Cleartrip may be the smallest of the big 3 (ok medium 3) of the online Indian full service OTA business but Founder & Director, Product and Strategy Hrush Bhatt is far from worried. During a coffee break chat at eyefortravel TDS in Singapore last month Hrush told me that he is not taking being number 3 too hard. In fact he is celebrating the size difference. He tells me that although MakeMyTrip may have 1,300 employees to Yatra’s 8-900 and Cleartrip’s 260 Hrush is unworried having reported his 15th month in a row of profitability.
[UPDATE - since publishing this post I have been told that Cleartrip is bigger than Yatra and the clear number two to MakeMyTrip. I don't have numbers to confirm but it clear that the battle has only just started]
Air is still a critical part of the business but like much of the online world he and Cleartrip are targeting hotels for growth. Again like much of the online travel world he is using some creative hiring practices to help Cleartrip get there. Cleartrip have hired the founder of the Travelguru to lead their hotel contracting efforts. Travelguru was bought by Travelocity in August 2009. Current hotel count is 1,400, when it gets to around 1,800 to 2,000 Hrush says that Cleartrip will begin a marketing push.
I was interested to hear that one of the main marketing efforts for Cleartrip was display advertising. After each of Yatra, MakMyTrip and Cleartrip reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” to not bid on each other’s brand terms in search advertising it freed up a lot of marketing spend to invest in display.
This is not the only way that the Indian market has a different twist to emerging online travel markets. While India maybe smaller than the more mature Asian online travel markets Japan and Australia the target population have been online since 1996. That means by the time online travel started to take off in India in 2006, the population had already been online for ten years, allowing for speedy growth and rapid adoption. PhoCusWright reported this week that the 2009 Indian online travel market was US$3.4 billion (Indian Online Travel Intermediary Review).
On functionality, Cleartrip have taken a Kayak look and feel approach to travel (as opposed to the more traditional OTA look of MakeMyTrip). This is deliberate according to Hursh. They are looking to new approaches to travel search, targeting the image lite Google like approach of text boxes.
Hrush is also looking to expansion beyond India. Cleartrip.ae is now live and targeting consumers in Dubai. Not a traditional place of expansion for an Asian online travel company but in Hrush's view Cleartrip already have some awareness and it is a small enough market for Cleartrip to test expansion
Want to read more on Cleartrip? I was not the only one to catch up with Hrush in Singapore. Check out Siew Hoon's piece called "Cleartrip out to make the world smaller".