Indians wary of planning vacations on the Internet

July 16th, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Facebook
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, July 16 (IANS) Indian travellers are still not confident of planning their holidays online. Call it the fear of the intangible or the chip of technology on their shoulder, Internet travel portals are yet to instil confidence in the Indian globe trotter, who prefers to fall back on offline support networks - the travel agents, says Himanshu Singh, managing director of Travelocity.

The use of e-portals is still restricted to a niche segment, the young and the Internet-savvy.

This despite the fact that India is ranked the fifth largest online travel market in the world with an annual turnover of $2 billion that is expected to grow by 76 percent in the next three years, according to statistics by the Syndicated Research Online Travel for the year 2007.

Research conducted by Travelocity, the sixth largest travel portal in US which has forayed into the Indian market this year, shows that consumers are still short of confidence to shop for holiday packages on the Net or firm up itineraries with e-holiday vendors.

And the volume of holiday booking traffic on the Internet in India is yet to achieve growth targets.

“Most travellers are still not comfortable with the idea of researching and booking their holidays on the Net. They feel that there are hidden costs that surface later,” Singh told IANS.

“People move online to travel portals for the three Cs - convenience, choice and cost-effectiveness. An effective travel portal has to deliver all the three to inspire confidence among customers that they will get their money’s worth and do not have to fork out more than the cost shown on the screen,” he added.

Explaining the hidden costs, Singh said the prices mentioned on Internet travel planners and e-shops often do not always tally with real-time costs because travellers have to pay extra money on reaching the destination despite having paid in advance while booking a tour package on the Internet.

The extra money could be by way of taxes, entry fees for entertainment sites or heritage monuments, or even as service charges.

“We at Travelocity have no hidden costs. The price that appears on the screen is the real-time cost of the product. We are aggressively rooted in long-term business and we have to inspire credibility and trust in our customers,” Singh said.

Conversely, very few Indian sites look at long-term business prospects to nurture a core client base, he pointed out. One reason for the poor volume of traffic on the Internet travel sites is low Net penetration.

“Globally, India is not a mature market because the idea of using the Internet for advance tasks such as planning a holiday has yet to catch on,” Vikas Jawa, co-founder of Zommtra.com, an Indian travel search engine, told IANS.

Jawa, who has launched a travel social networking site, “India Dekha” that operates through Orkut and Facebook, says leisure travellers mostly use travel portals. But here too, the segmented is limited.

This is because only Internet-friendly youngsters and singletons with unlimited access to the Net use the sites to plan holidays and research their itineraries.

The big-budget family segmented still like to visit the nearest travel agent to plan vacations, said Karan Anand, the business development head of Cox & Kings.

“One of the constraints relate to the credit card limits. Most global cards cap their limits at Rs.200,000 and the average holiday budget of large families groups varies between Rs 400,000 and Rs.500,000. Hence, they are unable to pay with their credit cards on the Internet, where plastic is the only mode of payment,” Anand explained.

Moreover, many people still prefer paying for their holiday bookings in cash to avoid Income Tax surveillance. Thus, the Internet is of little use to them.

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