Indian hospitality let down by technical glitch?

How many foreign visitors can we afford to lose from such ‘glitches’?

Sheela Mamidenna

If Donald Trump’s victory in the US election did not surprise you this will. A businessman Rajat Gupta (name changed to protect identity) booked two premier rooms with a city view for one night in a luxury five-star hotel, The Leela, Mumbai through www.booking.com and gets a voucher for, hold your breath, Rs. 210 (incl of all taxes) only! Bookings.com is a renowned online global accommodation site that reserves 1,200,000 room nights worldwide, each day.

Gupta double checked, triple checked with his booking no., 1861922351, (check-in Dec 19, check out Dec 20) on booking.com and to his utter delight finds that he has indeed won a jackpot! Who wouldn’t be? After all, ‘tis the season to be merry and it is raining discounts everywhere. He thought the booking site, bookings.com along with the management of The Leela, Mumbai has decided to surprise its visitors by offering nearly 99% discount to its clients. A room that usually costs Rs.14,000 (exclusive of taxes) for a single night is now being offered for a mere Rs.105, which wouldn’t be the price for a cup of tea in the same hotel! While he was delighted, it did not come to Gupta’s mind that this was a mistake because 100% discounts and cashback are no longer a rarity on online portals.

After about three hours getting a confirmation of his booking Gupta received a mail from Booking.com saying, “We ask for your understanding, as the rates for your booking were too low not to be considered as an obvious mistake. As per Terms and Conditions, Booking.com is cancelling this reservation at no cost to you, and shortly you will receive an email confirming the cancellation. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this may cause. You will find any information you need about an obvious mistake in the rates just following this link: https://goo.gl/2Bk5bM.”

This is when Gupta realised he was caught at the wrong end of a service failure. Amazingly, there was no effort from booking.com for service recovery.

If you thought this happened in Mumbai, hold your breath, we are aware of two more bookings via the same site from Hyderabad on Dec 19. Anil Mehta (name changed to protect identity), had booked through the site for 1 night, four rooms at The Hyderabad Marriott Hotel and Convention Centre, and was given a voucher of Rs.350! His booking number: 1481572256.

Vishal Aggarwal (name changed to protect identity) had booked for a night, five rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott Hyderabad via booking number: 1129152371 and was charged a measly Rs.287.50! We wouldn’t be shocked if there were thousands of other customers who were subject to this surprise bonanza and its painful reversal.

A technical glitch in the website www.booking.com had apparently rained surprises to all those who had booked rooms in these luxury hotels.

Mind you these bookings were made within India. What about those bookings made from outside India? Delighted to get a room at such throwaway prices, many foreign tourists would have simply got on with their travel plans, secure in the knowledge that their room is booked. The Indian hospitality and tourism sector takes pride in its Indian euphemism, ‘atithi devo bhava’ or treat your visitors as you would treat God. How god-like would those who having packed their bags to come to experience ‘Incredible India’ feel were they told there was a ‘slight’ technical glitch and he/she must shell out many times more than the price at which they had booked earlier! Who is to be held responsible and most importantly if such glitches occur regularly what kind of an impression do we leave on those who come to India? The bitter experience could keep these visitors and their acquaintances away from India for a long time.

Before we take pride in the fact that our hospitality sector is among the top 10 sectors that have attracted FDI, should we not take stock of the fact that our service standards for online transactions falls way below the standards when compared to other countries? And this at a portal of the stature of Booking.com. At a time when the government is busy promoting cashless transactions.

Let us look at the number of foreign tourists we attract each year…

Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India increased 11.8% y-o-y to 670,000 tourists in August 2016, while Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEEs) from tourism increased 13.1% y-o-y to Rs.12,903 crore (US$1.92 billion), according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

Online hotel bookings in India are expected to double by 2016 due to the increasing penetration of internet and smart phones. India is projected to be the fastest growing nation in the wellness tourism sector in the next five years, clocking over 20% gains annually through 2017, according to a study conducted by SRI International. Rating agency ICRA estimates the revenue growth of Indian hotel industry strengthening to 9-11% in 2015-16.

Just as the clamour to shift totally online grows in India, one cannot subdue the feeling of doubt and resentment, thinking if a renowned online booking site has such bloomers happening for three hours straight, how can one trust on online transactions in India? Who is to be held responsible for such laxity? More importantly how many foreign visitors can we afford to lose from these ‘glitches’?

Sheela Mamidenna - Dec 21, 2016 12:00 IST
 
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