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The battle of clicks

Can the 12 new travel portals that have come up in the past year take on the established players?

Over 500 million and growing. This is roughly the population of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is also the number of domestic travellers as far as India is concerned. Is it any wonder that in the past year alone at least 12 travel portals have staged an entry in the country? This is in addition to the 25-odd sites that are already in existence.

From brick-and-mortar travel agencies rushing to establish an online presence to leading global online travel agents (OTAs) keen to tap the burgeoning Indian market with countryspecific Websites, everybody wants a share of the online pie.

Does India need so many players? When you want to book a journey online, which portal do you visit? It’s safe to assume that you typically frequent the Big Five, namely, Make My Trip (MMT), Yatra, Cleartrip, Travelguru and iXiGo. Does this mean that the new portals are doomed to fight a losing battle? Or are they offering a better deal than the lead players, either in monetary terms or by way of value additions? MONEY TODAY finds out.

For the analysis, we have considered functional sites that cover at least two travel business verticals, say, flights and hotels. So we had to drop sites like Hotels.co.in and the bus travel specialist, Travel-yaari.com. In addition, we have concentrated on independent portals, eliminating white label sites like Ezeetrip.com, which is affiliated to MMT. This narrowed down the universe to seven engaging sites. However, this is not an exhaustive list.

The most glaring take-away from this exercise is that the Big Five do not guarantee the lowest rates. In fact, when it comes to the full-service airlines, it’s the new contenders that offer better rates. Take the 3.15 a.m. Jet flight from Delhi to Chennai. While OTAs like Travelotravel and Travelspice quote Rs 6,029 and Rs 6,042, respectively, the rates at MMT, Yatra and Cleartrip range from Rs 6,105 to Rs 6,644.

Says Ramu R. Kallepalli, CEO, TravelSpice: “We are able to guarantee the lowest rates by keeping our costs low, including software costs.” He admits that this means the portal is not cutting-edge, yet its interface is as good as the others. “We focus on giving customers value for their money. We are the WalMart of the travel trade,” he adds.

However, travel services suppliers across the world are increasingly reserving their best deals for their own Websites. A meta-search portal makes life easier by simultaneously searching numerous OTAs as well as travel supplier sites. Since these portals tap a wider database, more often than not, they yield the best rates. A seat on the 3.15 a.m. Jet flight can be had for Rs 5,987-5,991 on these sites.

The market leader for meta-search portals currently is iXiGo, but newcomers like Sprice and Travel.Bixee are putting up a good fight. Not only are they close in terms of the number of search results yielded, but they also throw up lower rates regularly.

Unfortunately, the new players are yet to develop their hotel and holiday repertoire to be able to compete with the leading portals. But what they lack in terms of scope, they are trying to make up in terms of innovations. As V. Ram Seethepalli, founder, Rang7, claims, “Trying to differentiate one OTA from another is next to impossible (in India). We don’t need another OTA, certainly not another ‘me too’ player.” So, the newcomers have invested in valueadded services, ranging from the live chat facility to downloadable toolbars and detailed location maps.

How about travelling at a price set by you? Check out Atyourprice, where you can bag rates that are 40-50% cheaper than the market price as it’s all unsold supplier inventory. On the flip side, you can’t modify a booking and you cannot find out which supplier has accepted your bid till you’ve paid up. For the adventurous, this is as good as it gets.

Hot Deals
Interesting packages to look out

Victor Exotica, Goa

Victor Exotica, Goa
Cost: Rs 3,999
Contact: 1800-22-1235

The three-night ‘Land of Sea, Sand, Sun and Fun’ package from Cox & Kings includes airport/railway station transfers, sight-seeing and all meals. The rate mentioned is per person on a twin sharing basis. A payment of Rs 600 will ensure a complimentary fourth night’s stay (room only). Also, two children below 12 years can stay for free. The offer is valid till 30 September.

Devi Garh, Udaipur, Rajasthan

Devi Garh, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Cost: Rs 14,500 per night
Contact: 011-23755540

This monsoon, the fort palace is offering a Joyful Getaway package to couples staying for a minimum of two nights. The offer includes accommodation in a suite, airport transfers, daily breakfast and a choice of lunch or dinner for two, free Internet access and complimentary stay for two children under 15 years on the same meal plan. The offer is valid till 30 September.