Southall Travel, founded more than 30 years ago in the borough of Southall, UK to predominantly cater to the local Asian population, reported a revenue of a whopping £336 million in 2014, up 19% from the previous year. Immensely popular among the local Asian residents, Southall Travel has seen meteoric success in the niche UK Asian travel market to become one of UK’s largest travel agents today.
It is predominantly used by Indians living in the UK who make frequent trips to their hometowns in India. More often, these travelers have special requirements such as additional baggage allowances, specific airline choices, route preferences, or non-flexible dates and Southall Travel is able to meet all these requirements. Most Indians that use them on a regular basis vouch for its service quality and competitive pricing.
But it is leaving many Generation-Y, online-savvy Indian travelers bemused. While the official Southall Travel website allows users to run flight searches and offers secure online booking services, it urges users to “Call to book” to avail “special fares it is unable to promote online”.
But its strategy goes beyond that.
One customer reported to us that a flight search on Kayak.com, a travel search engine, yielded results with very attractive fares from two websites – Travel Trolley and Fly Sharp, among others.
Although, both Travel Trolley and Fly Sharp look like independent websites, they are both part of Southall Travel Group.
When the user proceeded with their flight choice on Fly Sharp, they were prompted to share their booking details and proceed with their payment online. Once the user filled in all payment details and hit the “Confirm” button, they got an error message with a booking reference number and an 0845 number helpline. When contacted, Fly Sharp's helpline assistant confirmed that the payment had not gone through but the user’s booking details were collected. The assistant then ran a quick search for prices and told the user the fares he had originally booked were not available anymore but he can help the user book tickets for slightly higher fares. Reluctant to proceed with a more expensive booking, the user ended the call.
But another instance of online search on Kayak for the same travel requirements yielded the original attractive fares yet again. This may be Southall Travel's tactic to attract more customers, a majority of whom may proceed with slightly more expensive tickets. While IndiaNewsBulletin is not alluding that the fares displayed are untrue, it is possible that only a handful of seats are sold at those prices.
What's more, a few hours later, the user got an email from Travel Trolley (where he had not even shared his details) with the same reference number urging him to call back and book tickets. The user even got a call the next day from Travel Trolley with a promise of £40 discount if he wished to proceed with the booking.
SouthallTravel has created several online entities such as Fly Sharp and Travel Trolley to lure travelers with attractive fares that seldom translate into actual booking fares. It is also not obvious upfront that websites such as Fly Sharp or Travel Trolley are part of Southall Travel.
But some IndiaNewsBulletin readers are loyal Southall Travel customers. They prefer to book flight tickets with Southall Travel over the phone for a more personalised, “desi” experience. What’s more, if they have the time to haggle, they are even able to secure premium economy or get additional baggage allowances at reasonable fares.
If you are well-versed with the art of haggling having lived in Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai and are more comfortable lifting the phone up and have a chat in Hindi and book your tickets, then Southall Travel is one for you. But if you prefer a no-nonsense deal or a ‘get-what-you-see’ fare, then online search can yield competitive fares (sometimes even cheaper than Southall Travel) from other reliable online travel agents such as TravelUp.
Also remember, always check for a verified, secure payment gateway while sharing your credit/debit card details online to prevent any hassle later on. Also, beware of sharing personal details - such as email and phone numbers - to avoid repeated callbacks.
Remember if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
Headquartered in Southall, Middlesex, UK
CEO- Kuljinder Bahia
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