Travel Trade Journal
IRCTC Innovative and Resilient
No industry across the globe has been spared the COVID-19 fallout. The impact of restrictions on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, compounded with fear among the masses to travel, has been tremendous. IRCTC’s tourism and catering business also bore the brunt in these unprecedented challenging times, with its catering and tourism revenues seeing a drastic downturn in FY 2020-21. TTJ spoke to IRCTC’s Rajni Hasija, Director (Tourism and Marketing) about these turbulent times, challenges, innovations, and the roadmap for the future.
IRCTC, in its more than twentyyear existence of serving as a government corporate entity in the areas of rail catering, tourism, hospitality and passenger amenities, has come a long way. IRCTC established itself as a leader in the areas of hospitality services, Travel and Tourism, packaged drinking water, and internet ticketing by providing value-added products and services for passengers, tourists and other customers, targeting IR and Non-IR related services alike, building a resilient business portfolio that is scalable and based on core competence.
Speaking on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hasija said, “I do not think any industry across the globe has been spared by COVID-19, now the responsibility of gaining back guest and traveller confidence lies to a great extent with the travel and tour operations organisations. I feel rather than doing a lot of new things, we need to rethink and redesign our existing products to gain back passenger and traveller confidence. Vaccinating staff, training them, partnering with hotels and transport operators, and sensitising stakeholders who are willing to take up the fight against COVID-19 responsibly and seriously is key to reviving the tourism business.”
Innovation led IRCTC to start domestic tours on the Deluxe Tourist Trains, an exercise that proved to be quite successful. IRCTC’S endeavour to connect the Northeastern states by train by operating the first North East Tourist Circuit Train, which covers various destinations in the Northeast such as Guwahati, Itanagar, Kohima, Dimapur drew tremendous response from domestic tourists.
Hasija, further added, “The Buddhist Circuit had got a new train in 2018 with additional features such as dining cars, restaurants, bathing facilities and sitting area in 2AC coaches. Due to the ongoing pandemic with restrictions on international arrivals, the arrivals from Buddhist countries dried down. So, it was decided to operate this train in the domestic market and the response was way beyond our expectations. New train circuits were introduced, including Ramayana, Northeast, Char Dham, Dev Darshan. These circuits have been very well received by the domestic market. While one aspect could be the pent-up domestic tourism demand, the other aspect is that the travellers are seeking newer experiences. With Indian roots in spirituality and divinity, tourist circuits to religious destinations are a safe bet for us. our air packages to Leh and Ladakh also drew a tremendous response.”
While the ongoing pandemic and recently discovered variant of the virus has caused a psychological impact, the rapid pace of vaccination taking place in the entire country, with more than 79 crore people administered with the first dose and 46 crore people administered with the second dose till date, travel confidence has grown up among the masses. Recent surveys conducted by leading research companies have revealed that 72 per cent of Indians have indicated their desire to travel next year, of which around 50 per cent of the participants have plans to undertake foreign travel.
Talking about IRCTC’s future marketing efforts, Hasija said, “IRCTC has been a customer-centric organisation with constant improvisation in marketing strategies which has helped it sustain its business over the last two decades. The major strength of the company is ‘Common Man Tourism’ on which the company has been focusing and targeting its bouquet of tourism products.”
IRCTC has a humongous database of millions of customers who are its rail ticketing website users. Through innovative data mining, data analytics,
and other innovative marketing strategies, the company is focusing on targeted marketing to offer a specific range of tourism products and services according to the profile of tourists. IRCTC has recently ventured into the field of Affiliate Marketing to ensure its reach across the country through its affiliates who are social media influencers, YouTubers, travel bloggers, and who are in a position to promote the tourism products and services of the company among a sizeable proportion of the population.
It is important to understand that tourism is a very sensitive business and is dependent to a large extent on the external environment over which companies have limited or no control. IRCTC, like most of the other tourism companies, faces similar challenges. Instilling confidence in the minds of customers to travel again by ensuring proper health and safety protocols during operations is of utmost importance. International travel restrictions are still not relaxed in most of the countries, especially now with the emergence of the new variant of the virus, the situation has once again become cautious.