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Here’s a platform for users to book hotel rooms, choosing from over 400 cities and 3,700 towns across India.
For technology to be successful, it has to address a genuine problem or need, rather than trying to force inappropriate technology onto a sceptical user base. At the same time, it must be flexible enough to adapt to changes. Inasra.com matches the needs of both hotels and site users.
Inasra was conceived as an idea, in April 2005, by Yogendra Vasupal, CEO and founder, Inasra, who quit college to set up the website. The name is actually a combination of two words—In (Indian) and Asra (shelter). “We see Inasra as a gateway to hotels—big hotels, small hotels, clean hotels, dirty hotels, hotels by the river side, hotels by the beach, hotels on top of a hill, hotels on busy lanes, hotels with a pool, hotels with a bar, hotels that are homestays, hotels that are actually boats, etc,” says Vasupal, enthusiastically.
Inasra’s technology at the back-end is advanced enough to accommodate hotels with real time inventory feeds, to hotels that don’t have a computer. All this is abstracted away from end users, as it does not matter to them whether the hotel has real time inventory feeds or not, as long as it provides the services they want, within their budget.
“Of course, we could have taken the easier route and only brought hotels with a certain level of sophistication online to our users, but there is no real value in that!” says Vasupal. “As middlemen, we can only justify our role if there is added value and benefit to both parties,” he adds.
To make the site extremely user-friendly, the team behind Inasra.com has made extensive use of AJAX—or for the buzz-word inclined, Web 2.0. For a novice user, it takes less than 10 minutes to find and book a hotel room from over 400 cities and 3,700 towns across India.
“We rely only on products that are in and from the open source ecosystem. We do not believe in using closed-source proprietary solutions in our company. Open source certainly means freedom to access and modify the source, but it does not always mean freedom from any payment. In fact, we don’t mind paying more for open source solutions,” Vasupal explains.
“Users seek accommodation based on not one, but a combination of factors, like price, distance from airport, amenities like Internet availability, etc. We wanted to make it easier to find the hotel that matches their need,” explains Vasupal.
The site also has a very unique feature—Inasra.com users can decide if they want to book through the website, or directly with the hotel, by making use of the Book it yourself feature. This gives a multi-dimensional functionality to the site, as it offers the chance of being just a search engine, while involving the users to effectively manage the changing price and availability of more than 3500 hotels with Inasra.com.
“We encourage our users to just use us as they see fit,” says Vasupal. “It either brings us direct revenue, or helps us in effectively managing inventory and prices, thereby cutting down our cost of “dynamic information” acquisition.”
The total travel and tourism market in India is worth $40 billion, with a growth rate of 9 per cent. According to a study, the online travel market in India is expected to grow at 296 percent, year on year, for the next four years. For the forecast to be true, all access to accommodation and transport in India will be online, and the market will also magically double in four years. Unlikely, snorts Yogendra Vasupal, in disbelief.
“I will be happy if it happens, but it will be a couple of decades before you see that,” he shrugs. “Even in Australia, hotel booking sites rely more on manual labour (outsourced to Bangalore) than on real-time computers. My opinion is that this segment is over-extended and we need to get back to the basics. The truth is, we are closer to a wholesaler or a retailer than the next hotshot search-engine whose tech value can soar to a gazillion dollars in a few years.”
Inasra.com is a process-oriented technology company, and it develops and maintains everything in-house, because as Vasupal, who operates from Chennai, explains, “It will be quick and easy to adapt ideas if market conditions change—it will also give us more experience in making travel work in India. We are moving at full steam to bring our other ideas and advances online. And I can only promise one thing—the next few years are going to be an exciting time for travel in India, in general, and for Inasra, specifically.”