Naveen Kundu, Managing Director of EbixCash Travel & Holidays Division, an international provider of on-demand infrastructure exchanges for the insurance, financial and healthcare industries, shares about the company’s growth plans.
EbixCash entered the tourism space in 2017 and acquired a number of Indian travel companies such as via.com and Mercury Travels to expand its presence in the travel space. How has the company grown since then?
As you said, 2017 was an acquisition period for us. We have since created a spectrum of travel brands for ourselves and strengthened our position in various markets where we operate, be it India, the Middle East or the Southeast Asia region.
When you consider countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, we are one of the leading players in the market in every segment of the business, be it online or offline, corporate or luxury, inbound or outbound. We are probably the only company in the Southeast Asia region that is present in every spectrum of travel verticals. There is nothing we don’t do in the travel domain, apart from running a visa facilitation centre.
The emergence of the pandemic was a major blow to the growth of the tourism sector. How did the pandemic affect your plans as a relatively new entrant in the travel sector during that time?
The pandemic has been tough on the tourism business. It also affected our growth plans, but I think things are now back on track. What we did during the pandemic was grow organically. We focused on our technology offering because 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 such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to distribute via.com travel products. What other markets are you looking for similar partnerships to expand your B2B presence?
We now have plans to rapidly expand further 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 such as global economic challenges and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, how do you see demand for corporate travel shaping up?
Our corporate travel vertical has grown 45 percent over pre-Covid levels. We are highly focused on corporate conversions within the Ebix group. We offer a wide range of solutions for corporate clients, be it foreign exchange, expense management tools, inward remittance or travel technology products.
When we reach a company, we offer a 360-degree travel solution to the entity. For us, corporate business is very big and we want to continue to grow this vertical. Currently, we have not seen any deterrent in the growth of corporate business, be it due to economic scenarios or other global developments such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Ebix Cash has created a brand in the B2B travel domain through acquisitions and partnerships, are you planning to replicate the same success in the B2C space?
We are present in the B2C space with via.com. We are already witnessing 30,000-40,000 visitors per day organically on the portal. However, we don’t go berserk in marketing or offer discounts. When we consider the B2C market in India, our competitors want to capture the market by offering “cheap” offers. However, we have no intention of diluting our profitability or going for a price war.
We will definitely make a stronger presence in the B2C space, but it will be a sustainable and organic growth where we select customers who are willing to travel with us because of the high service standards we offer. If you see other B2C portals, there is hardly any service available to the customer.
Moving on, 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 provides an advantage to our business or an advantage to our customer offering.
In the various travel segments you operate in such as luxury, MICE, corporate, outbound etc, which vertical do you think will drive growth for you in India in 2023?
India is a volume market so there is enough demand from every segment. I think the growth for travel in 2023 will be phenomenal. This year we have only touched the tip of the iceberg.
The demand is incredibly high for outbound tourism and in fact we find it difficult to meet the demand. The demand is for both short and longhaul markets and all types of holidays. The question is how well the international markets are geared to handle the outgoing demand from India. This is something we all have to wait and see.
Many small and medium-sized travel agents in India have found it difficult to adapt to technology. Do you see potential to provide technology solutions for such games?
We have tools at via.com that help micro, small and medium-sized companies sell a wide range of travel products online. For travel management companies (TMC), we offer travel technology under the Zillius brand.
Zillius’ product range offers a complete end-to-end technology suite with an advanced internet booking engine designed to address the travel booking needs of all TMCs. We have been doing 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.