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Ahead of an upcoming fundraiser, Sally White takes a look at how an Indian OTA’s thorough approach to travel is paying off

India’s online travel darling, ixigo, is quite sure what won its search engine and apps their success. It claims to connect over 80 million travellers with content and deals from over 25,000 online and offline travel and hospitality businesses. And it has one of the most-liked Facebook pages among Indian internet companies. Much of this, it says, is down to its content videos, with story-telling the top priority.

“If you have powerful content you get noticed and the ROI baby starts to dance,” ixigo’s video marketer Aashish Chopra told venture site Growth Hacking India a few weeks ago. Last year he won the international ‘Content Marketer of the Year’ award, run by US media and event group Content Market Institute, for videos that reached 120 million views. Partners for its app platform include Amazon, Flipkart, Paytm, Freecharge, PepperTap, DineOut, BlaBlaCar, UrbanClap, Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, SpiceJet, TravelKhana and Twigly.

Ixigo is about to test its popularity in a different market - the financial one. It is rumoured to be seeking around $20 million for growth and development in late summer or early autumn. Hopefully it will win here, too, although funding for travel tech has been less enthusiastic so far this year. For start-ups the total was the lowest in Q1 since Q4 2014, according to the KPMG VC report. However, ixigo has an excellent record.  

Chopra has consistently won industry awards for his videos. His declared five-point checklist for topics is that they must be: Inspirational, Useful, Topical, Celebrate the viewer’s life and Change the world! And subjects? “Pick kick-ass topics,” he says, “…compelling enough to be shareable.” He keeps on asking himself “What are users thinking about right now? What are they celebrating? What would they like to hear about?”

Ticking the trend boxes

Piggybacking on internet trends, for him, is a must. “News jacking gets your content super-fast reach and engagement when one is right.”

Blogs are important, too, for piggy-backing, though these remain the king of long-form. Videos “dominate short-form quick-and-easy ‘snackable’ content. The attention span of your customer is very short, so if you have a long blog, compress the key points and make a video out of it,” is his advice.

The attention span of your customer is very short, so if you have a long blog, compress the key points and make a video out of it

The more content can be repackaged and distributed the better, he says - Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Slideshare, mailers, etc.

But, what has to be remembered is that an item “stays on the user’s screen for about three to five seconds before he scrolls down. This means he gets to see the first two to three seconds of a Facebook video....”

Chopra’s team put out two to four videos a month. “Let’s be honest, we have two teams in our office, one which sends money and gets results and then there’s us, who get results without spends,” he boasts, perhaps overlooking the (albeit relatively low) cost of the videos.

Widening the range

Last year, home grown mobile handset maker Micromax invested an undisclosed amount in the company. In 2011, ixigo raised $18.5 million in investments from Indian venture capital group SAIF and leading travel portal MakeMyTrip. Bajpai did not comment when asked about the size of the next round.

“On a monthly basis, we hope to stop losing money from this September-October. We have plans to invest further in product, technology and innovation," said Aloke Bajpai, co- founder and CEO said in a press statement.

Ixigo has been steadily widening the range of its products and partners. In March it announced the launch of ‘ixibook’, which will allow travellers to make bookings for flights and hotels within its app without being redirected to a third-party app or website. ixigo has collaborated with Cleartrip, a leading online travel agency, and OYO Rooms, India’s largest branded hotel network, as its launch partners for flights and hotels respectively.

At the launch press conference, Bajpai said: “We expect to move over 30% of our flight and hotel bookings to ixibook within the next few months, as well as add more partners to ixibook later this year.”

In April ixigo launched 1-Tap Cab Booking on the ixigo cabs app - a feature that allows booking the nearest available cab in one tap of a button on the user's home screen. Before then, last year, it acquired Square Hoot Hikes, parent company of cabs aggregation service Rutogo.

Ixigo is nothing if not thorough in its approach to its travel market. Another new April launch was its coolie service. This enables Indian travellers to book coolies at railway stations and porters at airports across the country. The app has features such as ETA, type of coolies, price guide and coolie profiles, allowing users to see past ratings, languages spoken, user reviews and more.

Bajpai, said in a news release for the launch, “We realise how tough it can be to catch hold of coolies and bargain with them when you arrive at a station. Our app guarantees a coolie within two minutes of arrival at the station, in the lowest possible price. You just need to punch in your station, platform and coach before you reach and we will have the coolie of your choice waiting for you. GPS tracking will ensure that no one can run away with your luggage anymore.”

Ixigo did the all necessary negotiating - with 1 million coolies!

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