The global air travel platform which tends to provide high-end value added service going beyond the basic online ticket booking is eyeing for a firmer foothold in India considering the rising volume of the aspirational class.
The name ‘optiontown’ is unlikely to force your grey cells to imagine a set of services meant to provide benefits to air travellers. But this is what precisely it is: offering a series of online services for air travellers which is more than basic deliverables of any general OTA. In fact, it could well be dubbed as stage two of basic online offerings in the air travel segment which tends to respond to the common aspirations of a flyer – like upgrading to the business class. “We are not exactly an OTA. You should rather look at us as the extension of the commercial wing of an airline company helping them to shore up their ancillary revenue by providing high-technological support. And it is immensely benefiting the common flyers and thus there is a win,win proposition for everyone involved in a transaction,” Sachin Goel, CEO of Optiontwon succinctly introduced the company’s profile in these words in a formal recent conversation with TourismFirst before sharing the details of company’s various schemes.
The company which was formed in Boston in 2003 and claims to have 19 patents to its credit for its technological innovations in the air travel arena had begun its operational inning in 2009 and according to Goel, the journey since then has been quite satisfying. “It had taken us six years to develop our comprehensive platform and things have broadly unfolded as per our expectations. With nearly thirty airlines as our partners globally, we have contributed in nearly a million transaction last year. Our major markets are the US and Europe and we are keen to enhance our presence in some promising Asian markets which include India,” Goel said. Some of the major airline companies which have introduced Optiontown schemes include British Airways, Jet Blue, Scandinavian Airlines, Air Asia X, Egypt Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai and Biman Airlines. In India, Optiontown has already forged alliance with Air India, SpiceJet and Vistara. The first partner to sign up with the company though was Kingfisher Airlines which does not exist any more.
Upgrade Travel Option (UTO) is clearly the flagship product of Optiontown which facilitates an easy and cheaper upgradation to a business class seat from the basic economy class ticket depending on the last minute availability. This is how it works. A traveller who may have booked an economy class ticket on a partner airline can seek the assistance of Optiontown in upgrading to the business class by making an online payment. And if the flight has empty seats in its business class on the flying day, the customer will be transferred to the premier section. He will get the information in advance ranging from three days to four hours prior to the departure of the flight. If due to non-availability of seats, his ticket is not upgraded, the amount submitted to Optiontown will be returned within five working days. “It is not a guaranteed service but an option for upgradation. For instance, if the business class ticket between Delhi-Mumbai route is Rs.18,000, our customer will get it for around Rs.10,000 – Rs.6,000 fare for the economy ticket and another Rs.4,000 fare for request for upgradation with us. Its win-win proposition if the seat is available – the flyer gets to travel in business class at a considerably cheaper fare and the airline makes more money by way of getting a premier class seat occupied,” Goel explained the mechanism. A dynamic pricing mechanism, of course, works with Optiontown offerings – sooner you book, lesser you pay.
Another major offering of Optiontown is Empty Seat Option (particularly attuned to LCCs which have no business class) which facilitates a traveller to show his interest to book the adjoining seat (in case, he needs more space) by shelling out a fraction of the total ticket cost. In case, the seat is not booked, it will be given to the customer. “This product is doing very well in Malaysia where our partner is Air Asia X. We expect this to pick up in a major way in the Indian market as well,” Goel underlined.
For the eight- year- old high tech air travel platform, India though is a small market contributing around 5-8 percent of its total revenue. “We are very optimistic about India and are keen to enhance our presence. It is definitely going to be one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world and we are convinced there would be immense opportunities for us,” said Goel. The company is presently engaged in negotiation with other airline companies in India to get them on the board. “Our engagement with three existing partners – Air India, Vistara and SpiceJet – is moving smoothly and we are looking at formal tie-ups with other carriers. We are also talking to the market leader Indigo,” Goel informed.
The company has also planned to do away with its low buzz reputation by setting afoot some aggressive promotion campaign in 2016 – in social media as well as through radio jingles in country’s leading metros. The company is also looking at its first round of PE funding which is likely to be in the vicinity of $20 million.
An option for foreign tourists too
With an aim to enhance its presence in India and covering all kinds of travellers with its portfolio of services, Optiontown is now also looking at creating a symmetry between its international airline and domestic airline partners to offer a lucrative package to the foreign tourists. “We have realised that the foreign tourist footfalls is increasing in India and given our association with airlines globally as well as in the country, we would be in a position to offer a composite value added services package to the international tourists as well,” Sachin Goel informed. He, however, clarified that the package is at the drawing board stage.
While upgrading the seats to the business class and occupying the empty seats in a budget carrier while travelling within India are likely to be important components of the deal for the foreign tourists, Goel explained that the package can be further sweetened with more offerings. “With the information of the possible destinations where a foreign customer will be travelling within the country, we can also add on hotel and restaurant discount coupons in the offering. We expect to finalise this package soon,” Goel informed.
Introducing subscription commerce in air ticket booking
With India being in the forefront of e-commerce explosion (in a global sense) thanks to its huge consumer base, other business streams meant to provide benefits to a particular class of consumers for a specified service line are also stemming out on the horizon. The world is increasingly witnessing the emergence of subscription commerce facilitated by online platforms particularly in the areas like food, apparel, holiday packages, etc. and the reverberations of this trend is well visible on the Indian turf as well.
Optiontown which is seeking to get a firmer toehold in the Indian air travel market has made a small beginning on this front by introducing a new scheme – Flight Pass Option (FAO) which facilitates bulk retail booking for a specified period by paying an initial subscription fee. “Flight Pass allows you to conveniently pre-purchase a number of flights at an agreed low price and enjoy the privilege of booking flights later as per your need. The option ensures no more fare increase for the subscriber as his flight pass low fare is locked-in at the time of booking. If you are a subscriber, then you can avail even peak period flights at a relatively low price,” Sachin Goel explained.
At the time of subscription, the customer has to indicate the possible number of flights, travel period and the number of users who will be using the option. This facilitates the flight pass option to be conveniently used with friends, family and colleagues. The customer, at the time of subscribing a specific package, has to pay 20 percent charges and the remaining he can settle in easy instalments. Optiontown is claiming that if used efficiently, this model can result in reduction of air travel costs upto 50 percent for the subscriber.
“This is a new product which we have developed and India is the first market where we have introduced it. Considering the kind of explosive growth in e-retail and e-ticketing, we felt India is the right place for this kind of product. We are convinced of its success as both retail consumers (for their usual vacations with family and friends) and corporates (for their bulk annual travel plan) will find it useful,” Goel underlined. According to Optiontown, the three month old product has been received well in the market (especially on the corporate part) with about 2000 merchandise partners joining the board. This also includes some hospitality firms.