Category: Travel

How Much (or how little) Do We Really Know?

Globe and Ocean
Photo by Kenneth Carpina on

I know the title might sound very grandiose, but the idea of this article came about due to one of those interesting occurrences that happen occasionally and surprise and fascinate you. In this case, it was two fascinating visualisations that I came across yesterday.

I wrote about the first one yesterday. It’s a visualisation about the vastness of space and how infinitesimally small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Just a couple of hours after I wrote about this, I came across another visualisation. This one described the weird and almost unbelievable world that, some would say, we know less about than even space. These are the oceans that make up 70% of our planet and the amazing animals that live in its depths.

I did not know that Sperm whales could dive up to a kilometre below the surface of the ocean, or that there is a species of shark that spend their day at a depth of over 1.5 kilometres below the surface. Elephant seals can dive up to an incredible 2,400 metres below sea level. But the record holder is the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale that can dive up to a scarcely believable depth of 3 kilometres!

But that’s not the only fascinating trivia that you can find in this incredible visualisation. Around 6 kilometres below the surface of the ocean is where the Hadal Zone starts. And it’s humbling to read that more people have been to the moon than the Hadal Zone!

These two visualisations just made me realise how little we, as humans, know of the world immediately beyond the surface of our planet. It will be fascinating to learn more about these vast spaces as and when we gather more information. There is still so much to study and understand!


Western Art and Art Galleries

The Louvre
The Louvre

I gained an appreciation of art, especially visual art or paintings, from my time spent living abroad. For this, I will remain forever indebted to the fantastic Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It was here that my wife and I had our first taste of ‘Western Art’ and we were hooked. Not only do they have a good permanent collection housed in a fabulous building in an idyllic setting, but they organise wonderful exhibitions periodically that are well worth the cost of admission. Most importantly, admission to the general galleries is free.

We were also lucky, while living in Australia, to get the chance to see some of the greatest European paintings at an exhibition organised by the National Gallery of Art, Canberra. I still vividly remember standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Nights’ and being moved by the intensity of the painting (fair to say I was Starry Eyed!). It was at this ‘Masterpieces from Paris‘ exhibition that I was really exposed to and intrigued by the works of Impressionist artists such as Monet, Seurat as well as others such as Degas and Gauguin.

While on a short trip to Chicago, I managed to take some time off to visit the Art Institute of Chicago where I was able admire more works from masters such as Van Gogh and Picasso.

We then moved to London where we visited The National Gallery. Unfortunately, I only visited once, not enough to form any lasting impressions.

The next highlight on our Art exposure was a visit to Paris. Yes, of course, we visited The Louvre and got a chance to admire Mona Lisa without any major crowds. What stood out for me though was the sheer scale of the museum. I would have loved to spend days there, but we only had a few days to see Paris and we had to move on to other sights.

The Musee d’Orsay is a wonderful museum. It’s of a size that does not overwhelm and sees far fewer crowds than the Louvre. Which means that one can admire its unbeatable collection of Impressionist paintings in peace and at leisure. And, of course, we saw the famous Clock.

One of the highlights of our time in Paris was definitely the visit to Musee de l’Orangerie and seeing Monet’s Water Lilies collection in the Oval rooms. An unforgettable experience.


Customer Acquisition in the Travel Sector

person pointing at black and gray film camera near macbook pro
Photo by Element5 Digital on

So the big news in the (Online) Travel space over the past couple of days has been the resignations of the CEO and CFO of Expedia, one of the largest online travel companies (OTAs). The ostensible reason for their departure seems to be a disagreement with the Board over strategy. But did a little deeper, and it turns out that there could be another big reason – and that is the rapidly increasing cost of Customer Acquisition.

Now, this is definitely not a problem only for the Travel industry, but in this post, I want to talk about a few reasons why Travel seems to be one of the most significantly impacted sectors by this trend.

Travel was one of the first industries to embrace the ‘Internet’ in a big way. And that is no surprise for people old enough to remember what it was like to book a ticket pre-Internet. I still remember the time we had to write letters to the hotels, send them Bank Drafts and await confirmation of booking, again by post! Booking a train or plane ticket involved waiting hours in a hot and crowded queue, with no guarantee that you would even get a ticket! So when the first online travel companies provided customers the opportunity to book their flight and accommodation options from the comfort of their home or office, customers lapped it up.

Unfortunately, that seems to have been the biggest innovation in this sector in the past couple of decades, while the customer value proposition has drifted away from convenience to the dreaded ‘price’. Yes, we can now compare across multiple options, view high quality photos (and videos) and read hundreds of reviews across multiple platforms before deciding to book a hotel room. But why should I book the hotel room (or flight ticket) from one OTA (Online Travel Aggregator) compared to another? I don’t have any data, but I would argue that 80% of users would respond with ‘whichever provides me the cheaper option‘ if asked this question.

This lack of brand differentiation has led to the OTAs having to spend significant amounts of money on Customer Acquisition. And this biggest recipient of this money is the world’s largest search engine. Customers typically begin their travel booking process with a search, and OTAs have no choice but compete with each other to get as many of these potential customers on to their sites as possible. This has led to steeply increasing cost per clicks. Users also users typically make multiple visits before booking, as well as compare prices across multiple websites, which means that OTAs have to keep spending money to drive subsequent visits to their website, with low conversion rates. All of these add up to the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) going up all the while.

So how can OTAs tackle this problem? Unfortunately, I do not have a magic bullet that can solve this problem. The core of the issue is really lack of brand differentiation and a value proposition that is largely predicated on providing the cheapest price. Brands will constantly have to ask themselves if they can provide value to their customers that can engender brand loyalty. Brands like Amazon have managed to do this but a big part of the reason for this is that they operate in a sector where customers typically make frequent and regular purchases. The problem is more severe in Travel because users typically make only one or two transactions a year, but the ticket sizes are high enough that they will spend sufficient time and effort in doing research to get the best value.

One option that I am sure all the large travel companies are exploring would be to leverage ‘Big Data’ and ‘Machine Learning’ to provide a more personalised solution to users. Booking flights, and especially hotels, has, I would argue, actually become more difficult these days due to the plethora of choices. If an OTA is able to understand my requirements (based on my digital and other signals) and narrow down the options they present me while I am doing my research, I might be more inclined to book with them and do it faster, thereby improving their Conversion Rates and lower CACs. If they are then able to offer ancillary products and services that are also tailored to my specific requirements as well as send smart reminders for me to plan my next holiday, then Customer Lifetime Value can also be driven up.

Yes, I know this is easy to state from the outside and there are, I am sure, numerous reasons why true 1:1 personalisation might be difficult to achieve, but I would really like to see some companies try.

Links to further reading on the Expedia Leadership Change:

  1. Expedia Leadership Shakeup Shows Power Of Travel Industry Disruption
  2. Why Expedia Blamed Google for Its Earnings Debacle

The 21st century race to map India

atlas close up dark dirty
Photo by Aaditya Arora on

I have borrowed the title from an article published recently on Livemint. It’s not often that one comes across an article on maps in a mainstream publication, so I thought it warranted an article.

I have enjoyed ‘reading’ maps since my childhood days. Geography was one of my favourite subjects in school. I have not really thought about what is it that grabs my attention when it comes to maps. Is it the thrill of locating places on Earth, tracing the convoluted lines that demarcate nations or gaining perspective about the topography of our planet? I don’t know, but the pleasure I get by poring over a map has not diminished, though these days it’s mostly digital maps that I peruse.

One of the positives of this digital age is that maps have become so accessible these days? Almost everyone with a smartphone, I believe, will be accessing maps in some form – be it for their ride sharing service, food delivery, or just for locating the nearest restaurant. I wonder, though, if this increased exposure to maps would lead to greater interest in cartography. I recollect reading a book some time ago about the great exercise of mapping India undertaken in the 19th Century. I believe the book was John Keay’s ‘The Great Arc’ and it detailed the tremendous effort put in to create a more accurate map of the vast subcontinent.

Interestingly, I was looking for a word that describes someone who loves maps, but such a word does not seem to exist. If any of you know such a word, please do drop a comment!

Where would you like to go to next?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

It’s that time of the year when everyone starts preparing their lists, either best of the year that was, or lists for what to do next year. I love traveling, so have been perusing the lists of top travel publications. Delighted to see the following:

Tiger Safari in Madhya Pradesh
Photo by Amit Jain on Unsplash

Madhya Pradesh – The state at the heart of Maharashtra is, in my opinion, a highly under-rated destination. I have been lucky to have visited the state a few times, and have still only seen a few of the beautiful places the state is blessed with, from the surprisingly pleasant state capital of Bhopal, the ancient ruins at Sanchi, one of the world’s oldest cave paintings at Bhimbetka and a couple of the amazing wildlife reserves – Bandhavgarh and Pench. Places on my bucket list – the ancient city of Ujjain, atmospheric ruins of Mandu and Orchha, stunning Khajuraho temples and the fort of Gwalior. It is no surprise that Lonely Planet has rated Madhya Pradesh in its Top Value Destinations for 2020.

Chinese Fishing Nets at Kochi
Photo by Ankur Khanna on Unsplash

Kochi – Located close to my hometown in the state of Kerala in the far South West of India, Kochi makes it on to two prestigious lists – National Geographic’s Best Trips to Take in 2020 and Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities to Visit. It really is no surprise, with it’s wealth of history, culture and its location close to the stunning and unique backwaters of Kerala.

Udaipur at night
Photo by Hardik Joshi on Unsplash

Udaipur – I still remember my only visit to Udaipur. It was Diwali break while I was studying at IIM, Ahmedabad and three of us took the bus down to this city located in Southern Rajasthan. And it was a magical experience, with the city decked up in twinkling lights. Definitely a place to go back to! No wonder it is on Travel + Leisures’ Top 15 Cities in the World List.

So where are you headed to next?