terms of investments and product line. There is a clear opportunity right now in the outbound holiday space as even 2 per cent of the Indian population doesn’t travel. If we have the right products and distribution & delivery mechanism, with strategic marketing & communications, we can capture the market and scale up.

What does this role and opportunity mean to you personally?
It is an honor to work for an organisation led by a visionary like Robin Raina who has been super successful as an entrepreneur and has great plans for India. Personally for me, it’s a rewarding and exciting journey as a founding member and the opportunity to create a brand in the market. I am bringing all my learning, unlearning and also learning anew.

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