Gets rolling on SMS and voice booking, direct payment
After clocking the highest-ever booking of 450,000 daily earlier this year, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation is tying up with airlines to sell air tickets through its portal.
Though it started booking airline tickets last year, albeit in a small way, it is now taking seat blocks from airlines to be marketed and sold through its portal. “We will expand our airline ticket booking operations by offering corporate travel and also provide a complete package. This would be a major thrust area for us now,” said Rakesh Tandon, managing director.
To maintain its lead position in the domestic travel booking space, it wants to make the portal a one-stop shop for planning tours and introduce innovative facilities such as branded card and booking through SMS.
The company owned by the Indian Railways became an agent of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) more than a year ago. “Initially, when you enter a market, you tie up with the existing player or agency. Now, we are directly tying up with the airlines. We have already tied up with Air India and Jet Airways,” he said.
On an average, the IRCTC portal makes 360,000 to 370,000 bookings at present compared to 40,000 bookings in 2008. “We are targeting 750,000 bookings a day by 2015,” said Tandon.
The ticketing business constitutes 40 per cent to the company's total revenue of Rs 550 crore. One of the major initiatives in reaching the goal would be to introduce booking through SMSes and rolling out deposit scheme for frequent travellers. With the scheme, IRCTC aims to reduce the payment time by half.
Currently, while booking tickets, payment transaction takes 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. According to Tandon, failure rate at the transaction stage is about 20-25 per cent. And in case of certain banks it is as high as 40 per cent due to lack of state-of-the-art arrangement with them.
“This (the SMS service) should be possible through normal mobiles as well. If we can do that, it would transform the ticketing format,” said Tandon.
The next step would be to introduce reservation through voice recognition. This would involve dialling a number and giving details and a particular pin number. “We are still working on this. We have also had discussions with Internet & Mobile Association of India,” he said.
Among other issues that need to be worked out are the types of platforms required and the kind of interactions needed. Besides, the company is looking at how the flow of money would be and what regulatory norms would be applicable in such transactions.