Five digital hacks to book more Indian tourists ahead of Diwali

Leighton Cosseboom on 25 October 2018

With more than 460 million internet users, India is the second largest online market in the world, ranked only behind China. By 2021, there will be approximately 635.8 million internet users in the nation. The majority of Indians are tech savvy millennials, many of whom have disposable income to play with. They are responsible for driving growth in multiple segments, including overseas travel. 

This makes web and mobile some of the most important ways for experiential travel brands to reach a coveted group of bold spenders from India.

Tour and activities operators across Asia, who know they want to bag more bookings from Indians ahead of the annual Diwali travel surge, often end up scratching their heads. It’s common for players to have built out their in-destination mechanisms, such as a network of agents or a bundle package with other operators, for example. But while most are switched on when it comes to their ground games, some may not know how to mount an effective ‘air attack’ via digital mediums. 

There is no better time to execute this way than right before Diwali, the country’s Hindu festival of lights, which takes place in autumn. It’s the time of year when outbound travel from India is at its peak. So in no particular order, here are five digital hacks that Asia’s tour and activities operators can capitalise on to attract more middle-class affluent Indian travellers this Diwali.

Get setup with India's OTAs


Every country will have its most popular online travel agencies (OTAs) where young travellers will start their journeys. To court an Indian audience, experiential travel brands will want to look at OTA names like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, ClearTrip, Travelguru, Goibibo and others. 

The importance of this advice cannot be overstated. Getting tours and activities visible and bookable on these sites is likely half the battle for pulling in more Indian customers this holiday season.   

Stir the pot with paid social, and quick


No brand can look into digital hacks without having an honest conversation about paid social media advertising. Traditional operators in the tour and activities game should take this Diwali as an opportunity to get up to speed with paid social, and seriously allocate a budget. 

This does not mean learning how to use Facebook Ads Manager from zero. What it could mean, however, is hiring an ace freelancer or sharp tech solutions provider to create and execute a viable plan. The best part about paid social is that advertisers get to control the variables of who exactly sees what message. 

For example, Facebook operators can use ‘geo-targeting,’ which is basically just marketing to a set of specific users based on their location (New Delhi or Mumbai, for example). The more relevant an ad is to a user, the likelier they are to convert. By using geo-targeting, brands can find customers by zip code, city, or country. They can also target via age, personal interests and more.

Brands that are not using paid social to target Indian travellers are missing out on a treasure trove of consolidated audiences. One report says Facebook has more than 241 million users in India, while Instagram boasts 67 million monthly active users. It’s estimated that Twitter has more than 30 million monthly active users in India this year, with a projected four million increase come 2019.

Once calibrated and demystified on the practice, most operators will likely end up running paid social ads year-round, regardless of whether it’s Diwali season or not. 

(Tip: Sweeten the deal by offering discounts via time-restricted promotion codes. This should incentivise Indian travellers to convert faster this year.)   

Hustle with PR on popular online media


Operators who do not have a public relations department should consider installing one or consulting an out-of-house firm ahead of Diwali. In terms of visibility and exposure in the Indian market, getting covered by popular online media is likely one of the best ways to go. Experiential travel brands should consider crafting and distributing press releases to (or running paid sponsored content on) digital media outlets like NDTV, IbnLive, BBC News India, Indian Express, India Today and others.   

The benefit of targeting online media only is that PR managers can know instantly when the story has been published (they don’t have to wait for the print cycle). They can also grab the story links and spread them again via other marketing channels—like paid social or email marketing—to the operator’s database of past customers. 

Regardless of market, getting successful coverage via PR distribution is always a challenge. Consider partnering up with a local firm in India. Some agency names to look into may include Absolute Factor, Communicate India, Hazel Outlook and others.   

Experiment with Indian KOLs


This one may be a bit new wave for traditional operators, but valuable nonetheless. For those who are uninitiated, a key opinion leader (KOL) is essentially just someone with a large online following who publishes content regularly. Brands see value in accessing their personal audiences. Sometimes KOLs are celebrities, but other times they are just regular folks who are passionate about a topic to the point where they are viewed as people who can influence the market. KOLs can exist in many places on the web, including the blogosphere, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. They often have set rates they charge to run branded content on their channels. Talk to your marketing team about what could make sense for an India-focused play. 

Some of the most popular India-based travel KOLs include Shivya Nath, Jyotsna Ramani, Archana Singh, Siddhartha Joshi, Lakshmi Sharath and others.    

Don't forget the classics


While some of the hacks mentioned above can be considered ‘new,’ smart operators should not forget about the classics. Email marketing campaigns are seen as ‘oldies-but-goodies,’ and for good reason: they work.

Operators and their marketers should get proactive about building a list of all past customers from India. Send out a specific and attractive marketing campaign tailored just for this audience. Offer return visitors a deep discount ahead of Diwali. Even better, offer them a custom referral link through which they can receive rewards by getting their friends to book as well. Unique referral links can also tell operators who among their past customers are driving new sales. This is priceless intel for the future.

Most of these hacks are pretty simple once you get the hang of them, but if it all sounds too daunting to try alone, consider getting aligned with a reputable and relevant tech solutions provider. 

About the author

Leighton Cosseboom
Leighton Cosseboom is an American media entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. He is the former chief English editor of Tech in Asia's Indonesia chapter, and recently co-founded Content Collision (C2), a media services and technology firm serving brands and publishers in the region. He often writes about technology, travel, and business. He is a contributor to outlets like Nikkei Asian Review, Thomson Reuters, and more. Today, he serves as CEO of C2.