Naveen Kundu, managing director of EbixCash Travel & Holidays Division, an international supplier of on-demand infrastructure exchanges to the insurance, financial, and healthcare industries, shares about the growth plans of the company
EbixCash entered the tourism space in 2017 and acquired a number of Indian travel companies like via.com and Mercury Travels to expand its presence in the travel domain. How has the company grown since then?
Like you mentioned, 2017 was an acquisition period for us. We have since then created a spectrum of travel brands for us and strengthened our position in various markets where we operate, be it India, the Middle East, or the South-east Asia region.
If you consider countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, we are one of the leading players in the market in every segment of business be it online or offline, corporate or luxury, inbound or outbound. We are probably the only company in the South-east Asia region to be present in every spectrum of travel vertical. There is nothing that we don’t do in the travel domain, except run a visa facilitation centre.
The emergence of the pandemic was a major blow to the growth of the tourism sector. How did the pandemic impact your plans as a relatively new entrant in the travel sector during that time?
The pandemic was harsh on the tourism business. It did impact our growth plans as well, but I think things are now back on track. What we did during the pandemic was to grow organically. We focused on our technology offerings as many micro, small and medium enterprises used the period to have an online presence. Now we are growing in every vertical where we operate as we were in the pre-pandemic period.
In the past, you have signed strategic sales agreements with wholesalers in markets like Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to distribute via.com’s travel products. Which other markets are you looking at for similar partnerships for expanding your B2B presence?
We have plans to further expand rapidly now in the B2B space. Following strategic sales agreements with wholesalers in markets including Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, we are now considering similar arrangements in markets including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Corporate travel was one of your focus verticals when you signed an agreement with Cox & Kings in 2019 to take over its business travel clients, with expectations to double your corporate travel revenue. Going forward, considering scenarios like global economic challenges and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, how do you see the demand for corporate travel shaping up?
Our corporate travel vertical has grown 45 per cent over pre-Covid levels. We are highly focused on corporate conversions within the Ebix group. We offer a wide range of solutions to corporate clients be it foreign exchange, expense management tools, inward remittance, or travel technology products.
When we reach a corporate, we offer a 360-degree travel solution to the entity. For us, corporate business is very large and we want to further grow this vertical. Right now, we have seen no deterrent in the growth of corporate business be it due to economic scenarios or other global developments like the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Ebix Cash has created a mark in the B2B travel domain through acquisitions and partnerships, do you also plan to replicate the same success in the B2C space?
We are present in the B2C space with via.com. Already we are witnessing 30,000-40,000 per day visitors organically on the portal. However, we don’t go berserk in marketing or offering discounts. If we consider the B2C market in India, our competitors want to capture the market by offering ‘cheap’ deals. However, we have no intention to dilute our profitability or go for a price war.
We will definitely make a stronger presence in the B2C space but it is going to be sustainable and organic growth where we will choose customers who are willing to travel with us because of the high service standards we offer. If you see other B2C portals, there is barely any service available to the client.
Going forward, are you looking at more acquisitions to further consolidate your position in the market?
We are always open to any acquisitions as long as it offers an edge to our business or an edge to our customer offerings.
In the various travel segments that you operate like luxury, MICE, corporate, outbound etc, which vertical do you think will drive the growth for you in India in 2023?
India is a volume market so there will be enough demand from every segment. I think the growth for travel in 2023 is going to be phenomenal. This year, we have just touched the tip of the iceberg.
The demand is unbelievably high for outbound tourism and in fact, we are finding it difficult to meet the demand. The demand is for both short-haul and longhaul markets and every type of holiday. The question is how well the international markets are geared to handle the outbound demand from India. This is something we all have to wait and see.
A lot of small and mid-size travel agents in India have been finding it difficult to adapt to technology. Do you see potential in offering technology solutions to such players?
We have tools in via.com that helps micro, small and medium-sized companies to sell a wide range of travel products online. For travel management companies (TMC), we offer travel technology under Zillius brand.
Zillius’s product range offers a complete end-to-end technology suite encompassing an advanced internet booking engine designed to address the travel booking needs of all TMCs. We have been conducting roadshows across the country including smaller Indian cities to educate travel agents about our various technology products and the response has been phenomenal. Our focus is to reach every nook and corner of India.