The Indian mobility industry is majorly witnessing a significant surge in travel during the festive season. This season celebrates the indomitable Indian spirit in all its glory. Today’s millennial traveller seeks a safer, more reliable, connected, and comfortable experience in the wake of post-covid unpredictable and uncomfortable travel experiences. Many Branded inter-city buses are working hard to raise the bar in order to meet that demand. Energised by the travel boom, the industry has been preparing to welcome visitors this holiday season in true celebratory spirit. Financialexpress.com got in touch with Manish Rathi, Co-Founder and CEO of IntrCity to understand the current state of intercity bus travel in India, trends and more. Excerpts:
How was the response of the consumer – bus travelling this festive season? Trends that you witnessed this festive season?
Industry optimism is supported by data that shows an increase in intercity travel demand by 180-200% from last year. The Indian traveller is better prepared than ever to explore within India, further supported by “work from anywhere” alternatives now that all travel restrictions have been removed and people have more flexibility at work. Besides, a segment of travellers who are considering spiritual travel or a return trip to their hometown contribute to the travel reverberation. In the first half of 2022, IntrCity SmartBus grew 1.8x, with revenues nearing $45 million annualised run rate and business achieving operational profitability. While, the overall inter-city bus industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15%+, the company is expecting a 60-70% growth from the same time last year in 2021.
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Inter-city travellers are seen to be drawn towards less explored places while the non-leisure routes connecting major metros to II or III-tier cities continue witnessing higher demand as people return to or after celebrating festivities with their families/loved ones. SmartBus’ growth is also increasing as a result of consistent performance and acknowledging traveller concerns, which are then implemented on the platform. Today’s SmartBuses include never-before-seen amenities such as in-bus wi – fi connectivity and crew, onboard sleeper cabins and clean urinals/washrooms, and fully-furnished boarding lounges for a comfortable boarding experience. These conveniences have made bus travel easier and safer for solo, female, and elderly passengers.
As hybrid work cultures and remote working become the norm, this trend can only be expected to grow with people combining business and leisure into ‘Bleisure’ travels more and more. What is more, a laid-back traveller need not be worried about missing out on the early bookings as the new emerging transporters and bolster infrastructure to offer a variety of travel options. Well-travelled discerning travellers seek experiential travel and simply want to make the most of their vacation, combining the benefits of the hybrid work model.
How did the brand do compared to last year?
The brand has established itself as a clear category leader in terms of size, coverage, revenue, earnings and all of this with healthy margins. While, the overall inter-city bus industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15%+, IntrCity SmartBus is expecting a 60-70% growth from the same time last year in 2021. Aligning with the summer trend, Dussehra was fairly strong and is 55-60% more than 2021, at the same time.
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Do you foresee a significant increase in demand in the season till year end?
Yes, we are seeing a significant increase in bus travel as bharat travellers are more than willing to travel for work or leisure reasons. We further anticipate that by the end of 2022, inter-city mobility will surpass pre-COVID levels of 50 million daily travellers. This festive season, the brand saw approximately 20-25% more bookings than the same time period when compared to the last two years.
Which are the destinations that have seen maximum bookings?
The demand for functional routes has increased significantly in the last few months due to increase in business travel. Additionally, hybrid work models have encouraged millennials to take breaks frequently clubbing with long weekends. We saw an increase in demand across leisure destinations like Kullu, Manali, Shimla, Agra, Tirupati along with high travel demand on functional routes like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and travel from Delhi to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Besides, a noticeable surge was also seen in and across Goa as around 7-10k daily travellers were reported during the Diwali break. The tourist destinations such as Tirupati, Goa, and Manali are expected to grow more than 2X of last year in 2021.
Pandemic has muted the travel segment in the last couple of years. In this regard, How are you doing things differently to lure customers in this current season?
IntrCity SmartBus has always attempted and strived to improve connectivity from small towns to metros or vice versa by providing a superior travel experience with well-equipped facilities. As a result, the brand has completed 1 million+ trips with crossing 5lac/month inter-city travellers. IntrCity SmartBus makes bus travel in India a tech-powered and attractive option. The company provides pre-sanitized private cabin facilities with sleeper beds and Wi-Fi-enabled lounges at boarding points. Utilising the technology to fullest and obtaining ultimate security with a ‘driver fatigue alert’ where the system uses artificial intelligence to check a driver’s eye and hand movements to determine his/her alertness. IntrCity SmartBus is radically improving road travel and rider experience and moving travellers from trains to buses. In IntrCity SmartBus, we have undertaken unique initiatives such as SmartBus boarding lounges, accidental Insurance cover for travellers along with an on-board washroom, SmartBus Captain and personalised assistance on-board.
How is the mobility segment, especially the smart bus industry growing with the increase in travel demand?
The mobility segment is seeing a huge change in India. With promising Government of India initiatives towards developing highways, we foresee a significant growth for the smartbus industry. Pandemic definitely brought a drastic change in the overall travel segment and mobility sector was also majorly affected. Travellers were hesitant to use public transport. Co-branded smart buses have addressed the recent worries of discerning travellers for disinfected and contamination-free buses, and thoughtfully addressed the travellers most of the requirements.
IntrCity SmartBus has seen exponential growth month over month in the pre covid era. With more than 180 buses enabled on the platform to serve 1.5 lacs+ travelers monthly. IntrCity SmartBus grew 1.8x in the first half of 2022, with revenues nearing $45 million annualised run rate and business achieving operational profitability. We established the brand as a clear category leader in terms of size, coverage, revenue, earnings and all of this with healthy margins. IntrCity SmartBus recorded over 2 lakhs monthly seat capacity and 80% increase in revenue. The growing consumer love is reflected in a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 59, which has consistently been the best in the industry. We are more confident than ever in changing the way India travels inter-city.
How is the IntrCity SmartBus platform different from the competition?
IntrCity SmartBus is a mobility platform to power branded fleet of inter-city buses and provide standardised experience to travellers across the country. Currently there are a few more tech based branded inter-city buses in India and we are clearly ahead of the rest due to various reasons mentioned further. IntrCity SmartBus aims to standardise India’s intercity bus travel, providing travellers with a comfortable, safe and secure journey while ensuring that they arrive on time. The following facilities and technologies help IntrCity to stand-out amongst the competitors. Mobility Technology platform powers its proprietary GDS platform, Partner Platform, Crew App for Captains, Agent Platform, IoT based telematics and Consumer App. It is a comprehensive platform which covers every aspect of inter-city bus operations and ensures smooth journey experience for travellers besides ensuring efficient & profitable running of buses.
IntrCity SmartBus lounges, an industry-first effort, to provide consumers with a safe and convenient boarding experience. Air-conditioned waiting areas with Wi-Fi connectivity, charging outlets, ample clean lounging space, recliners, tea/coffee, and clean toilets, as well as laptop desks for working professionals, are all available at the Smart Bus Lounges. Personalised assistance– Our staff manages the entire service experience. We have Bus Captains on the bus, boarding staff for pre-boarding assistance and booking desks at lounges if you decide to walk-in directly. We also provide accidental and hospitalisation insurance covers for passengers worth Rs. 2 lac for every seat. We have in-bus washrooms for safe, smooth and hygienic experience. All the Buses are constantly monitored from a 24X7 central command centre.
Which are the biggest markets for IntrCity and which ones would grow the most?
The top IntrCity SmartBus routes are Delhi-Lucknow-Delhi, Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi, Bangalore-Hyderabad-Bangalore, Bangalore-Chennai-Bangalore, Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai, and Delhi- Himachal – Delhi. We are currently present in 18 states and may add a couple of more states but most of the additions will happen in these 18 states across North, South and West India.