Travel Websites More Offline Than Online

Travel Trends,

Net Travel

The dotcom industry may have gone into a tailspin, but online travel companies are soaring above the Web crowd

Travel Websites More Offline Than OnlineTwenty percent of e-commerce the world over has been captured by travel sites. Shares of Expedia and Travelocity rose last year by 163 per cent and 116 percent, respectively, on Nasdaq. Ditto for Indian websites. According to a recent Business World survey, while most Indian sites are in the red, six have made profits. Fifteen others are on their way to profitability. Among the top six is Indiamart, which has a heavy accent on travel, while makemytrip.com, an exclusive travel portal, expects to break even by May 2002.

However, there is a crucial difference between foreign travel sites and the home-grown ones – the ‘real time’ required for online bookings and reservations. Abroad, the ‘real time’ can be as low as 30 seconds. You can book a flight or make a hotel reservation instantly. All you need to do is punch in your credit card number and your holiday is well and truly organised. With the advent of e-ticketing, airlines can sell tickets on the Internet, which can be downloaded and printed at the customer’s end. In the USA, about 50 per cent of airline tickets sold domestically are e-tickets.

But Indian travel sites follow the hybrid offline-online model and are mostly query based. Potential customers can only post an inquiry on the website, which forwards an e-mail to the concerned airline or hotel, etc. if there is flight or room availability , the customer gets a confirmation and the actual transaction is completed in the physical world. Real time may take a week or more. …

However, studies indicate that customers want instant confirmations – for every 10 potential customers e-mailing a query, nine leave due to lack of instant confirmation. These are the realities that some Indian sites are at last waking up to. http://www.indiantravelportal.com is launching its online Hotel Reservation System (OHRS) in August. The company promotes travel agents and their OHRS software is available to all who have free sale availability at hotel. The rates being offered are lower than the rack rate.

OHRS works like this: A travel agent, after picking room availability status and rates from affiliate hotels, can input the same in the OHRS interface by using their username and pasword. Customers, after checking the same, fill in the booking form online, make one night’s advance payment through his/ her credit card. The payment is accepted by a secured payment gateway (ICICI and Jain Internet ) and confirmation is given instantly. This is automatically transferred to the agent’s account and the room availability status updated on the website. http://www.indiantravelportal.com charges its agents for the installation of the software and a commission every time a transaction is made via OHRS. The customer gets a voucher, which he has to show at the hotel desk on arrival. In Indiamart’s CEO Dinesh Agarwal’s words: “We are turning old economy companies into new economy ones.” However, the OHRS is limited thus far to FIT leisure travel. There are problems though in case of concellations by inbound tourists. Isnce they have already paid in foreign exchange, it is difficult to reimburse them due to RBI regulations.

Furthermore, there always exists the possibility of Internet frauds. Indiamart, which had constructed the SGPC website, had the nasty experience of a credit card fraud. Says Agarwal:”OHRS is in the nature of an experiment. If customers can’t pay by credit card, they can pay by debit card. If the experiment. If customers can’t pay by credit card, they can pay by debit card. If the experiment is successful, we will then take it further to include GIT travel, airline ticketing, etc.” …

Online bookings and reservations may be chimera in India at the moment, but the small beginning made could be a sign of better things to come.