Global travel giant Booking.com is taking a big bet on India's North-East as it wants to take the lead in popularizing the region but has flagged the curbs on alcohol and meat as a disturbing trend for the sector.
Global travel giant Booking.com is taking a big bet on India’s North-East as it wants to take the lead in popularizing the region but has flagged the curbs on alcohol and meat as a “disturbing” trend for the sector. “We don’t know how big the North-East could be, but we do know that it has the potential,” Vikas Bhola, head of India operations, Booking.com, told reporters here. “There is no other online travel agent that has really worked in the North-East. Our intention is that for the first year or two years maybe, (we will) develop the market, (maybe) not bringing in business, but training property owners on how the Internet works,” he added. The Netherlands-headquartered $ 93 billion company, however, remains concerned about the multiple restrictions in the country like the ones on alcohol and meat consumption, which has also seen attacks by vigilante groups.
“It’s not a very comfortable thing for the traveller or even for the tourism industry. Those are decisions which the government has taken and are very relevant decisions, but I think it definitely disturbs tourism (industry),” Bhola said. He said that wherever possible, the website, which aggregates stay options for travellers, discloses culinary aspects in its content, but was quick to add that exclusively vegetarian properties do not have a good traction. The company saw a 60 per cent growth in Indian properties listed at 28,000 in 2016-17 and is looking to maintain the pace. To make the point, he said that even before the greater thrust on the North-East, it has 6,000 properties in the east.
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Its global chief executive Gillian Tans lists India as a “very important and fast-growing market” for the company, where the “domestic business” (of Indians using the site for bookings within their country) ranks the highest. “We see in India, a lot has happened in the past few years and and also in our business. We are growing fast in India. We also see that the domestic market is growing faster than before,” she noted. The company has a policy of working with all other aggregators, which makes it work with the likes of Oyo Rooms for mutual benefit, under which the local partner gets supply of homes and Booking.com helps on the distribution side.
The company is in talks with state tourism development corporations of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, apart from the ITDC, to get one of the premium trains — like the Deccan Odyssey or others like the Palace on Wheels — on board as a listing that can be booked online. “It will majorly accommodate international demand and also affluent Indian travellers,” he pointed out, adding that the price point is over $ 1,000 per trip. Bhola said a bulk of the new property listings are in the cheaper three star and below category and the company already offers other experiences, including tree houses, house boats and the like, apart from hotel rooms.
The aggregator has had to localise to suit conditions like non-availability of point of sale machine infrastructure, he said, adding that a majority of its 28,000 properties in India do not insist on credit cards. He conceded that the note ban move impacted the travel business in the country, but it is recovering now.