Last Sunday, travel agents from across India came together at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to protest the unethical pricing practices of Online Travel Agents, including sites like MakeMyTrip and Yatra.com.
In what was perhaps the first protest of its that that the capital city’s grounds witnessed, more than 500 offline travel agents and tour operators came together to express concern over predatory pricing practices of OTAs. Representatives from every major travel trade association came into the city to voice their support.
Heads from associations spoke at the rally including from Immediate Past President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), Agents Association of India (IAAI), Enterprising Travel Agent’s Association (ETAA,) Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI,) Adventure Travel Operators Association of India (ATOAI,) and Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI.) Agents from Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan showed up to express their solidarity with the cause.
During the rally, protested said that foreign-funded online agencies were selling travel itineraries at prices well below the market value. Such underpricing amounted to unfair trade practices, the offline travel agents said.
The travel and tourism market is an ever-burgeoning source of income, and offline tour operators and booking agents are finding themselves stuck with the short end of the stick since the advent of online booking sites like ClearTrip and others. These sites, say the offline agents, offer travel products, including hotel rooms lesser than the buying price, and are hindering the very survival of small to medium travel agencies in India.
Though one would expect that the protestors were of an older generation, given the millennial population’s propensity to shop online, young entrepreneurs with fledgling businesses organized the rally.
Speaking at the rally, the organisers said there was a need to look into all options to fight the OTA’s unfair trade practices. A legal battle against them was not out of the question, said the organisers of the rally. Next month, the organisers plan to file a petition against the OTA’s unethical practices. “We’ll be going forward with a case in the Competition Commission of India in the first week of July,” said a director of 24/7 travel agency Harjinder Singh.
Even travel agents who operated websites with a small to medium reach said increasingly tour operators were noting the flow of business going away from them. The fight is about unethical business practices, not fear of competition they said. “Earlier… we thought we are wrongly interfering in the commercial working of OTAs… but… no player can use its dominant position to rule out the competition,” said Singh.
The protest was the first united movement of travel trade executives since 1998, said Subhash Goyal, IATO president. He added that in the past, galvanizing together had worked in favour of travel agents. “18 years ago, when Service Tax was implemented agents protested after which the same was rolled back for two years,” said Goyal. He pointed out that there were thousands of small and medium-sized travel agencies across the country, and that OTAs were threatening their very “survival.”
The CEO of Cruise Mantra, Gurjit Singh Ahuja, also addressed the rally. He appealed to the protestors to “work on honourable product pricing.”