Public relations executive Radhika Bhuptani was doing research on the internet for her maiden trip to Italy when she inadvertently clicked on an ad.
That chance click led her to a travel portal: Airbnb.com that allows hosts to charge a self-determined fee from travellers for spare rooms, apartments and villas.
Since then 25-year-old Bhuptani has travelled to Istanbul and is now planning a road trip to Spain via Airbnb.com.
The bargains are attractvie but Bhuptani was taken in more by the surprise benefits, or ‘frills’, as she calls them.
In Florence, Bhuptani’s host gave her bicycles to explore the city. In Venice, her journalist host took her to an invitation-only film festival; and in Istanbul, a Greek woman, who was staying in the same house and learning Turkish, took them to the city’s best restaurants and bazaars.
“I hate doing run-of-the-mill sightseeing,” says Bhuptani.
“With my hectic schedule and tight budget, I have come to rely on online networks such as TripAdvisor and Airbnb to get the best rates, book my stays, read reviews and secretly hope for an exciting deviation in my itinerary.”
In a country where more young urban adults are travelling every year a growing number, armed with smartphones and tablets, are moving on from traditional travel agents, trusting their trip arrangements and itineraries to travel-based social networks such as Airbnb.com, TripAdvisor.com, Hostelworld.com and Wayn.com, exclusive lifestyle clubs such as A Small World, and travel-oriented mobile phone apps.
“These DIY-style trips are most popular among singles aged 20 to 35 and young couples,” says Rajiv Dingra, CEO of social media consultancy WATConsult.com. “They plan their entire trips on the basis of curated reviews and choosing from among hosts listed online, tapping into what is now a virtual global travel community.”
Growing internet penetration and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets is fuelling this self-reliance. US-based digital data analytics company ComScore, for instance, found that 18.5 million Indians visited travel websites in 2011, a 32% increase from 2010.
“This is as a sign of tourism coming of age in India. The Indian traveller is learning to become a globe-trotter,” says sociologist Gita Chadha. “Holidays are becoming about ‘real’ experiences and ‘authentic’ local cultures rather than simply about shopping and sightseeing. In a network society, people are learning to take greater risks and trust the unknown virtual other as if it were a real person.”