The new normals in a world where Covid-19, unfortunately, is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly, the way we live our life.
The travel and tourism industry is one of the worst-hit sectors because of the pandemic. Businesses in the sector have bled for more than two months now and the way forward also doesn’t look so rosy as leisure travel will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
In this supremely challenging business environment and a cloud of complete uncertainty, the road ahead seems to be very foggy. And to demystify the uncertainties of this important sector we spoke to Kapil Raizada, Co-Founder, IntrCity RailYatri to understand their post-lockdown comeback strategies and the way forward.
How are you coping with the impact of Covid-19 on IntrCity RailYatri? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
The Covid-19 breakout has brought a 360-degree change in the way we look at the business.
Our top 2 priorities are (1) conserve financial strength, and (2) adapt our offerings to the post-COVID environment by engaging and listen carefully to our travelers.
We believe this is the time for innovations on both physical and digital aspects of the product. Product innovation holds the key for consumer companies in the post lockdown market to meet the changed consumer expectations. As an inter-city mobility platform – IntrCity SmartBus is an asset-less, full-stack, a/c sleeper bus service, focused on routes where train tickets (booking can be done on RailYatri) are either sold out or waitlisted.
We recently conducted and published the results of an extensive online survey. Hygiene, sanitization, and social-distancing- including boarding point hygiene – are the top concerns for our travelers, and our SmartBus boarding lounges (now in 7cities) are exactly what the travelers are looking for. In addition, we have launched a new and improved version of our offerings equipped with enhanced COVID+ features and protocols to keep our travelers safe. These features will be available on our IntrCity SmartBus fleet and Food-on-Train service.
RailYatri now provides COVID specific information related to trains and we are continuously making changes to adapt to revised guidelines of IRCTC. We are making it convenient for our users to find currently running trains, seat availability on those trains, and an easy way to book tickets since there is a rush towards the trains as bookings open. We launched Live Train Status for special trains as soon as those were ready to start their first journey.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models… What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to IntrCity RailYatri?
This pandemic is a huge opportunity for premium mobility brands, who can demonstrate superior execution and service standards, translating to a safer experience. Our IntrCity SmartBus alone has nearly 10+ features re-defining the new travel experience, screening standards for travelers and crew, pre-sanitised private cabins for self and families, and lot more. Our own bus lounges provide a well-defined sanitized space, and complies with social distancing norms, eliminating the risk of boarding in crowded public spaces.
Our Food-on-train service has always been a hygienic and healthy alternative to food available otherwise. This service now comes with no-contact delivery, mandatory thermal screening of delivery agents, and improved cleaning protocol in cloud kitchens, and tamper-proof new packaging. Also, train travelers have a lot of questions around their travel (train schedules, local protocols on de-boarding, etc.)and we are launching a special feature on our app wherein a user can submit a route and all the required information will be sent around that inter-city travel.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not in the Red?
While a lot of businesses are in a rush to restart services, at IntrCity RailYatri our top priorities are (a) passenger safety, and (b) compliance to regulations.
It has been over 2 months since we went into a complete lockdown, and businesses need time to upgrade to the new standards that I just spoke about. A number of new initiatives could not be fully implemented earlier due to lock-down restrictions, which are in the process now.
We expect to resume phase-wise, route-wise, in compliance with the government guidelines.
We are looking at introducing intra-state routes on a region-wise basis and will be starting inter-state routes between once governments have allowed such travel. It is important to not board passengers from containment zones within the cities and hence our boarding points have been changed accordingly. We are re-starting our services with enhanced safety features, pre-boarding KYC, Aarogya Setu app monitoring, and recording. It is helpful for our customers to be aware of the quarantine protocols of the city where they will be de-boarding; therefore, we will be providing that information to the travelers.
What will be your communication strategy post lockdown? Understandably bringing customers back to you would be difficult… What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
Our survey provided some interesting insights (1) Bus and train travelers are far more optimistic and ready to travel, as compared to flight travelers and (2) Except for about 30% leisure travel, other travel is expected to pick up post-lock-down.
Our focus is on the remaining 70% travelers, who will travel. Our priority is to remind our existing travelers about their earlier IntrCity SmartBus experiences and inform them about the series of measures and steps taken by IntrCity for safe and secure travel. The messaging has 2 parts to it – reinforcing our pre-COVID positioning as a premium-economy service, and informing about features post-COVID. We aim to strengthen the trust that we have already built with the consumers, by exceeding their expectations.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
The current situation has been very, very exceptional. Yes, we are going through many uncertain times. What kept me positive through this ordeal is an innate belief of a founder that we are addressing a huge pain point and creating value to our consumers by bringing quality and standardization to inter-city travel. I genuinely see an opportunity for us to emerge as a stronger and more organized player in an otherwise un-organized segment. We are working even harder than we used to.
It took us seven days to put in place a well-defined work from home policy to ensure that all our employees have all the resources for remote working.Our managers have defined policies and we ran mock tests before starting to work from home. We have kept our communications frequent, interactive and clear with all the employees through regular team interactions and weekly town halls. Our priority was to ensure safety and wellbeing of our employees.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
As I mentioned earlier, our survey insights made it very clear to us that the travelers expect certain assurances around hygiene, sanitization, and social distancing. It was also revealed that the pre-travel eco-system is becoming very important in the post COVID world.
As a brand, we feel that when situations get tough, it is important for a brand to reinforce the salient points of the brand. We have always been pioneers in superior consumer experience across modes of travel, especially in IntrCity SmartBus. Hence, our entire focus has been on scaling up this narrative and go back to the consumers with our promise and a way to implement these protocols. Clear, precise, and regular communication is our strategy going forward.
Secondly, we have moved our focus around organic growth, although we will continue to invest on the branding and communication towards our commitment to the promises around hygiene, sanitization and social distancing.
Lastly, financial prudence is the key to survival and revival. We will start to scale up yet again post revival.
How are you as IntrCity RailYatri defining the entire Inter-City mobility space for a post-covid new normal scenario?
We believe that the organizations that will innovate while being aligned to the needs of the consumer will emerge as the winners. Keeping that in mind, we will not only strive to maintain our leadership but will also be defining how inter-city mobility will emerge in the post COVID world. We published our survey insights to the entire community with the same intention and help them survive and better prepare for the new normal.