Researching Holidays Online

ASIA

 

Here is why I love the business I am in – because it piggybacks on the biggest thing in Travel since the Wheel (ok – mild exaggeration, but still…)

The Internet has become the most popular medium for Chinese travellers seeking information about their trips, according the latest Nielsen China Outbound Travel Monitor. The Nielsen survey found that travellers will search for conventional destination information ahead of their trips (61 percent of leisure trips taken), and then turn to online travel discussion forums (48 percent) to fine-tune their plans. This suggests that opinions and comments about travel experiences posted to online forums are nearly as likely to influence travellers’ decisions as the destination websites themselves. Conventional travel agents were approached on only two in five travel occasions.

The Nielsen survey also found that travellers were much more likely to recall seeing Internet advertising for travel destinations, compared to seeing travel advertising on other mediums. Close to 70 percent could recall seeing travel advertisements on the Internet, with only four in 10 recalling seeing a travel advertisement in a magazine or newspaper, at a travel agent or on TV and radio.

Read the full article here..

India’s biggest tourism promotion website

Have been wondering which website is doing most for marketing Indian tourism. So, I did a quick check of recent Alexa numbers (see chart above) for Incredible India (the official promotion website of India’s tourism ministry) and the sites of two of India’s premier tourism states, kerala Tourism and Rajasthan Tourism.

Surprisingly, the Kerala Tourism site gets more traffic than the Incredible India site, which is a bit for a shame for the Incredible India guys. Incredible India however did get a huge spike in traffic (a few months before the beginning of period I have taken this chart for) when had a massive ad campaign underway – obviously, they were not able to hold on to the audiences after the campaign got over, which seems a real pity.

And since I couldn’t resist it, I also compared these 3 sites wth HolidayIQ which at the moment also exclusively contains tourism information on India. HolidayIQ beat all these sites by a huge distance. Of course, this is a slightly unfair comparison, since HolidayIQ is not a tourism promotion site but a site for India’s domestic holiday-goers to plan vacations. Which, come of to think of it, is probably not very different from what these sites ought to be doing.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

Planning a holiday abroad? Book your hotel online.

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of people asking me various doubts on planning an independent international holiday & particularly about booking hotels abroad. So, till such time as HolidayIQ launches a comprehensive international section (don’t worry, that is coming soon & I promise, it will be a great planning tool), here is a quick primer on how to book hotels & resorts abroad.

I am an online guy, so my first preference is always to book hotels online. With both Travelocity and Expedia launching India sites, the widest international hotel inventory is available to be booked from India and paid in Rupees. So, it sure beats your neighbourhood travel agent hollow. And since both sites have an Indian call centre, one can also talk to a real person in India to double check your bookings, which is often a real comfort.

I stress-tested booking a family room (4 people, 2 adults and 2 kids) at Orlando – in or around Disneyworld – on both the sites. Both Expedia & Travelocity did a good job and threw up a number of options (although Travelocity gave funny error messages & repeatedly failed in my Firefox browser which was a disappointment). However, Expedia’s search methodology was a shade more user-friendly since it allows you to find hotels by naming the Attraction you want to go to and throws up hotels around the attraction. Of course, both Travelocity & Expedia also allow you to narrow the list of hotels in the search results by distance or ease of access to the attraction.

Both excelled in prices. Hotel room prices around Disneyworld started in Expedia at Rs 1386 per night and in Travelocity at Rs 1583 per night. Continue reading

A couple of new tourism websites

Here are 2 new tourism websites that I recently came across. Each interesting in a different way.

Smallwander

As its name somewhat elliptically suggests, this is a site about travelling to small towns. Currently it covers only four states in the US. In many ways, this site reminds me of HolidayIQ, since over 70% of Indian destinations carried on HolidayIQ can be classified as small towns. This aspect makes is refreshingly different from the run-of-the-mill travel info sites, most of which give you more information than you need about New York City while not giving you any about say, Damascus, Virginia. I would have liked to see a user-feedback section on this site to complete the experience, but I guess it is early days for the site.

Fabsearch

Fabsearch aggregates information about hotels, resorts and restaurants mentioned in top travel and lifestyle magazines, probably making it the first aggregator of such content in the world. A search of places to eat in ‘Bombay’ throws up options selected from articles in Elle Decor, Tatler, Daily Candy & Our Friends. Some of the other publications they seem to track are Harpers Bazaar, Elle, FT, New York Social Diary, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Vogue, W and Wallpaper. Interesting enough as a concept to see whether it gets traction.

HolidayIQ in the online travel firmament in India

Yesterday’s Mint newspaper carried the story of Cleartrip’s next round of funding. The associated graphic showed all the 7 players in online space. The 5 players that have been funded for sometime (Yatra, Cleartrip, Makemytrip, Travelguru & HolidayIQ) and the two start-ups (Ixigo, Atyourprice) who have just received angel funding. What is really interesting for me is the extremely unique position occupied by HolidayIQ in this group (even though I say it myself!). We are the only travel information business (media & publishing) and actually works completely complementary to all the other players in the travel space, be it online players, offline travel agents or travel suppliers. The other aspect I notice is the high efficiency of capital we have had, having spent considerably lesser money than the funded online travel agents.

I find the two new start-ups interesting too. Continue reading

Online booking of train tickets on Konkan Railway

konkan_railway_cartoon_mario_miranda_picture_photo.jpg

(Mario Miranda’s cartoon for Konkan Railway)

The first line of the online booking page of Konkan Railway reads as follows:

Internet booking is available ONLY to Indians, Foreign nationals and NRIs holding a valid passport.”

Clearly Martians and other riff-raff Aliens cannot hope to hoodwink the Konkan Railway bureaucracy. Equally, NRIs (who are obviously neither Indians nor Foreign Nationals) have to watch their step. I sleep well in the knowledge that our country and our national treasures are well protected, if not by everyone, atleast by the good folks at Konkan Railway.

If you are an Indian, Foreigner or NRI, click here to book your tickets with Konkan Railway.

http://www.konkanrailway.com/website/ehtm/online_reservation.htm

All others can click here for my Konkan posts or here for all posts on Beach vacations.

HolidayIQ & Google

We finally went public with our deal with Google – Times of India broke the story nationally today.

For those of you who are interested, here are the top level details. Google Local Search is a service where google provides business listings as part of its search results. These listings are procured from a carefully selected group of content partners. The general idea is to have only very high-quality content aggregators and content creators as its content partners.

Over the last 2 to 3 months, Google did a fair bit of evaluation of our India accommodation content and came to the conclusion that it is high quality. They even did independent verification of telephone numbers etc! Anyway, finally, they agreed that our user review & photos content for an unmatched variety of hotels, resorts, home-stay and guest house accommodation in India was exactly what they were looking for. The service goes live sometime in Jan 2008.

Interestingly, most hotel reviews for India hotels is now being provided to Google by Tripadvisor, the world’s leader in travel user-content. The first Indian source for google will be HolidayIQ. It is a nice feeling to be now equated with Tripadvisor.

We might not make much noise and have screaming ads. But we certainly have very good content. Which is what matters, ultimately. A happy development.

11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India

I was doing one of my usual google searches for HolidayIQ and stumbled upon something that is very gratifying. The sentence was – “One of the best travel sites we’ve seen anywhere on the web”. Apparently, IndiaStreet, the online magazine for new projects & investments in India, did a detailed exercise to identify what they called “11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India” and lo & behold, HolidayIQ is one of them. When one is immersed in work and in creating something new, there is very little time to look up and see how far one has reached. This, for me, is a sure marker of our progress. Obviously, happy about it.

Here is the link>>

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels - 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.

Online booking : Travelocity vs HotelClub

I booked all my hotels online, sitting at my desk in Bangalore, for my recent Australia trip. 2 hotels in Sydney on Travelocity and one place in Byron bay on Hotelclub. Here is the analysis.

The great thing is about Travelocity is that they have an India site, with prices quoted in INR. I have a suspicion they also have “Indian” (read : cheaper) prices for a few hotels to attract the Indian market. Also, it was comforting to have a Delhi/Gurgaon phone number to call if needed. The booking was smooth – even the second Sydney hotel I did just 3 days before stay. But when I landed up at the second hotel (Oaks Maestri Towers, in Sydney), the reception informed me that thy had no record of my booking. One serious negative strike against Travelocity. Fortunately, they had vacant rooms and I got a a free upgrade. But this will make me do some double-checking with the hotel the next time I use Travelocity. I would say Travelocity gets a 70% approval rating.

HotelClub had a few options for Byron Bay, whereas Travelocity had practically none (in fact Travelocity did not have Byron bay listed as a separate destination). The booking process on HotelClub was smooth too and there were no hiccups in getting the booked accommodation. But of course, HotelClub is not a India site & does not have an India contact centre. Also, I would have liked it if HotelClub could have had a few more options listed. On the whole, HotelClub gets a 75% approval rating from me.

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

The world has two views

Just finished reading a recent post from a Kuwaiti blogger. The lady is evidently western-educated, most-likely western-reared and the post was about watching Indian movies. She does not like Indian movies and is forced to occasionally watch them, because all her friends in Kuwait do. Here is a classic case of the western sensibility at odds with the new, increasingly confident, Asian ‘feel’. As many of us have heard by now, Rajnikant, the Tamil movie superstar has a loyal following in Japan – another instance of an Asian-Asian cultural nexus that bye-passes the west.

I have noticed a similar dichotomy in user opinion on travel. On HolidayIQ, a lot of traveler comments are from Indians. I now find it really interesting to compare these comments with stuff on predominantly ‘western’ sites such as Tripadvisor & Igougo. The difference is palpable. For the same destination and often for the same hotel, reviews on HolidayIQ are quite different from the traveler views in these other sites. The sensibilities are different & therefore, so are the opinions.

More than anything else, this brings home to me the reality that the world is no more west-centric; the multi-polar globe has arrived. The old certainities built on a hierarchy that puts everything ‘western’ on top is clearly under threat. Young, confident & well-off people across vast swathes of Asia & (eventually) Africa will increasingly determine a new set of realities.

It is in this world that Indian films and Indian tourism stand to gain. After all, the sensibilities of the billion (largely young) people of India seem to find a resonance in many parts of the globe. All we need to do is to conscientiously service this demand.

For HolidayIQ, I think the opportunity to create a pan-Asian viewpoint on travel is, I believe, very real.

The north kerala sikhs

My colleague Prashant claims this is a true story..

Ramanashree Hotel in Bangalore has a Punjabi restaurant, one of the highlights of which is that every evening there are a bunch of prancing sardars doing an authentic Bhangra.

So, Prashant decides to take his punjabi friend who is on a long business trip to Bangalore, to take in the Bhangra and drive away his homesick blues. So off they go to Ramanashree and right on cue the prancing Sardars happen. Amidst his relief at finding compatriots in far away south India, the Punjabi friend then engages one of them, resplendent in his psychedelic turban and luxuriantly waxed beard, in a little bit of Punjabi banter (if you have lived in Delhi for even a short while, you know what that means).

Huh? says the Sardar. The Punjabi friend tries again. heh, heh laughs the sardar apologetically under his breath. Sorry Saar, I do not understand Punjabi. And as the Punjabi friend falls off his chair, the sardar delivers his coup – You see saar, I am from Wayanad.

We all know that whichever end of the earth we go to, there will be the one-metre chai guy from kerala and the friendly butter-chicken dhaba man from Ludhiana. But, evolution being an inexorable force, watch out for new composites.

Here is a video of a Bhangra in M.I.T. (amazing, isnt it, the kind of stuff you find these days on Youtube!). Presumably being done by nerds, it is unlikely to have the earthiness of the real thing.

Times of India & HolidayIQ

India’s largest media group, Bennett Coleman & Company Limited (BCCL), the owners of Times of India has just announced their investment in HolidayIQ. It is indeed satisfying to see one’s creation grow up – an emotion somewhere between that of a movie director and a parent. It has been an interesting journey. To jump into areas one had limited knowledge of (travel industry & media business), try out a new concept – the first asian travel media organisation – and see it validated by the biggest media company in India has been a roller-coaster ride. Now, the stage is set for initiatives across multiple media channels – mobile, books, magazines, TV shows etc. Looking forward to lots of action.

Tourism websites

Websites that promote tourism destinations are a breed that I have been observing with interest over the last few years. In the last 2 years or so, a few internet savvy Destinations Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have clearly pulled ahead of the pack in the quality of their online wares. I find today a select bunch of websites so engaging, informative and pulsating with the excitement of vacations that they almost pull me to the destination. For some reason Australia and New Zealand produce great tourism marketing websites. Here are links to a few sites that I find very nice.

NewZealand.com

Central Australian Tourism

Australia.com

Another interesting site is Doitcaribbean, which is the tourism website of all the caribbean countries. For those of you planning a tour of the west indies, I would strongly recommend checking it out.

(Here is the famous “Where the bloody hell are you” ad from Australian Tourism)

Travelocity India site is up..

The Travelocity India site is up. Rumour is that a formal launch is imminent. This marks the entry of the first major international Online Travel Agent into India. The most visible aspect is that the site does not have a flight booking option – maybe that is being integrated. The first impression of the site is positive. Continue reading

Mobile phones & travel : the Apple iphone alert

 

(Here is a video showing the features of the recently launched iphone)

To me, the newly announced iphone from Apple signals the first serious move of travel content on to mobile phones. I daresay that in 24 to 36 months, rich interface mobile phones such as the iphone will become the way most of us access, most of the internet, most of the time. Given the high leverage that rich content plays in Leisure travel, it is quite likely that content  on leisure travel will become one of the most consumed elements of the internet on such phones.

Travel TV for India?

It was sometime in 1996 or 1997 that I got an opportunity to anchor Television shows on ABN India (TV18′s pre-cursor to CNBC). It was early days for TV 18 and Raghav Bahl was game to try out a part-timer to anchor shows. The primary lesson I learned then was that News TV was all about creating controversy. I remember Paranjoy tearing his hair out to ensure that he got two appropriate guests for his daily show – the big criterion being that the probability of a fight or at least a heated debate between them should be high!

All this passes through my mind whenever I think of creating a Travel TV outfit – which these days, is often. I think Travel TV is a definite opportunity in India. Here is why. Continue reading

AA & Expedia – update 1

Looks as if American Airlines changed their mind about selling their tickets on Expedia. Just saw a news feed from Associated Press that AA are to have their Business Class and First Class tickets back on Expedia, reversing a decision they took a couple of weeks back. I have a feeling we have not heard the last of this issue. Watch this space.

Click here to read my earlier post on this subject