Tag Archives: Pondicherry

Right Answers to Right Questions: Things to ask Travel Operators

In a continuing effort to bring our clients more close to us and stay put to our policy of transparency, openness and accountability we have compiled a list of 10 posers that you must know from us at IndiaHotelReview.com or for that matter from any online travel agency/travel agent online or otherwise. Asking these right questions before undertaking a travel can save you money and remorse. Here are they.

The total cost of the package: The package part can be fragmented to include the following. (a) Does the quoted price include taxes and surcharges? (b) Whether booking fee for components like tickets (air/train) is applicable separately instead of just single fee for the complete package(c) for payments made through credit cards is there any transaction charge applicable. (d) For any modification / cancellation of the plan is there a fee applicable.

Our take: Let’s come to the answers one by one. (A) Make sure that your travel agent specifies this explicitly. At IHR, currently the packages we sell are inclusive of all the applicable taxes and surcharges including Luxury Tax, Service Tax et al. You need not pay a single penny to any hotel for the inclusions in the package. There are no hidden “T & C” applicable in our packages. (B) Since we specialize in hotel bookings and packages anything extra like airline ticketing or train ticket reservation will be extra over and above the package price currently. (C) Though we have to make a payment of around 2.25% to the payment gateways for processing each transaction through credit card payments but we do not charge any additional transaction fees from our clients. (D) Yes we do charge clients for any modification or cancellation of the original package plan this is currently Rs 250 per modification.

Reading the fine prints: Often overlooked but the following innocuous teasers can seriously impact your travel itinerary, (a) How near is near? (b) Whether entrance fees needs to be paid for the tourist spots in sightseeing.

Our take: This is an area where there is a lot of misinterpretation of facts indulged in by the online travel agents. As an informed traveler you must be aware of these trappings and learn to pose straight questions.
(A) For example take the case of Coastal places. There is a tendency among the agents to pass every property as “on the beach”. “On the beach” essentially means that as you step out of your hotel you are on the beach. This is available only for a few hotels at choicest locations in India like Goa and that too for a few luxury properties. So for a place like say Pondicherry “on the beach” actually means that the property might be beach facing. This is typically a problem associated with every garden/hill/valley facing hotel accommodation.
Another example can be given is for a place like Haridwar. Suppose your package says “Hotel located near Ganga” On actually reaching the place you find the property is actually 5 km away from one of the Ghat. Instead it would have made lot of sense if it had said near “Har Ki Pauri”as it is in close proximity to Ganga. Nearness can be misleading, especially if you are traveling with senior citizens and children. Starting from 500 meters, 1 km to 5 km “nearness is taken for a toss. You must ask specifically for the exact distance or a landmark.
(B) In the IHR packages the fees for entrance to attractions wherever applicable depends on the location and your request. For example say for Corbett wildlife packages the cost of arranging Safari or angling is included in few of the packages or for example the cost of arranging for the permits to access Nathula pass in Sikkim tour. However we do not include the cost of entrance fees for a visit to say a Museum or art gallery until and unless requested by the client.

Price plan of the Package: Do the packages follow a transparent pricing plan. (a) Can the customer get a break up price of the packages (b) Is choice of hotels allowed
Our take: IHR follows a transparent pricing plan. There is transparency in the sense that we strictly follow a “what you see that you pay” kind of structure in our packages. These are all inclusive packages with no additional charges. We do not follow opaque pricing. Now to the questions (A) we do give the exact breakups of different heads that makeup our packages if asked for by the client while booking. It generally consists of the following heads. i. Pickup and drop from station or airport (wherever applicable), ii. Cab for local sightseeing available on disposable our hourly basis and accommodation (B) While booking the properties we give the customer a choice of property among 3 or 4 hotels, once booked it then cannot be altered.
Dealing with the meals: Food plays an important role in the travel plans it can make or mar your travel. Do not forget to ask your travel operator the following questions. (a) Is there a choice between a buffet and a ala carte( b) Is the religious/regional preferences taken care of. (c) In modified American plan, can one switch meals at one’s will?
Our take: (A) Unless it’s a star property specifically 2 star and above Buffet meals are not viable. These too depends on factors like seasons, capacity etc. So in most cases if meals are included it’s a la carte with a restriction on number of dishes and quantity in accordance with average diet.
(B) You must ask clearly to your operator about the religious/regional preferences. Competitive pricing of the hotel mostly does not allow non-veg food. For budget hotels it is mostly vegetarian meals that are provided.In religious places depending upon the preference Jain/Gujarati Thalis can generally be arranged. However you have to put forth your preferences within a reasonable time. (C) Let’s understand the meal plan of hotels first. Essentially there are 4 types of plans. In the American plan or AP 3 meals are offered –breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the Modified American Plan or MAP along with a breakfast there is a choice between lunch and dinner. The 3rd plan is the continental pan or CP where only breakfast is provided. Last is the European plan this is most common with no meals provided.
Now coming to modified American plan as there is a choice between lunch and dinner but switching meals at one’s discretion is generally not advised. This is because most of the hotels especially smaller ones operate with a lot of constraints like, seasonal demands, veg/non-veg preferences of the guests, time needed for preparation. So unless it’s a very big/busy hotel advance information is must. Chances are there that popular Hotels with more footfalls may handle your last minute requests of meals.

On Sightseeing: This is an area where there is much confusion and a source of potential trouble brewing between the customer and the travel agent. Some questions that arise include (a)What is type of cab offered (b) Is there a choice of places that one can see (c) Are AC cabs available for sightseeing (d) Is there any guide to assist in local sight seeing.
Our Take: (A) Cabs play decisive role in traveling, FYI cabs are available on disposal basis and cabs on km and hourly basis. (B) IHR generally follows the trend of including the most popular options in local sightseeing. These range from the most attractive places. Again, if a customer has given us his preferences beforehand we can consider that also depending on the cost and time factor. Things like location, weather, season and local conditions may play crucial role in the choices. (C) Choice is available for ac/ non ac cars which you need to specify, however for a hill station non ac cars are provided as a thumb rule and air conditioned cabs can be arranged only on special requests (D) Due to constraint of seating capacity of the vehicle and cost, the chauffeur generally doubles up as a guide.
Emergencies and Refunds: (a) Is there anyone to call incase of emergencies (b) No. of days to get refunds
Our Take: (A) We do provide local contact number of the Hotels/ Cab persons whom you can call on emergencies besides we are available 6 days week from 10- 7 pm.(B) The terms and condition of refund is mentioned in the voucher again depending on season the refund process can take additional time.

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Luxury Tax: Lets not ignore the fine prints

When was the last time you were out for a vacation or business? Strong chances are you are already traveling and reading this post on your laptop. Have you ever taken note of a small but mighty thing printed innocuously on one small corner of your hotel Bill? Perhaps you haven’t. You are not alone as tourist fraternity does not give this a thought and only when you have to loosen the purse string an entity called “Luxury Tax” start biting you. It is this tax that sometimes keeps one of your favourite hotel or destinations out of your budget.

Let’s understand what a luxury tax is. Luxury Tax is a tax that is levied by most of the state governments (not all) to fill their coffers at the expense of you and me. And the funniest part is, you have to pay it actually on the official tariff of the room where you had put up. Take a hypothetical situation consider you are on a holiday, say at Ooty and the Hotelwallahs happily gave you a discount of 20 % on the rack rate. The rack rate is the one that is mentioned on the reception and the usual official rate. Supposing accommodation you chose was for Rs 1500 and the reception lady smilingly gave you the room for 1200, a 20% discount as it was off-season. You felt on top of the world to strike a good bargain in the hard times.

Now when it is the time to say adieu and pay the bills you are up for a rude jolt. You find that on the bill a 14% luxury tax has been levied and that too upon the rack rate which in this example was Rs1500.

Furious with anger at the thought of being cheated, you start haggling. Alas, not much headway could be made and you have to pay the tax of 14 % as applicable for hotels in Karnataka on the rack rate.

Coughing the extra amount you felt helpless and started cursing the agency which booked your hotel or the hotel owners. Little did you realize that the LT not only irks the ordinary travelers but is adding to the woes of hoteliers and the travel agents. Hit by recession and terror the hospitality industry is facing a lull, the luxury tax is not making it any easier. Most of the time we at IHR have to face a not so amused client venting his ire at the exorbitant Luxury Tax after the holiday is over.

Luxury Tax is something which varies in India from 5 to as high as 25%. Let’s see which states of “Incredible India” are the worst offenders. In the South the charge is led by Kerala with a whopping 15 % slap of Luxury Tax and then it is Karnataka and Tamil Nadu with 12.50 %, Andhra fares better with a somehow moderate 5 %.

Gateway to north, the capital Delhi fares worst with a levy of 12.5 % on room rents above 1000. Himachal and Rajasthan the two most oft visited tourist destination taxes @ 10%. UP with the Taj Mahal and Uttarakhand is better not only in terms of attractions but also light on your pocket with 5%.

Coming to the west and Central India Maharashtra and MP leads the brigade with 10 % , while Gujarat it seems is not only a good destination for investors it is tourist friendly too with only 4 % as Luxury Tax. In Matheran, a lovely hill station 80 km east of Mumbai inaddition to 10 % luxury tax charges another 5 percent as service charges.

On the eastern front Orissa, Bihar and Bengal does not make life easier for visitors with a 10% LT. Finally the North Eastern States, one had seriously hoped that the State Governments to be as friendly and simple as the local people. Putting all hopes to water the onslaught is led by Asaam, the gateway to the seven sisters of NE with a luxury tax of 20 %. The situation becomes additionally worse in Guwahati with a levy of another 5 % as service charges.

By this time you might feel suffocated under a “burden of statistics” Hold on! After all our intention is not to hurt you or mar your vacations. There is something to cheer about also. The Union territories are not only scenic and make a nice vacation but they are not heavy on your purse also. So Pondicherry, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands have not yet thought of burdening the tourists. They do not have a LT. One exception among the states is the vivacious Goa where good sense prevails and the tourists breathe easy without luxury tax.

The union Government must do something to cap the LT at an uniform rate at all the states. Till that time ignoring the one in fine print can….

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

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