The big IT picture may be growing bigger and brighter, but the use of the Internet in the business of daily living — from booking train tickets and storybooks to cinema seats and restaurant tables — is, at best, abysmal here. For, the ground reality is far from tech-savvy and the click from the Calcutta consumer can hardly be heard.
The travel industry in the West relies primarily on online buys, from plane tickets to hotel bookings, accounting for 80 per cent of the market in the US, and 25 per cent in the Asia Pacific. In India, it’s “less than two per cent, with the majority from the South,” says Karun Bhudraja of global distribution company Amadeus.
“IT penetration is not adequate. Also, people are afraid of two things — misuse of credit card details and spam mail. So, while online booking is gradually going up, buying is not. When you book an air ticket, you get a PNR number, which passengers hand over to travel agents, who then collect the tickets by paying for them up front. It isn’t going to catch up here for the next few years,” he predicts.
Manoj Saraf, secretary of the Travel Agents Association India, eastern region, feels Internet booking is picking up slowly, but people still need help from travel agents.
The Eastern Railway tech estimates are even more damning. At 200 centres in eastern India, 130,000 bookings are made on an average day, of which more than 50,000 come from Calcutta. No more than 75 of those are made online. The reluctance ranges from lack of connectivity to lack of faith.
As far as cinema tickets go, the Calcutta crowd is just not “Internet mature” enough, feels Arijit Dutta chairman, Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, bearing the brunt of false online bookings at Priya.
“Since we don’t have the facility of buying tickets online, people just have to book, and collect them a day before the show. At first, like everything new in Calcutta, it worked well, but then petered out. And half of those who book tickets don’t bother to collect them — as opposed to Delhi, for example — because it doesn’t cost anything,” says Dutta. Little wonder, then, that not too many halls have gone tech in town.
Like tickets, like books. The Calcutta customer is often not very Net-friendly, feels Gautam Jatia, CEO, Emami Landmark. “For a book, where the look and feel don’t really matter, as opposed to gift items or clothes, online buying is popular, particularly in off-beat places like Darjeeling or Siliguri. But in Calcutta, for instance, when a customer asks for a book we don’t have, ordering it from amazon.com is what we recommend. But they usually ask us to get it for them, because they would rather not do it themselves,” he explains.
When it comes to reserving a dinner table, the telephone remains the trusted ally of the Calcutta foodie. Ask A. Sachdeva of Grain of Salt: “Some NRIs use our website for inquiries. But 99.9 per cent of Calcuttans phone or walk in for reservations or banquet information. Very rarely do we get bookings on the Net.”