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Online travel market hit by cybersquatters

Jun 15, 2008

NEW DELHI: The $2-billion online travel market is the latest to be hit by cybersquatters. Vendors, essentially cybersquatters, are using brand names of popular travel portals as their domain names and also in their content to generate traffic-sometimes by even hoodwinking the consumer.

So, don't be surprised if next time you 'google' the name of a travel portal to book your dream vacation and are directed to websites such as mytripyatra.com, cleartrip.net.in (instead of cleartrip.com) or indiatimestravel.com (instead of travel.indiatimes.com).

With the market for online portals hotting up with many new players entering the space, it has also caught attention of squatters eyeing quick bucks. "Online travel as a segment is quite popular among internet users," says Travelguru CEO Ashwin Damera. "Therefore, it has seen mushrooming of websites which are mainly 'squatter websites' or 'domain parking sites'."

According to an Indiatimes official, there are many such squatter websites. "At times, they ask for a very high price in exchange for the domain name. The travel player doesn't have an option since domain squatter website can cause negative publicity." Surfing such cybersquat sites or 'spoof websites' as some call them, gives an idea how this is possible.

Sample this. One such website has it's opening line as MyTripYatra is dedicated to help customers to build their clear trip and cruise along with their Yatra to nirvana... In another instance website called dreamtickets. in has links of all leading portals. Once you click on the link 'travelguru' this is the kind of information that it displays: 'Dreamtickets with many years of realistic experience of travel and trip works much like a travel guru. With invincible offerings like lowly airfare, money back assurance, and above all, best promising deals, we keep going for and with our customers.'

A leading travel portal that refused to be identified, says that such practises are 'unethical' and mislead consumers. However, not every one buys that view. "It's a business model," says Yatra.com marketing head Nikhil Rungta. "Such websites are into serious business as they ultimately want to be the affiliates of travel portals. Affiliate marketing is a common practice." Yatra has more than 800 affiliate websites while Travelguru has more than 300. Indiatimes and Ezeego1 also have reasonable number of affiliate marketing websites.

To keep cybersquatters at bay, travel portals are buying many domain names which can be possibly created using their brand name and various TLDs (top level domains) such as .net, .in, .co.in et al. Buying one domain name costs around Rs 500. "We have a dedicated team that monitors if our brandname is being misused by a cyber squatter. We have taken up and resolved several such cases," says ezeego1.com COO Neelu Singh. She also adds that though the trend has just started, the number of such websites will only increase as the industry matures.

These websites might not be harmful for consumers, but warns Damera, "One should not use the booking tools (though most of them don't have one) of such websites." Indian online travel industry is dominated by players such as makemytrip, Indiatimes, yatra, travelguru, cleartrip, arzoo and ezeego1.

economictimes.indiatimes.com

Online travel market hit by cybersquatters
dmueller.com



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