The smart traveller

Updated: Nov 27 2006, 05:30am hrs
Competitive advantage of the travel industry is no longer limited to the quality of service and loyalty to a brand; it is increasingly driven by science, IT and innovation. The sustainable growth of the aviation in the country also requires a successful marriage between the aviation and IT sectors.

International as well as domestic carriers have been quick to capitalise on the early mover advantage and managed to reap the benefitsoperational efficiency in terms of reduced costs and superior customer service. It is now the turn of travel business companies who are realising that it is imperative to embrace IT and exploit its potential and reach out to the maximum number of people.

Interestingly, Web 2.0 is seeking to change searching for the lowest fare into planning for the travel. Says Deep Kalra, founder and CEO, makemytrip.com, Travel specific search engines have emerged, which is a far cry from the days of generic search.

On the benefits of Web 2.0, he says, it provides multi-and cross-level search, optimising for the queried results. Besides, the sites are now equipped with mashups, that not only empower travellers with maps but also events, information and opinions all at the same location.

In recent times, there has been a phenomenal increase in peoples reliance on the internet to plan their travelwork related as well as leisure. The number of people turning to the internet for travel planning has increased more than 300% over the past five years. In fact, it has outpaced traditional sources of information on tourist destinations within a short period of time. A major cause for the growth of e-dependence is cost reduction and a definite increase in the number of choices offered by internet.

Selling whole itinerary online, however, still remains a major problem, says Kalra. A wide range of travel-related software is now capable of forecasting airfares. Travel sites like Farecast, Flyspy and Farecompare actually give out suggestions to the travellers as when and where would they get the best fare deals. And, also if ought to wait for sometime before purchasing the tickets.

However, these sites provide data for the mature travel markets, as the predictions require research and large historical database. At a time in India when the travel market, especially the air travel segment, is still evolving, it would take another two to three years before similar travel prediction tools start functioning in the country.

Nevertheless, domestic carriers have undertaken earnest measures to become tech-savvy and in turn, make travel hassle-free. For instance, state-owned Indian Airlines recently decided to go live on all the major global distribution systems (GDS) in the country, including the largest GDS service provider, Amadeus and Galileo. Analysts say, its a calculated move on the part of the company to maximise on the availability, as the benefits reaped from having a wider network will far exceed the increase in the expenditure of the company for registering to more service providers.

For the comfort of the aviation sector, the IT industry has been able to develop an increasing number of new technologies in recent times. A significant number of these revolve around the tourism information systems (TIS). These are a new type of business systems that support e-tourism and e-travel, such as airlines, hoteliers, car rental companies, leisure suppliers, and travel agencies. Besides, these systems work on travel-related data to build tourism products and services. The information present on these sources helps in the development of a variety of systems, such as dynamic packaging applications, travel planning engines, and price comparison applications.

Explaining the concept of dynamic packaging, Kalra says, this is based on an individual consumer request, including the flexibility to combine, multiple travel components like flights, hotels, car rentals, etc, and provide a single, fully priced package that requires only one payment from the consumers.

Efforts are also being made by the GDS companies to provide all the details of the travel itinerary on the e-ticket. This move would provide the flexibility of the travel agents to register all the requirements of the passenger under one code and easily access its data, rather than multiple data processing. It would also be useful for passengers, as all the information will be available on a single sheet of paper.

Nevertheless, there are occasions when despite the introduction of new technology, few people are aware of it and thus, not prepared for its adoption. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents over 90% airlines in the world, has set a deadline of 2007 end to switch to e-ticketing from the current paper tickets.

The benefits: It reduces ticket processing charges, eliminates the need for paper and allows greater flexibility to the passenger and the travel agent to make changes to the intinerary. Analysts say that 100% e-ticketing by December 2007 will save the industry up to $3 billion annually.

The question, however, is not whether airlines would be able to meet the 2007 deadline. An important issue is whether the people are ready for it It has been the general observation globally that passengers find it difficult to trust e-tickets, as they dont appear like genuine tickets at all.

In India too, even the security system doesnt trust e-tickets. Therefore, a passenger has to carry a photo identity card, if they are travelling with an e-ticket. This sends a clear signal that people are required to be familiarised with the technology first, before they are subjected to its usage.

An interesting phenomenon is that airline companies are increasingly using travel blogsthough blogs are not especially meant for the airline industryto get feedbacks on the experience of their passengers. As these internet properties are much more honest and passionate, the feedback generated through them proves to be more useful for improving the service standards, says Jet Airways officials.

In fact, the countrys largest private domestic carrier is the first airline-company to start this exercise. And not only in terms of feedback, people are increasingly using blogs to plan their holidays, rather than going to their travel agents asking for tour packages.

Even as the countrys aviation sector is growing by leaps and bounds, IT is empowering it to reach out to more people.