While technology has made many professions redundant, it has strangely still not removed brick-and-mortar travel agencies completely. In fact, there are some who swear by the personalised travel solutions and services that only offline travel agents can offer. With some digitisation, these players can become online travel agents (OTAs). Then they can offer the same level of personalised services online, reaching a much wider audience.
“These agents want to digitise their business. But they face a problem in getting reliable suppliers to do this,” says Arun Bagaria, co-founder and CEO, TravClan. He says travel agents provide immense value by helping people plan their travel and that they are exceptional when it comes to offering certain personalised services, which OTAs sometimes struggle to deliver.
This made Mumbai-based Bagaria start TravClan in 2018 in New Delhi, along with Chirag Agarwal and Ashish Thapliyal. Their aim is to local travel agents to digitise their business.
The co-founders have a collective experience of working in startups in e-commerce and travel. Bagaria, an alumnus of IIM-Bangalore, worked for a company named TravelTriangle in 2014 where his role was to expand the company’s supplier and customer base. “I saw the company grow from just 25-odd people to 600-odd people. I learned a lot over there.” He then moved to CARS24. Bagaria knew Agarwal from 2011, while they were preparing for MBA together. Agarwal, who did his MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, had also worked with Bagaria in TravelTriangle before moving on to Oyo Rooms. The third co-founder, Thapliyal, was the CTO of CARS24 during Bagaria’s stint there.
“So, all three of us had worked with each other in the past and we would keep discussing various startup ideas,” says Bagaria. But it was his expertise of having worked with travel agents that helped give shape to a B2B travel platform. “We started TravClan based on our understanding and through our own interactions with over 250 agents, over 100 of whom I have managed and known first-hand. We had understood one thing: people will always appreciate travel agents over OTAs. The vision since day one has been to empower small businesses in travel, starting with travel agents to help them grow their business. We help these agents generate more demand.”
Powering online presence
Through TravClan’s website or mobile application, travel agents can launch their own personalised websites within 30 seconds. It develops, uploads and maintains travel agents’ websites and helps them with the onboarding process and also with transactions. The B2B travel tech platform also enables these small travel entrepreneurs to get a personalised WhatsApp integrated website, free marketing posters and videos and instant quotes on destinations, among other services. The company has a team of 107 people in six offices in India (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune) and 2 abroad (Singapore and Dubai). It works with over 15,000 travel agents across India; 60-70% of the clients are in north and west India.
(From L to R) Chirag Agarwal, Ashish Thapliyal and Arun Bagaria, co-founders, TravClan.
Chirag Agrawal, Co-founder & COO of TravClan, says, “Today, travel agents are able to share real-time news, Covid restrictions and travel updates with their customers on their TravClan-powered websites. They can automate a lot of operations by using modern features like chatbot and social media integration that help them stay connected and engaged with their customers. They have the same level of technology available as larger OTAs to allow customers to book flights and hotels directly from their websites. Above all, these agents can now combine their unmatched personalised service with modern technology and get an edge over larger OTAs”
Travel curators — who plan and create itineraries for personalised travel experiences based on a client’s needs — have found the B2B platform useful.
Manav Patel, CEO & MD of Anand-based Tripsoi, says they have been working with TravClan since the beginning. “I am an avid user of their products. My business has grown with TravClan as I am able to sell a lot more products and destinations. I can also engage my customers actively with their marketing tools.”
In June 2021, TravClan says, it did a survey that showed 70-80% of the agents on their platform were getting inquiries from first-time customers after using its services.
The founder of the Kolkata-based travel curation firm Duniya Safari acknowledges that the “unique” B2B platform has helped them be more efficient in reaching new and old customers. “During Covid, we were able to learn about new destinations and source inventory through TravClan. These new destinations became our saviour and have today become a major part of our overall business”
These agents can use TravClan’s digital library to create their own posters and marketing material and personalise these with their own logos, says Agarwal, the COO.
Space for growth
Such services have helped the B2B platform grow from 10 members to begin with and reach 40 in December 2019, clocking a turnover of Rs 100 crore. It is currently working with over 500 travel suppliers and over 10,000 travel agents globally.
According to the startup, there are over 300,000 travel agents in India and they cater to 60% of the travel market. These travel agents do sales of over $40 billion per year. So, the company is confident of a bright future and is looking to bring on board several small businesses in South East Asia and the Middle East.
Bagaria says they earn through a markup or commission on every transaction and through membership plans. He did not share the latest revenue. But the company claims to be on track to reach $100 million of annualised sales this quarter.
It has raised $4.7 million in the Pre-Series A Round in September 2021.
Talking about their experience during the pandemic, Bagaria says they saw a 4-6-month period where people did not see any significant travel requests. The platform tried to understand the challenges and how these could be overcome. “One thing we understood was that these travel agents were not leveraging technology properly. Even if they had a website, they never updated it, it did not have contact details. We started helping these agents digitise their businesses better,” he adds. It was a generational shift for travel agents used to talking face-to-face with customers and converting business. Another important challenge for the travel tech platform was related to the payment gateway. “These agents were not used to such gateways. Now, so suddenly, they had to learn to deal with a website that also accepted money online through a payment gateway. We helped them go cashless,” Bagaria says.
He says the tailwind for this growth is the realisation that Covid has brought on a new phase in business and people are realising the need to find more effective ways to live, conduct business and travel.
One major issue in this industry that he would like the government to address is poor access to credit. “This problem has become more acute after Covid. Some of the players are still unorganised or semi-organised.” The travel industry could also do with a regulatory body, especially as most of the agents are micro and small businesses that employ upto 25 people, the TravClan CEO adds.
(Edited by Ram Mohan)
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