Quality check is our top most priority: Vikas Bhola

Booking.com is offering unique places to stay and connect every traveller with travel experiences which perfectly match their personality, desires and ambitions. We speak to Vikas Bhola, Head for the Indian Sub-Continent (India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal), Booking.com on how ensuring quality control and technology innovation is important to overcome challenges and augment growth.

KEEPING IN line with its philosophy to help leisure and business travellers, Booking.com has constantly endeavoured to provide a great consumer product which delivers unrivalled travel experiences to its guests. “We want to keep adding more amazing and unique accommodation options for our consumers in India and are constantly exploring new ways to empower travelers to simply search and book an accommodation that is just right for them – no matter which screen or device,” says Vikas Bhola. In this light, they have innovated products like Passion Search, a platform to help travellers easily search and discover the most amazing destinations based on their passions. “This new way of searching is the most comprehensive of its kind in the travel industry – perfectly matching people’s unique passions and interests with the best destination and accommodation to suit their needs,” adds Bhola who is also optimizing products to enhance customer travel experience, including Booking Experiences – the ability to book tours, activities and sights directly through the site. On the business side, the key priority is to build win-win relationships with more than 1 million accommodation partners worldwide. We speak to Vikas Bhola on how these partnerships are achievable for continuous growth in business. Excerpts:

Has the global online luxury hotel inventory increased this year? Have you seen a similarity in trend when you had forayed in India?
We have seen an increase in the amount of luxury properties deciding to list with Booking.com and we attribute it to the fact that more properties in this category are seeing the value in listing with sites such as ours to bring them more customers, both locally and internationally. 
So have the home-grown aggregators impacted on growth? 
The India born players in the online travel space are looking at economies of scale which we have seen with the merger of Make My Trip and GOIBIO. It is also a sign that the Indian online travel market is maturing into a healthy marketplace. At Booking.com, we will continue to focus on what we do best, and satisfaction of our customers and our partners is our top priority.
Does this mean that domestic travel segment has improved for you? 
We have seen that the travel market is growing due to rising consumer spending and income supply. Domestic travel is increasingly important in India as many people now prefer to take small breaks during the long weekends, closer to their cities of origin. In line with this trend, we are constantly trying to grow our business to provide our consumers with a wide range of choices.

What has been the YOY growth and market share?
The online travel industry in India is a thriving, booming industry and one that we love being a part of. When we opened our first office in 2012 in India, we had around 500 Indian properties and today we have over 22,000 properties. We are proud of the fact that we have grown rapidly and are one of the market leaders in the online travel booking space in India. We have achieved this by providing our consumers with a fantastic experience and building strong relations with our property partners. 
How do you work with competitors? What has been your USP?
Currently, we have strategic partnerships with MakeMyTrip and Ixigo who are our direct competitors. MakeMyTrip has partnered with us for our international inventory supply on their platform. Also, we have partnered with Ixigo for full inventory on their platform. In addition, we have other strategic partnerships with HDFC Bank, YES Bank, Vistara Airlines and PayTM enabling consumers to access Booking.com properties on these platforms.
For Booking.com it is all about providing a great experience to our consumers and it is not just about a transaction. Our USP is that we keep offering more unique places to stay than any other travel company in the world and connect every traveler with travel experiences which perfectly match their personality, desires and ambitions. We are constantly innovating and building a product that consumers love which in turn brings more business to our partners. This has always been our strategy and will continue to be in the future. 
Do you see any challenge in India market? 

International visitors love visiting India and there are a growing number of reasons for Indians to travel within their own country. There are so many wonderful things to experience and to explore in India, from the ancient sites and landmarks to the temples and hillside stations, from the deserts and beaches to the backwaters and bustling metropolises, not to forget India’s world-famous cuisine. This does mean that we need to have the absolute broadest and most diverse range of accommodation options available to satisfy every traveller’s individual wants and needs. So, for my team here in India we need to make sure we are constantly working towards bringing more partners on board and making more accommodation options available to travellers. It is an exciting and positive challenge for us.
How do you ensure standard quality of experience across all hotel brands?
Quality checks are our top most priority and we ensure that all properties adhere to the policies put in place by Booking.com. In addition, if we are made aware of a property that is not complying with our quality check policies, we investigate to ensure that they are complied with. If the property is unwilling, we remove it from our listing. In order to support our accommodation partners, we endeavour to ensure we keep all channels of communication open. We advise our hotel partners individually in shaping their appearance on Booking.com. We want to help hoteliers reach their goals and achieve the best possible results.
According to you, which are the top destinations for 2017? 
Some of the top international destinations booked by Indian travellers this year include Thailand, USA, UAE, UK, Italy, Germany, France, Singapore and China. Some of the top international cities include Dubai, Bangkok, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Amsterdam and Pattaya. Domestically, the top cities booked by Indians are Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Cochin and Kumbakonam. Apart from the top destinations, Indians are open to exploring lesser known locales and retreats. Travellers are now increasingly looking at options which match their passions and interests.

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