Thomas Cook, Expedia tie up for free visa services

Written by Debabrata Das | Mumbai | Updated: May 7 2012, 06:00am hrs
Expedia, one of the worlds largest online travel companies, will tie up with travel and travel-related financial services firm Thomas Cook to offer free visa assistance services to make it easier for travellers to book international holidays online. Next month, we will launch a free visa assistance service in collaboration with Thomas Cook, Vikram Malhi, Expedia India, told FE.

We will send a person to the travellers home to collect the documents and through our partner Thomas Cooks help, we will get the visa done in a seamless and easy process for the traveller. We wanted a credible partner for visa services and that is why we picked Thomas Cook as they have been in this market for a long time, he added.

This is the second time after that an online travel agent is offering visa services. Expedias competitors MakeMyTrip and Cleartrip do not offer such services. One can, however, download visa forms from MakeMyTrip. The launch of the new service could help the website attract more first-time passengers for booking international holidays.

The outbound travel segment in India is growing at 16%, estimates say, largely driven by leisure travel as disposable income with Indians rise, and business travel as trade with other countries flourish. The European Travel Commission (ETC) and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) have said that Indian outbound travel market more than doubled in ten years, from 3.7 million in 1997 to 9.8 million in 2007 and over 10 million for 2008. The UNWTO predicts that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020.

The first time passengers prefer a physical travel agent as it provides them with some sort of comfort of getting all the travel formalities done, said PR Srinivas, an independent travel consultant. But by providing visa assistance Expedia will be able to provide that face-to-face meet, which first time passengers are looking for.

The move will also expand the target customer base for Expedia, who till now have been focusing on a more matured travel group. We have positioned ourselves for the more mature traveller who is comfortable with booking and doing things on their own, said Malhi.