TWO pioneers of online travel – Travelstart founded in 1999 in Africa and DoMyTravel founded in India in 2000 – were at WiT Experience Singapore to share how they are facing the future as they emerge from the dust of Covid.
During a wide-ranging conversation, the two companies talked about new services, new working standards, innovations, expansion into new markets, and more. Here’s a look at the discussion.
Despite the slowdown in international travel, Travelstart has been busy preparing for post-pandemic travel “with a whole bunch of miscellaneous projects and some of them that we haven’t even launched yet,” said CEO Stephan Ekbergh .
The only product the South African company has launched is Day One, a tailor-made service for digital nomads, which helps nomads work from Cape Town.
On why he started Day One, Ekbergh explained that despite little business during this period, he noticed that many expats travel to Cape Town to work remotely. To help them get over some of the hassles of setting up a new life for a few months, his team developed Day One – “leaving emigration in a box to make it easy for people to come to Cape Town and work. here for three to six months. “He predicted that at least 10% of them would likely come back to buy a property and possibly invest – paving the way for more investment in South Africa.
Commenting on the trend of remote working in Asia and Japan, Deep Kalra, founder and executive chairman of the MakeMyTrip group, said it was also happening in India, not so much by choice but because of the country’s nationwide lockdown from late March to end of May 2020. After a year and a half of working from home, around 20% of its staff – fully vaccinated and subjected to random Covid tests – are back in the office. The rest comes two to three days a week.
“Productivity is on the rise again, so I think in the future we’re going to have a hybrid version, where people will now work half the time in the office, half the time at home. ”
He pointed out that this way of working might not be the right thing to do. “I’m just saying this could be the new normal, and businesses and employees have to get used to it, and ask how do I make it work, is it a win-win…. We all experience. I think we have to find the new standard that is comfortable.
Is the pandemic a period of evolution or of revolution?
Travelstart’s Ekbergh said the current crisis will change people’s behavior for at least the next 10 to 20 years.
He felt that any kind of restrictions, whether it be vaccine requirements or high costs to get to a destination (due to travel requirements), would have negative effects on travel. “While we’re all super happy now that things are back to normal, I think normal will just be a little different now if you want to call it evolution or revolution.”
But he added that one thing that is “very certain” for the next two years is that there will be a lot of mergers and acquisitions (mergers and acquisitions).
Two things that turn them on about the future of travel
Of India, Kalra said: “The first is that the pandemic has fundamentally accelerated the number of people shopping online. The figures reported are therefore that before the pandemic, 110 million people were shopping online out of the 500 million people who were online in India. That number now sits between 220 (double) or 250 million, which is roughly the entire population of the United States. So I think this is the most exciting part where we just overtook the comfortable online shopping market, and there was a lot of reluctance to buy online.
“The second is the integration of alternative accommodation, or homestay. This is something people are looking for the most during the pandemic, and it has become common now, which was not the case in India. We pushed it around for a while, and people still saw it as a corner case or certain types of people viewed it.
“The third is that travel is moving upmarket. People have saved a lot of money because they haven’t traveled and now they say, you know, we can afford a complex where we’ll have more space, I feel safer because they take all the precautions, etc. we see this distinct change.
Regarding Africa, Ekbergh said domestic travel was the first: “People stay at home a lot more, so they travel more locally. I think (domestic travel) kept us alive throughout this time. This (trend) will stay because the money stays in the ecosystem here instead of going to Europe and elsewhere. Africa is an amazing continent with some of the most spectacular things you can experience. “
The second is that Africa is “very complex. We like this because it makes it difficult for competition to enter here, ”he added.
On expanding to other markets, including the Middle East
Kalra: “We went to the Middle East for a very specific reason. In fact, we are in the GCC with an Arab offer. We get a lot of natural traffic because of this, and a lot of it is thanks to the Indian diaspora who are comfortable with the brand. “
He added that since Dubai and places in the Middle East are only about three hours from India, there is a large Indian diaspora in the area, which also has homes. An Arab site was therefore built to respond to this segment and the response was good despite the pandemic. “We will be looking at similar markets, but I think India is big enough for us right now.”
Travelstart’s Ekbergh said the company has not fully withdrawn from the Middle East, but is not as active as it used to be due to the need to compromise due to the pandemic and with limited liquidity, the company had to concentrate. “So I wouldn’t say yes or no, we haven’t completely withdrawn, we’re not as active as before. Will this change? Maybe, maybe not.”
What “infinity” means to them
Ekbergh: “I would say infinity to me looks like a constant flow of beautiful constant cash flows. This is what I want to see.
Kalra: “It’s something like a tangible dream. I believe the journey is coming back, probably the most resurgent industry possible – revenge, resurgence, whatever we want to call it. And for us, very concretely, if every customer could become a brand ambassador, then I think we’re on the right track.
“This really tough time may have been the best thing for a lot of companies, especially if you are a market leader. … When we look back to 2025, we’ll say “You know what, we came back a lot stronger”. ”
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Watch the video of the panel here.
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