Budget hotels get net presence with affordable search engine

Kolkata | Updated: Oct 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Budget hotels will soon be able to find a place on the internet and fill up rooms without having to pay hefty fees to third-party aggregators or maintain their own portals.

A New Jersey based start-up, eRevMax Technologies, has developed a search engine that will enable tourists to get the best bargains at any location, while the hotels themselves will get a Net presence on a revenue-sharing basis.

In India, five-star hotels have extensive tie-ups or own arrangements for online bookings, but the smaller ones cannot afford either a presence on a global distribution system (GDS) or the cost of maintaining a portal.

The Kolkata development centre of eRevMax has created a booking engine that enables member hotels to offer the best tariffs in real time.

Chief executive officer of eRevMax, Somnath Mukherjee, said that portals like expedia.com or hotels.com are too expensive for budget hotels. Also, these portals restrict the options of would-be travellers to their listed members.

However, eRevMax would offer travellers a choice from its listed members and also provide links to portals like expedia.com.

It will be a multi-searching site providing travelers with the best bargains according to their budget, Mr Mukherjee said.

We will start by marketing our service to the Indian hotels, which would be able to enter our site using a password and post their tariffs, he said.

A veteran of the Indian hotels industry, SK Khullar, said that Indian budget hotels are under-represented on the internet.

Mr Khullar, who is a former eastern region chairman of the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), said offline bookings account for a major part of the bookings of budget hotels. The five-star hotels, on the other hand, get most of their business from online sources.

Budget hotels have to depend on travel agents or other third parties to get bookings from foreigners as well as domestic tourists. Booking is done via the telephone, email or even fax.

According to the national secretary of the FHRAI, Shyam Suri, budget hotels lack the money or the technology awareness that would enable them to go online.

One needs enough money to be a part of a booking engine, and most of our one or two star hotels cannot afford it, said Mr Suri.

Five-star hotels get most of their guests via some GDS channel or from corporate bookings.

Mr Sanjay Sethi, general manager of Taj Bengal, a property owned by Indian Hotels Co of the Tatas, said: Only 10% of our occupancy is through offline bookings.

The rest is through using various forms of online bookings.

The picture is almost the same at the other five-star or deluxe properties in Kolkata. However, for the lower categories of hotels, a maximum of 25% comes from Internet bookings.

Mr Mukherjee of eRevMax said that one of the ways in which smaller hotels can increase occupancy and revenue is by marketing facilities directly to the traveller.

The Internet booking engine serves the need of both the traveller and the hotel. Unlike in developed countries, Indian hotels have a long way to go before they can use the booking engine system efficiently, said Mr Mukherjee.