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Home > Business > Special


Travel bookings an SMS away

Priyanka Joshi | September 05, 2007

Travel portals have now found a new destination -- in your mobile. Leading travel sites such as Yatra, Makemytrip, Cleartrip and Travelguru, have high hopes from the mobile user base, which is expected to grow to 500 million by the end of 2010.

From providing basic mobile-friendly information such as flight status, ground transportation, weather radar, currency rates, restaurant and sights information, and directions on GPRS-enabled phones to air-ticketing, your travel will just be an SMS away.

But there seems to be one hitch -- travel details have to be made viewable and reachable on every mobile phone's browser.

The latest one to go mobile is Yatra.com, an online travel service company, which has announced plans to provide for air ticket bookings in a convenient manner over mobile handsets.

The company is also introducing hotel bookings, car rentals and bus bookings on the mobile phone shortly.

Dhruv Shringi, co-founder, Yatra, says, "We hope to clock somewhere around two lakh transactions made over the mobile portal in the next few months."

The site will be adding hotel bookings to its mobile services portfolio in September and calculates that the nine million GPRS subscribers in India would be able to access the Internet and make travel plans over their mobile phones.

Currently, mobile bookings are relatively minuscule for Yatra, but Shringi says that the tie-up with mobile firms will help in increasing the share of mobile bookings to 20 per cent in next three years.

His optimism isn't misplaced. India has 190 million mobile phone subscribers (July 2007) out of which 31.30 million users access internet through their GSM or CDMA handsets, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

In other words, one out of every five mobile users in the country subscribes to the Internet through his handset.

Yatra has tied up with Reliance Communications [Get Quote] and Makemytrip is reportedly in talks with Bharti Airtel [Get Quote] to give customers the option of booking air tickets on their mobile phones.

For payments, the users can either use mobile banking or choose to pay online. Among the other payment options, SMS booking can be done by giving the credit card details to an interactive voice response system that will deduct the amount from user's bank.

Cleartrip, a relatively new entrant in the travel market, also nurtures plans to enter into SMS-booking of air tickets but not until the volumes are right.

"We already have a mobile service where customers can search for the best air fares from their mobile phone by sending an SMS," says Sandeep Murthy, CEO, Cleartrip.

At present, the portal averages sales of around Rs 1.5crore (Rs billion) per day, he claims, and it would make sense to go for a wireless portal only if it can augment up to 2-3 per cent of revenues. "We don't think many mobile users are booking tickets over the mobile yet," Murthy adds.

Cleartrip provides a facility wherein one could send an SMS to 667744 with source, destination, date and month to get a list of flight codes, time of departure and price, all sorted by price in ascending order.

This service is available to Cleartrip's customers with Airtel, BPL, Hutch and Reliance connection. Murthy is also planning to add an SMS-based hotel and cab search facilities which he opines are more "mobile worthy".

 "There is the need for more travel companies to incorporate web 2.0 technologies into their online offerings and to do so more effectively and in all areas of their business," reports a survey by Sapient, a global services firm.

Definitely, the web 2.0 phenomenon seems to have hit the travel portals but the "dead enthusiasm" of mobile operators and lack of high-end GPRS-enabled handsets could mar the business plans of travel portals.



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