India’s Growth Is Negatively Affecting Online Travel
For the last five years, I have been hearing about how we should all keep a close eye on India and China because they will emerge as powerful forces in the online travel world. While I still agree that these two powerful economies will heavily influence online travel, I am starting to realize that the short term impact will be negative before they will have a positive influence on the industry.
While the OTAs rushed into China more quickly than India, it appears that India’s travel market has taken center stage lately. The hotel business in India is booming and the potential for growth in the online travel space is tremendous. But in reality, this article is not about the growth of online travel within in India… it’s about India’s increasing influence on online travel outside its own borders.
I created Hotel Internet Help to help small to medium sized hotels gain access to the knowledge and tools available to larger hotels and chains. Nothing gives me more joy than to be able to walk into a property where the owner or manager is completely lost and confused about what to do online, and explain everything clearly and launch a powerful plan to get the hotel online. But most properties won’t even give me 30 seconds to explain what I am offering. Why? Because they have been burned… and they don’t want to risk that they might get burned again.
While the technology boom and globalization of India has had a tremendously positive influence on India and its economy, I am starting to realize that their growth comes at the expense of other countries. Many have criticized or feared that jobs that would have normally been created in their own country are now being outsourced to India (and other countries), but in reality the growth of India has created a much bigger problem.
India has a reputation for producing a highly skilled technology work force, and the fact that English is so widely spoken has given India a huge lead over China. Initially, this created an opportunity for companies all over the world to set up offices in India and start taking advantage of a highly skilled and literate work force at a fraction of the cost of hiring the same talent back home. Over time, some companies were extremely successful implementing this strategy while others failed miserably.
Many companies that set up technology development centers in India have kept them there and have grown. But they learned the hard way that while the knowledge of computer programming and technology development was extremely valuable, there was a certain lack of knowledge about how the world works outside of India which made doing work there more difficult if the end product was meant for markets outside of India. Many call centers which were set up in India to handle incoming calls from all over the world have since closed because customers were getting frustrated with the lack of practical knowledge from Indian call centers.
I have experienced this personally when calling Citibank or American Express customer service. After answering the phone with a heavy Indian accent and telling me that their name was Bob or Jim, the agent was usually completely confused and lost if I had a question about anything besides “what is my balance”. I am usually put on hold while they consult a computer system or a supervisor for the answer I need. Then I am usually transferred back to a representative in the United States who can actually answer my question, but at the end of the day I had wasted 20 minutes explaining my issue or question several times before finally speaking to someone back here in the US that could understand and resolve the issue.
Over the last several years, many young professionals and entrepreneurs in India have realized that they don’t need a large international corporation to come into India and hire them in order to conduct business on a global scale. The internet allows people in India to develop products and services, develop a list of leads, and pursue them just like anyone else can. The problem is that most of these professionals seem to lack the unwritten code of ethics and courtesy that the western world has learned to adopt when conducting business.
In the western world, most of us worked our way through high school, college and many of us through grad school before we began our professional careers. Even then, most of us were not allowed to personally face a client or potential client until we had years of experience under our belt. All of these years of education and professional experience taught us how to approach potential clients with a certain level of diplomacy and humility, and to treat actual clients with a high degree of ethics and accountability in order to ensure that they become a long term client.
But recently, it seems to me that young eager entrepreneurs in India are simply compiling a huge list of leads from Google and blasting this database of potential clients with spam e-mail offers. Some are even using voice over IP to call potential customers to sell their products and services. In reality, it is very enterprising of them to reach across the oceans using the internet to approach lucrative markets outside of India, and I do know that there are more than a few solid technology companies in India that have valuable products and services to offer. Unfortunately, these few well established companies are overshadowed by the thousands that are spamming the travel community with promises of getting hotels to the top of Google for only $100 per month, for example.
The issue is that too many hotels are tempted by these false promises. So much that they actually try it three or four times. Later, when someone who has the knowledge, the background, the experience and the contacts to actually help the hotel walks through the door, the owner or manager doesn’t want to hear anything past “website” or “Google”. The typical response is that they have already tried building a new website or search engine optimization several times with no results to speak of, and have no interest in trying it again. Today I signed a client whose hotel website was built by a company in India. She paid only $500 to build the site, but today when we tried to contact the company to make a few changes, it turned out to be a telecommunications company and had no recollection of ever building the website.
On one hand, it is frustrating that so many potential clients here in the US, who know that they need help, and who really want the help, are too afraid to believe that anyone can really help them because they have been burned too many times by companies from India that have promised great results at a ridiculously low price. But another major issue is that these companies are destroying the credibility of India’s highly skilled work force and I believe they are jeopardizing the future potential of India’s economy to grow internationally.
All one has to do is to peruse the group discussions in LinkedIn to get a taste of what I am talking about. Every day there are more and more discussions started by young professionals in India who lack the maturity and understanding of how to use this powerful social media with a degree of etiquette. The Hotel Industry Professionals group for example is becoming less and less valuable everyday because it has grown to a membership size of just under 30,000 members, and many members from India are constantly posting discussions that are not meant for such a large audience. It is not appropriate for example to post a personal profile in the Jobs section saying that you are looking for an F&B position in Mumbai. 30,000 people all over the world have to sift through all of that useless information to find one or two bits of valuable information and this is becoming more and more difficult to do as time goes on.
In conclusion, I too was extremely excited about the emergence of India as an economic powerhouse. I am of Indian descent even though I was born here in Miami. But lately, the growth of India is starting to annoy me. The combination of a high level of technical skill, a proficiency of the English language, and the ease of communication over the internet has created a monster. Too many small hotels here in the US (and probably elsewhere) will not get the help they desperately need with their hotel websites, hotel booking engines and search engine optimization because they have been lured in and disappointed by Indian companies offering cheap solutions to expensive problems. Valuable social networking tools like LinkedIn are losing their value because such a large number of Indian professionals who lack the maturity and understanding about how to correctly use these tools are flooding them with irrelevant information. The lesson to be learned by hotels here in the US is that the cheapest solution is usually not the best one. The lesson to be learned by the professional community in India is that the continued abuse of the internet to spam potential clients and to make money by selling false promises not only causes damage to businesses abroad (and usually they are the smaller ones that are family owned) but also causes damage to the long term potential growth of India as a source of products and services to the international business community.