‘IRCTC is keen to explore and expand to new business areas mandated by Indian Railways’ – M P Mall, Chairman and Managing Director, IRCTC
Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is a service-delivery arm of Indian Railways, specialising in e-ticketing, railway catering, & promoting tourism through trains & package tours. The recent revamping of the e-ticketing system will enhance the quality of service by IRCTC. M P Mall, CMD, IRCTC, in a conversation with TravelBiz Monitor, talks about the various business verticals of the Corporation and their future plans.
Q: Indian Railways recently introduced the revamped New Generation e-ticketing System (NGeT) with enhanced capacity. How would it strengthen the service delivery and customer experience while booking tickets through IRCTC’s online booking system?
A. The demand had gone up beyond the infrastructure we had, especially during the peak season when advance reservation opens, and also for a few minutes when Tatkal tickets open. The problem was actually limited to 10 to 20 minutes between 8 am and 8.10 am when advance reservation opens, and between 10 am and 10.10 am when Tatkal reservation opens. The system could only handle 40,000 concurrent users. Once that threshold was crossed, the system would develop a snag. Then we analysed the number of concurrent users especially during these peak load time. We found that the number of concurrent users touched 70,000 at times against our capacity of 40,000. Accordingly, the new system was designed. The new system can handle 1.2 lakh concurrent users, and will be able to book 7,200 tickets per minutes instead of 2,000 tickets in the old version. This system, we feel, would take care of not only the current constraints as well as future requirements. We do not foresee, any issue, for next three years at least. Moreover, the new platform that we have is a scalable one. We can scale up the system further to meet future demands as well.
In terms of revenue, we do not see many gains with the onset of the new booking system. We are already selling five-six lakh tickets per day from the total pool of ten lakh reserved tickets on Indian Railways. Therefore, the revenue growth would be marginal, as we already had high percentage growth in the last couple of years.
Q. Besides Railway booking, IRCTC ventured into air ticket booking a couple of years ago. How is this business evolving and what kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?
A. We started air ticket booking towards the end of 2012. It was a new business for us. In the beginning we were doing this business through a partner, because we were not an IATA-accredited. We started by issuing about 200 tickets per day. Later on IRCTC became an IATA member. Currently, we sell about 3,000 air tickets a day. The growth has been quite encouraging. We expect an annual growth of 20 per cent in the air ticket segment in coming years.
We are booking air tickets for corporate, government departments and more. IRCTC has now started booking air tickets for central government departments also. The Union Finance Ministry recently approved IRCTC as a booking agent for them. Along with Balmer Lawrie and Ashok Travels, now IRCTC is also an approved booking agent for many government departments.
Q. Railway catering is a major activity of IRCTC. With the Ministry of Railways announcing a major revamp on the food delivery system at railway stations and in trains, how is IRCTC going to look at this business vertical?
A. Currently, we are running catering services in 35 trains – six Rajdhanis, Durontos, premium trains, and some mail express trains. But, yes, as per existing policies of the Railways, IRCTC is not mandated to run catering in these trains. Soon, we have to take a call on this. Our mandate is to operate food plazas, food courts, travellers’ lounge, etc., at railway stations. Now, we will embark on a special drive to commission as many such facilities at Railway premises as possible. These are new business areas for IRCTC and we are keen to explore these areas proactively. The latest Railway Budget also has a provision for opening more passenger amenities at railway stations.
Q. IRCTC had launched Travellers’ Executive Lounge on a pilot basis in New Delhi railway station last year. Will similar lounges be launched across major railway stations in the country?
A. New Delhi lounge was the first one launched on a pilot basis. We have identified 10-12 stations more for Travellers Lounges. These stations include Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Madurai, Lucknow, Gorakhpur and more. But, there was some issues on revenue sharing yet to be sorted out. Once that is sorted out, we will be able to open these lounges at all the identified locations.
Q. IRCTC runs dedicated tourist trains to cater to all sections of tourists. How do you plan to take this forward, since the Railway Budget has new proposals for pilgrim trains connecting various religious circuits?
A. We have tourist trains starting at Rs.500 per day packages (Bharat Darshan) to USD 1,000 per day (Maharajas Express). We have a range of products to suit different tourists. The Railway Budget has also focus on tourist and pilgrim trains connecting various circuits. We are working on all these in close coordination with the Ministry. We are planning to start pilgrim trains on Char Dham, Jyotirling Darshan, trains connecting various pilgrim centres of South India, and more. We have approached the Railways for suitable rakes for these trains.
Q. IRCTC also ventured into e-retail with a private partner. What happened to that tie-up and how do you plan to take that vertical forward?
A. E-commerce retail, we intend to continue in the future also. We ventured into e-commerce retail in partnership with a private partner. But we were forced to discontinue it due to some default on the payment side. We are now working out a new model for partnership and once that is finalised a partner will be selected through a transparent mechanism. We see a lot of potential and opportunities in that space and want to be there back soon. (Courtesy: TravelBiz Monitor)