Click, pay, pack and go! Almost every travel portal available online is urging you to pack your bags and travel. Suddenly, travel seems to be the new buzzword – almost everyone we know says, “I love to travel” and they validate it by posting selfies and glossed up photos on social media. Maybe a lot has to do with how accessible and easy it has become to book tickets, find hotels, package tours, read reviews and head out.
But in the sea of online travel portals available, the question is, how effective are they in helping an end user streamline his/ her search for a destination, package deals, hotels, airfares – the works.
As Chandigarh-based businessman Rakshit Makkar, a solo traveller and avid lover of motorcycles feels, “Travel portals basically help you to plan a trip with no mess as you can get everything under one roof right from hiring a taxi to book a flight. However, there’s a difference between a traveller and a tourist; and I believe mostly tourists prefer searching information on a travel portal.”
“A traveller will follow his heart, but a tourist will follow a travel portal!”
While there’s no refuting how travel portals can be of help, we try to understand how they work and whether they actually help a consumer (read – not a traveller but a tourist) to fine-tune their search.
Why do we need travel portals?
“In a booming travel industry that stands at $42 billion and a 10.2% CAGR for the next 10 years, travel portals have become the one-stop shop for all travel related needs of aspiring Indian travellers. Quick and easy bookings, eliminating the middlemen and comparative and competitive pricing are some of the reasons why travel portals have become so popular,” explains Aparna Mohan, the Founder of Let’s Get Lost, a boutique travel company in Mumbai.
Sarita Mehra Pandey, the Co-Founder of Bohotraveller, thinks that right from planning a holiday to finding new destinations, travel portals come really handy. A well-equipped travel portal also assists in fixing an approximate budget with flight bookings, hotel bookings and other rentals. Another important role that these portals play is that of a guide before you hit the actual destination. They can give you valuable information on places to see, where to stay, culture, getting around and safety quotient of the place.
Clientele at travel portals
“63% of the online Indian travel segment consists of domestic ticket booking, 28% railway tickets and 4% international ticket booking,” explains Aparna. She further adds, “So clearly people looking for the cheapest and the most convenient way of booking tickets are using online portals the max.
Hotel bookings and tour packages are also a rising trend; so not just individual travellers, but also travel agents are finding merit in making bookings through travel portals. It helps them gauge the market in order weigh options before offering the best packages.
For Sarita, the main clients and customers are definitely on the retail side unless it is a large-scale business. Again all travel portals are different from each other and it is the niche within travel that attracts the clients. For example, there could be a portal that specialises in Asian travel, offbeat experiences or family holidays.
How do travel portals help in deciding & booking a trip?
Today, an entire trip can be booked online – right from booking a cab to air tickets to local experiences, hotel rooms and everything in between. Travel portals are the one-stop-shop for all travel needs.
Above all, an online search helps consumers negotiate better offline with agents.
“This is an interesting question. These days you have software that compare flight rates, hotel rates etc. across hundreds of sites, so the client scores the best rate available. The portals act as gateways to these amazing deals. Again as I mentioned if it is well-designed portal then it can help you with booking flights, hotels, cruises, tours, car rentals and even shopping. Yep, we have done that with Bohotraveller thanks to affiliations we have with Amazon, Jet Radar, hotelscombined and Viator,” explains Sarita.
According to Sarita, online travel portals are gateways to great deals. They also act as a one-stop shop where you can get all bookings at one place under one roof. Portals are necessities for those who like to plan their own travel instead of joining the herd in planned tours that are offered by travel agencies. Some portals also have special tie-up with tours and travel agencies and so can score preferential rates.
Advantages and disadvantages of using a travel portal
For Rakshit, it is pretty simple the way he lists out the pros and cons of going through an online travel portal:
For the advantages,
- A no-mess game
- Sit back and relax
- Mostly for family vacations
- Tailor made packages available
And for the disadvantages:
- They’ll charge you extra
- Limited options, sometimes
Travel portals have literally opened up innumerable opportunities for people and made mini-travel agents out of everyone. Indians are highly price sensitive and so finding the most competitive pricing for tickets and hotels and the most competitive deals online is the biggest winner for online travel portals. This is has opened up newer territories & unexplored places for people to plan trips to. Along with the convenience of booking that travel portals provide, consumers now go for ‘plan-it-yourself’ flexible holidays.
“However, from an experience point of view, travel portals can be limited. Travellers looking for experiential holidays still prefer direct bookings with OTAs or offline bookings. At Let’s Get Lost since we begin with a concept in mind and not price, we mostly rely on creating offline partnerships where we work together with our partners in creating unique offerings. Here, the role of finding ‘best cheap deals’ is mitigated for us. Also, since credit card penetration in India is still very low, and factors like trust and accountability still play a critical role in our culture – which works as a deterrent to using travel portals online,” explains Aparna.
Countries that are the largest users of travel portals
Based on her experience of running a travel portal herself, Sarita has observed that even though Indians visit travel portals, they don’t book anything other than maybe hotels or flights. In the case of international tours and cruises are all booked by Europeans or visitors from the US.
“However, based on my experience, the various people I’ve met on road trips have been from America and Russia, who spend a lot on travel without taking any help from portals. They are the true wanderers in real terms.
“I think they are a fantastic way to plan travel even if you are not booking through a travel portal. Through the various travel blogs, one can get intimate details of the destination. These days, portals are more of a standard, where everyone explores and books through them. With the fast booking engines the efficiency and rates that they throw out are difficult to match for any travel agency,” opines Sarita.
What makes an online travel portal successful?
Right now it’s all about the cheapest deals and the market works on price sensitivity. More innovative concepts are expected as the market expands.
“I feel brand loyalty is low at this point and everyone compares on multiple portals before finding the ‘best deal’. Volumes are important – so major companies expand and acquire smaller ones in order to be successful – like Makemytrip acquired Ticketvala.com, Travelocity acquired Travelguru,” explains Aparna.
She further adds, “Ease of booking, ease of cancellation, problem-solving, one-stop solutions, merging offline with online etc. are other factors that would make a travel portal stand out from the rest. However, I feel customisation and brand differentiation will play a key role going forward as this market is only getting cluttered day by day. Nurturing traveller communities, and going beyond bookings will create brand love and brand loyalty.”
One has to be clear with what the objectives are of their travel portal. Whether it is to act as a source of information, serve as a booking platform or bring out travel stories. The important parameters in no particular order are design of the website, ease of use, seamless navigation, how fast the site is, deals and discounts, engaging content and tone of the portal. With time brand and advertisements also make a lot of difference.
For Rakshit, “Good hotels listed on their website, various offers on bookings, for example, buy 3 nights and get the fourth night free, cashback schemes and last but not the least good customer service support,” would be the elements to make a travel portal successful.
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