Sharat Dhall is an MBA in marketing with a total experience of over 16 years in the FMCG and internet industries. At the moment he is the Managing Director of TripAdvisor India.
Managing Director, TripAdvisor India
Tell us about your portal and its USPs.
TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel community with more than 30 million honest reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world on over 70,000+ cities, 450,000+ hotels, 90,000+ attractions ,560,000+ restaurants and 2,000,000+ traveller photos.. TripAdvisor provides real advice to real travelers across the globe to help them plan their perfect holiday.
TripAdvisor has hotel, restaurant and attraction rankings that are based on user-generated reviews. Travellers can add information on destinations as a way to aid potential visitors with topics ranging from transportation, activities and dining guides. Travelers can also post their own snapshots to “behind-the-scenes” view of hotels around the world. TripAdvisor also provides quick guides for a destination and an extremely vibrant forum, where travelers can post their comments of seek help from other travellers.How do you position TripAdvisor in the market? What is your marketing strategy?
TripAdvisor is the world’s most trusted travel advice since it is based on real advice from real travelers. It has been proven in studies that reviews of fellow consumers are more credible and trustworthy than any other form of information. I am delighted that this position has connected with Indian travelers and TripAdvisor is already the fourth most visited travel website in India, within just 15 months of our launch here.
Our goals for 2010 are to penetrate deeper into the Indian market, increase reach amongst Indian travelers and increase the reviews content on Indian destinations, hotels and sightseeing/attractions.
We have a very aggressive online marketing strategy with search marketing as the key driver of customer acquisition. In addition, we have partnerships with key travel players, wherein we feature our reviews content on their websites. We have partnerships with Cleartrip, Travelocity and Indian Rail, wherein users of these websites can view TripAdvisor reviews while booking hotels on these websites.How important is an online portal in developing destinations?
TripAdvisor is an excellent medium to showcase a destination since we get over 25 million global travelers to our websites every month. TripAdvisor provides extremely holistic information on a destination – attractions or sightseeing places, hotels to stay in, restaurants to visit, as well as, information on transportation around the city, weather, etc.
A number of Tourism/destination marketing organizations across the world have worked with us to showcase their destinations with excellent results. There are a number of different ways on the site in which a destination can be marketed to this huge base of global travelers. In addition, tourism organizations like state tourism boards, etc. can feature TripAdvisor traveler reviews about their destinations on their own website, which adds to the credibility of the sites. Could you tell us about your background and how did you come to the industry?
I am an MBA in marketing with total experience of over 16 years in the FMCG and internet industries.
I spent a decade with Hindustan Unilever in sales and marketing. I also worked in the New Ventures business, where I started Project Shakti, a globally acclaimed Unilever rural initiative. This involved working with Self Help Groups providing livelihoods, while increasing marketing and distribution reach of HUL products.
After my stint at Hindustan Unilever, I moved to Indiatimes, where I was heading the eCommerce business. I was responsible for the shopping and travel verticals, and launch the Art and Auto business lines during my stint there.
My last assignment prior to heading TripAdvisor in India, was spearheading Expedia’s entry into India. Tell us about your experience so far? Is there an unforgettable moment in your career which you can share with us?
There have been a few moments in my career that have been extremely rewarding and memorable. Harvard Business School featuring Project Shakti in a case study, being listed amongst India’s Top Young Executives, and TripAdvisor becoming a Top 5 travel site in India within a year of launch, would count amongst these. What plans – immediate and long term – do you have?
My immediate goal is to ensure that TripAdvisor becomes India’s most popular travel site within the next couple of years. We are well on our way to getting there and I am confident that it is a matter of time. Where would you like to see yourself, say, 10 years from now?
Tough one, 10 years is a long time to foresee. I could either be running my own enterprise or travelling, listening to music, reading and playing golf…Now tell us about your family.
My wife, Malini, with a few partners, runs her own extremely successful management consulting outfit. We have two children – Raghav, who is 10 and Ayesha, who is 8. Tell us about your hobbies and other interests.
I am an outdoors person and enjoy a wide variety of sports, Golf being the current favorite. I love seeking out and watching wildlife, particularly birds, and travelling to new destinations with the family is a massive rush.
Apart from this, I enjoy art and have a small collection that I keep trying to add to. I am stuck in the past as far as music is concerned, where the old rock bands from the 60’s and the 70’s still rule! I love to read non-fiction (when I can muster the time!) – particularly management books and the autobiographies of political leaders and sportspersons. Which is your favorite destination and why?
Bangalore is a special favourite since I grew up there and have loads of friends. The climate is spectacular too, even now. However I absolutely loved South Africa, particularly the wildlife which was completely out of the world.