October 28, 2009

A button and a commission

My kids collect buttons. (Don't ask, because I don't know). A few days ago, they were sitting in front of my Apple laptop listening to some music, and my daughter decided this would be a good time -- why not? -- to stick a button from the collection into the CD/DVD drive. So she did, and it vanished in there much like more appropriate objects for such drives do: slowly at first, then it got swallowed. I could hear it rattling around inside every time I picked up the machine.

Here's the thing, though. First I called the guy I know at my local Apple service centre, Maple Technologies. When he was done laughing at the button story, he said they could easily get it out, but I would have to pay, for "removal of buttons" is not a phrase that occurs in my warranty. Of course, I said, that's what I expect.

Still, I then called the 800 number for Apple's warranty service, because I wanted to be sure that getting this done would not violate any terms in my warranty. Woman who answered listened to me, tapped a few keys, went away for half a minute, returned and said: "Take it to Maple, and you won't have to pay anything because this will be covered under your warranty."

And so it was. Last night I got the laptop back, the button placed carefully inside a little ziplock bag and taped to the front. No charge.

A small thing, I know, and this is not to say I have not had other problems with Apple: but it is these small things that keeps me an Apple customer.

In something of a contrast: two weeks ago, I used a travel agent called ExtendedStay, who seem to specialize in Madhya Pradesh travel, to make a reservation for three nights at the Madhai Wildlife Resort on the edge of the Satpura Tiger Reserve.

ExtendedStay charged me Rs 10470. It was a nearly last minute thing, it was Diwali season, we were in a rush, so I trusted them and paid. Naive I know, but I've used plenty of other online agents (cleartrip, for one) without any problems, so I didn't think much about it.

It was a fine stay in a gorgeous spot. (More about that soon).

Then we spoke to the owner of the Resort, who told us that ExtendedStay had paid him his charge for those three nights, Rs 5100. i.e. had I approached the Resort directly, this is what I would have paid. (I have this in writing from him, as part of my final bill). I didn't approach the Resort directly because it was ExtendedStay who first suggested the Resort to me, and I thought it only fair then to go through them.

But this meant that ExtendedStay had charged me a commission of Rs 5370, i.e. over 100 percent. No travel agent I know of, no online site, would do this.

On raising this with Vishwas Tiwari, the person I dealt with at ExtendedStay, he replied, and I quote: "What you are trying to do is whining over pizza price after consuming it, haggling to return the ticket after completing the journey and trying to buy insurance after hitting a pedestrian."

So here's my advice, if you plan to travel in MP: visit Madhai and the Madhai Wildlife Resort for sure. But stay far away from ExtendedStay.

(And if you have any buttons, please don't send them to me.)

***

Postscript: I have just received a message from the above-mentioned Vishwas Tiwari of ExtendedStay. Here it is, verbatim:

I have better things in my life that fits in my daily routine than reading any tom dick and herry's blog. There are several million blogs in the world where out-of-work people discuss:

- How they self treated there old hemmorid
- How they mastered in blowing saliva bubbles
- What new paper they read to ease constipation
- and every other non sense topics in between

Mr Dilip, to me, you seems to be no exception.

In this democratic world I can not stop anyone's opinion and expression.

Your belligerent, coercion, threatening and blackmailing will be responded at appropriate time and forum.

Thanks and happy blogging
Vishwas Tiwari


***

Postscript Nov 10: Much the same material is now a review of ExtendedStay on Mouthshut.com, here.

51 comments:

Rahul Siddharthan said...

This time, naming and shaming is amply justified :) I generally approach hotels/resorts directly, but thanks for the tip about ExtendedStay.

PV Prasad said...

The button story is funny.

the ExtendeStay story is not. sorry you had this sick experience. I am acutally planning a holiday in MP area for december, and following your experience i will definately not go to extended Stay.

may I also forward link to your post to other friends?

Anonymous said...

Dilip, oddly enuf it was just last weekend that I went to Extended Stay's site while researching travel to Mandu and surrounding area. I had planned to send them an email soon for tips, because my family and I want to go there soon, but after reading ur post, Ill pass!! Thanks for the warning!!

Anonymous said...

Nonsense behaviour from Ext. Stay! Ive never heard of 100%-plus commision! But the web is full of greedy people out to make quick bucks, u shd have known better. But anyway, thanx for the advice. Will keep in mind.

nitish

Pareshaan said...

I want to read the one about self-treating hemorroids. I am sure that despite his caliming the contrary Mr. Tiwari has consulted that blog and is suffering from disastrous consequences. I think we can safely assume that to be the reason for his grouchiness - I am sure he will be the first to say - it's not personal...it's piles.

Sumedha said...

Someone should definitely sue that travel agency. Do let us know if your "belligerent, coercion, threatening and blackmailing" is responded to "at appropriate time and forum".

Suresh said...

Okay, I'll pen a dissenting note. If you had simply said that it would have been cheaper booking directly and that you will think twice about using ExtendedStay in the future, I'd have nothing to say.

What I don't understand is your complaint to Mr. Tiwari. What is your complaint? Is it your claim that ExtendedStay did not deliver on their promise? Presumably not, as you yourself say "It was a fine stay, in a gorgeous spot." What seems to bother you is the fact that had you booked directly, you'd have paid a much lower amount. You seem to think that a commission of 100% is "not fair." But then this raises the question of what is "fair." Is a commission of 50% "fair"? How about 75%? Or 29.5%? Why? How does one decide what is fair? Who decides it? A committee of bureaucrats?

The fact that there are no good answers to these questions is why most economies, for the most part, don't get into question of "fair price." Basically, the seller has the right to price as he likes and the buyer the right to buy or not buy. What limits the ability of the seller to price is typically what we call "competition" -- in other words, the presence of a rival seller. As the economist Bibek Debroy once noted, moving a company from the public to the private sector is no guarantor of improved service if there is no competition.

Competition doesn't work perfectly, of course. There are industries where, for technological reasons, you cannot have more than a few firms. Or industries where the competitive process doesn't work well for other reasons. Even when there are good alternatives, as in the travel industry, the process does not work perfectly. But I think it does work. Now that people know about the prices charged by ExtendedStay, they are less likely to use them, if at all. That's the way competition works.

None of this will, of course, assuage you. I know you will continue to harbor the feeling of being "cheated" since you paid double what you would have if you had booked directly. That's human nature. But I don't think you have anything to complain about unless, as I said, ExtendedStay did not deliver on what they had promised.

Finally, regarding this statement:

No travel agent I know of, no online site, would do this.

I know you don't particularly care for P. G. Wodehouse, but I can't resist this statement mouthed frequently by Psmith: "Never confuse the unusual with the impossible."

Saby said...

Just wanted to say that this whole incident shows that the travel industry in India has not matured at all. Its the same old thing of taking the customer for granted and duping the unsuspecting person. I bet if you were related to some MPs and MLAs etc. Vishwas Tiwari would have refunded the whole amount. BTW, I haven't came across your opinion regarding madraasa education reform.
http://www.zeenews.com/news567898.html
Maybe it merits an article.

Suresh said...

Its the same old thing of taking the customer for granted and duping the unsuspecting person.

How has Dilip been "duped"? I am asking this quite seriously. "Duped" would indicate the ExtendedStay promised something which they did not deliver. From what Dilip writes, that has not been the case here.

I bet if you were related to some MPs and MLAs etc. Vishwas Tiwari would have refunded the whole amount.

Quite likely, but what is the point you want to make? That we are a nation sans laws where you can get your way if you have "sufficient clout"?

I ask you and others: exactly what law has Mr. Tiwari broken? All this talk of suing ExtendedStay and so on makes sense only if there is a specific law that has been broken.

The accusation against Mr. Tiwari seems to be not that he broke some law and got away but that, in some sense, he behaved "unethically." Even that is not clear because, from what I can make out, ExtendedStay quoted a particular price for a particular trip. Dilip accepted this offer and there is nothing in what Dilip writes to suggest that ExtendedStay did not keep their end of the bargain.

So, in what sense did ExtendedStay behave unethically? The problem seems to be that in many people's eyes, the commission charged was "too much." But charging what you like for services you provide is the right of any seller in our economic system - why should ExtendedStay not have this right? So long as there are other companies providing similar services [that is, the market is "competitive"] I don't really see a problem.

Mr. Tiwari comes across as an obnoxious person and I can understand the aversion to him. But I am missing something I guess because I really don't see what Dilip is complaining about here.

Anonymous said...

Hey Suresh,

Dont know what you are complaining about... Dilip has helped warn future customers of ExtendedStay with this posting. As Dilip and other commenters have expressed; charging 100% commission is charging too much. While seller has right to charge for his services, in this case and in some others, the charges remain hidden. The naive trusting customer oftentimes pays way more than he would be willing to for services rendered.

Anonymous said...

Suresh: Consumer protection act, 1986, defines "unfair trade practice" as:

a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices, namely;—

the practice of making any statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible representation which,—

materially misleads the public concerning the price at which a product or like products or goods or services, have been or are, ordinarily sold or provided, and, for this purpose, a representation as to price shall be deemed to refer to the price at which the product or goods or services has or have been sold by sellers or provided by suppliers generally in the relevant market unless it is clearly specified to be the price at which the product has been sold or services have been provided by the person by whom or on whose behalf the representation is made;

This definition can be applied to 1) the price of the hotel/stay and b) the commission charged for providing the first service. I would suggest you take a look here.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The various messages from Mr Tiwari are entertainment, but -- as Anonymous points out -- ExtendedStay's actions seem clearly in violation of the Consumer Protection Act. At the very least, the price they quoted to Dilip -- and the invoice they gave him after purchase -- should have distinguished the resort's fees from their own commission.

If Dilip so chooses, he can go to consumer court. We found some time back that the mere threat of doing so was sufficient to get a complete refund on an item we had purchased. (Specifically -- after much recalcitrance on the company's part, following the advice of a Chennai-based consumer protection group, we sent a letter to the head office of the company by registered speed post, acknowledgement due, with a copy to the consumer group. Within two days we got a phone call offering the refund. Of course, if the company thinks they have a case they will probably fight, but both in our case and, I think, in Dilip's, any legal action would look bad for them.)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks for the reax, all.

Prasad, you're welcome to forward to whoever you want. Anon 142pm, as an aside I recommend Mandu highly. Definitely go.

Suresh, this has never been about the money (which is pretty much verbatim what I wrote to Vishwas Tiwari too). If I had never found out about the 5100, I would have been perfectly happy with a nice holiday, which it was.

But once I did find out about it, it naturally coloured the experience. (Wouldn't it, for you?) It's not that I have a complaint to spell out (but more on that later), but that I'd like to warn other travellers that this is what ES did to me and thus to be wary of using them. Exactly what you would find in a whole lot of travel sites and magazines.

(For example, haven't you read a review of a hotel, say, that speaks of its dirty rooms and lack of hot water, and advises for those reasons that you should not patronize it?)

Having said that, as Rahul S suggests, there may be material here to interest consumer courts. We'll see about that.

Dilip D'Souza said...

By the way, I should mention here that when I first raised this issue with Vishwas Tiwari, his immediate response was, and I quote again: "The prices [the resort owner] has provided you are off season prices and in no way represent the peak season prices."

This is of course irrelevant, because ES paid the resort owner Rs 5100, period (which is what I have in writing).

Nevertheless, just as a matter of interest I then called the resort and was told that they have no off-season and peak-season prices, that their rate remains the same all year-round, and in my case, that rate was 5100.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - that was again on e-mail? Mr Tiwari is an idiot to lie to you in writing. I think you should take it further, in the public interest if not for the sake of your Rs 5000+... I know I would.

Saby said...

@ Suresh:

Nobody is saying that the travel agency broke any law.
When I said "taking customers for granted and duping unsuspecting person", I referred that in the context of sensible business practice. To overcharge a customer is a myopic approach as he/she wouldn't return back with his/her business to the establishment and that would also lead to bad press in general.
This is just bad for business. Any business should strive for customer loyalty to survive and compete.

And yes,although we are a nation with better laws relatively speaking, you have to have sufficient clout to work the system. The law enforcement especially the judicial component for civil suits is a joke. To run a business, you definitely need to be in the good books of local authorities, otherwise you are in for a good amount of hassle on trumped up laws and regulations. An incident like this where the agency charges more than 100% commission is bound to attract some vultures looking for their share.

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

If you go in for legal action, be sure of the facts at your end; it seems pretty unusual to not have a season and an off-season pricing. Is this place really low-traffic such that its always off-season?

Is the resort receiving some payment in "black" against fudgy records or some other adjustment deals. Is your info coming from high enough a source to be authoritative, and will they back you up.

Pls be wary if the resort owner isnt grinding some axe of his with the agent.

If you're clear on these aspects, at least for the aggressive and combative nature of this guy, you could consider some action.

Thanks,
Jai

Anonymous said...

I just checked the ES site, there's an interesting item on sidebar:

Our Promise
Best Price Guarantee:
It’s simple! Extended Stay guarantees you’re getting the best price. If you should find a better price online for the same trip within 24 hours, we will refund the difference - and give you a travel coupon worth INR100.00.

Thx,
Jai

Anonymous said...

@Rahul Siddharthan

Please stuff the Consumer Protection Act up your royal a***. In our contemporary marketplace the consumer always loses....only because the consumers are fools.

Dilip, if I were you I would have stuck to the beaten path. You wanted a ride and ExtendedStay gave you one...so why moan about it.

All such establishments make their money on cancellation charges, charges for change in schedule etc. It's a smart marketing ploy. Give themselves a fancy Bollywoody name , quote a low price and then impose a variety of fees and charges on the unsuspecting stranger. This is more so with the airlines. Only hope good old Indian Railways won't join this rogues gallery.

I stayed in Bombay for a week last autumn at my mutt. Spartan place ( you'll have to bring your own bedding - can't get any hygenic than this) ...Rs. 50/day with lip smacking sambhar , rasam and chutney for lunch. Enjoyed the street food in the evenings near the beaches.

Anonymous said...

Further to above, Dilip, it is 'their' lot to steal and 'our' lot to be smart and deny them the opportunity...and that's how the world is...nothing but an interesting contest between the two

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - how do you always attract the most "interesting" comments? For example, anonymous 2:47 PM. Or is that Mr Tiwari, appearing incognito?

Anonymous said...

Rahul,

They seem to turn up as soon as Dilip turns comment moderation off.

I hope that Itna Pilid guy at least has tired of this; he was a Real Pain in the Azous.

Rgds,
Jai

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anon 851: thanks for notes from CPA 1986. Food for thought.

I think there is a notion of "fair" when it comes to commissions like in this case. I think the comments here alone show that the 100% in this case was unfair. But it being fair or not doesn't really concern me that much. In the end, my idea with this post was to tell you guys that this is how ES treated me, therefore beware because you may have the same thing happen.

Jai, the place is new (and in fact incomplete in various respects). Admittedly there's a chance of some convoluted skullduggery going on, but again, that doesn't concern me much.

Here's the point: ES has not once denied that they paid the resort 5100 and no more. With Vishwas Tiwari's mention of off-season vs peak-season pricing, what stopped him from telling me something like "And you were charged the peak-season price, which was Rs 9347.39".

Mr Tiwari too pointed me to that item on the sidebar. Again, it is irrelevant to taking a 100%+ commission.

Finally, speaking of spartan places, I've done better than that mutt, and several times. There was the time I slept on the roof of a temple in a small town, only to be woken at some unearthly hour by a loudspeaker suddenly blasting bhajans.

Suresh said...

Dilip,

I think I made it clear that the only issue I had was your complaint to ExtendedStay. I completely agree with your feelings -- I would feel the same way too if I found that something I bought could have been purchased at a much cheaper price.

To return to the complaint, so far as can make out, ES had quoted a price which you accepted. In my view, the private deal between ExtendedStay and the hotel is between themselves.
I really don't see why this is any business of the end user.

Let me ask you this. Suppose I negotiate to sell something to you -- a TV, perhaps -- at a price of X. Now, I might have paid X/2 or even less to get it from some manufacturer. Your position is strange. What you are saying is that the price of X is okay so long as you don't find out that I had only paid X/2. But it becomes relevant if you discover that the manufacturer only received X/2 and I had pocketed the difference. With all due respect, I don't agree. I don't think the price I pay the manufacturer is relevant to the agreement between the two of us.

I guess I am in a minority, the majority view being expressed well by Rahul Siddharthan:

At the very least, the price they quoted to Dilip -- and the invoice they gave him after purchase -- should have distinguished the resort's fees from their own commission.

I don't think this makes sense. Many travel companies arrange package tours to all sorts of places. This position means that their invoices should include a breakup between how much they pay to the various hotels, airlines, catering companies etc. and how much they charge as "commission." I don't think any company does this -- if there are any, I'd like to know.

Regarding the Consumer Protection Act, I am not sure it applies but I would not know since I am not a lawyer. But one thing: if there was any misrepresentation or fraud, then very clearly, that is illegal. I realize I don't know the exact facts of the case, so I will not say more -- other than to reiterate that Mr. Tiwari is obnoxious and an idiot.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh, the price of the TV becomes relevant to this extent: it annoys me that I could have gone directly to the manufacturer and got it for X/2 instead of paying you X for it. This applies even if I was originally content with paying X. And now that I've found this out, I'm likely to tell every potential TV buyer I know, please don't buy your TV from Suresh.

Which is, to repeat, exactly my point with this post: to tell people that I had this experience with ES, it may happen to you, so watch out.

Actually I agree with you: in the price they quoted to me, they had no obligation to tell me the commission they had paid the resort. I didn't ask for it either.

Dilip D'Souza said...

By the way, I want to make it clear because perhaps it isn't: in my email exchanges with Vishwas Tiwari of Extended Stay, I did not once ask for my money back.

I simply made it clear that I was disappointed and disturbed by this, and that I planned to use all available forums to (and I quote) "speak about your charging me double what the Madhai resort charged."

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - I doubt they paid the resort a commission. They are providing a service both to you and to the resort, so either you or the resort would pay them a commission (obviously, it was you in this case). According to the consumer protection act, " materially misleads the public concerning the price at which a product or like products or goods or services, have been or are, ordinarily sold or provided" amounts to "unfair trade practices". I am not a lawyer so am not claiming that this particular case falls under that category. There are many other things covered under the act and perhaps this falls under something else. Also, these cases are decided in separate consumer courts, not in the regular courts, and are fast-track and the consumer pays no fee and needs no lawyer. More information is here (official government site).

Suresh said...

Dilip,

No problems about your letting people know about your experiences with ES. Why should I? In fact, I said as much in my first comment.

I guess I got sidetracked by the arguments about the legality of ES' actions. Sorry about that. But I am angry with you for putting an end to my budding career as a TV salesman.

Anonymous said...

Suresh does have a point, in that I dont think anybody can as a matter of right demand to know how much income or profit is accruing to the other party on a private deal consented to by both.

But (possibly getting OT) did we discuss something similar though, in a post about auto meters? ie. why should there be any metering at all and why shouldnt auto transport always be a haggle deal with no baseline, entirely depending on the nego skills of the driver and prospective passenger?

Variables like do you know the local language, the place, remoteness of destination, time of day, is it raining, how much luggage you have, your age/gender/fitness levels, carteling btwn providers,

and lord knows: driver doesnt like the look of your face, possible religious affiliation, whatnot.

Every ride a thrilling Free market adventure. Many of us may experience this to some degree already.

Thx,
Jai

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I think both Suresh and Dilip have made their points very clear.

But Suresh, what Psmith actually said (and only twice in "Leave it to Psmith")was "Never confuse the impossible with the merely improbable". Once to Ed Cootes, who goggled back at him. (They had both turned up at Blandings posing as Ralston McTodd, only R Eustace got there first)
I hope that serves to derail any more serious discussion.

J.A.P.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Uh oh. Psmith's exact words, first uttered in school, were "We must distinguish between the unusual and the impossible." He repeated the sentiment in Psmith Journalist and in Leave it to Psmith (where, as you say, he substituted "unusual" with "improbable").

It is worth noting that he was preceded by the following exchange between Sherlock Holmes and a client:
"Well, it is a possible supposition."
"You think so, too?"
"I did not say a probable one."
(The adventure of the noble bachelor)

Dilip D'Souza said...

I said earlier: they had no obligation to tell me the commission they had paid the resort.

Sorry, my mistake, and I see Rahul has caught it. What I had meant to say was, "They had no obligation to tell me the commission they had kept."

Apart from that, I note with delight that this discussion appears to be veering into the surreal, about who said what about which impossibility. Which is sort of appropriate, actually.

Which leaves us with just one question then: what did Watson have to say about TV salesmen?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Speaking of impossible, both PGW and Holmes were preceded by someone who said "Impossible is not French" (or more accurately, "Impossible n'est pas fran├žais".)

Who?

Incidentally, he didn't say it. (Speaking of surreal).

Suresh said...

To add to the digression, "Never confuse the unusual with the impossible" also occurs in Wodehouse's A Damsel in Distress, chapter 3 where it is spoken by George Bevan.

But I don't know who said "Impossible is not French."

Dilip D'Souza said...

I don't know who said "Impossible is not French."

Unlikely. He's on third. Who's on first.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I've come across the expression "Impossible n'est pas gaulois" (I just confirmed my memory). So it dates back to 50 BC.

nikhil said...

the fact that the guy from Extend Stay continues to maintain a beligerant stand and treat customers like they were free loaders is far worse than the commission they had extracted. the fact remains that basic courtsey should have been accorded even to a unhappy customer..

GBO said...

why dont you simply also provide us with tiwari's email address as well as that for the resort and also place your point of view/views at mouthshut.com. In addition please let us know about the hemmeroids and bubbles?

Chitta said...

Dear Dilip:

You said:

Quote
I simply made it clear that I was disappointed and disturbed by this, and that I planned to use all available forums to (and I quote) "speak about your charging me double what the Madhai resort charged."
Unquote

The travel agent did not do anything wrong in charging you twice.

Think about it.

What you pay for a jeans or a khaki in a department store is may be 2-4 times what the person who makes it gets paid. I don't think one threatens the department store.

The carpet one can buy in a carpet store is priced multiple times than what the carpet weaver in the village gets paid.

The rice you buy in the market is priced much more than what the farmer gets paid.

So your threat is unbecoming of the Dilip I have known from his past writings. (We all slip once in a while and sometimes arrogance creeps in once in a while.)

Really, your above threat, is reminiscent of many small time "journalists" in India who cow down others by such threats.

Yes, you have a platform with a lot of audience, but threatening to use that to scare a presumed honest businessman is not you.

===

Having said the above, the response of the Tiwari guy is stupid. He could have made the point about free market without using such stupid words.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Chitta - there is a difference between a seller and an agent. There is no doubt that the Rs 5100 in the resort invoice does not reflect their actual costs, and there is nothing wrong in that. The resort has its lean season. The carpet seller does get stuck with unsold stock (hence seasonal "clearance sales"). But the agent is not purchasing a holiday from the resort and then re-selling it to you (at the risk of it remaining unsold). He is enabling a transaction between the resort and the customer. For that, he gets a commission, which is supposed to be small: a 100% commission is unheard of.

Go to any respectable travel site (hotels.com, cleartrip.com, travelocity.com, etc). Check out a hotel rate and then call the hotel to ask them the rate directly: the difference will be small. Check out an airline price and then look up the price on the airline's own price: the price is usually exactly the same. These sites receive commissions from the seller (hotel, airline) and not from the customer, and sometimes they pass on part of the benefit to the customer, so it is actually cheaper to go via an agent. A few years ago it used to be much cheaper to buy an air ticket from a travel agent than from the airline, basically for that reason. The gap has narrowed, but any air travel agent who charged a 100% commission or even a 10% commission from the passenger would quickly go out of business (several have gone out of business anyway because too many people prefer to buy directly from their preferred airline).

Dilip D'Souza said...

Dear Chitta,

In addition to what Rahul above me has explained ...

The agent is welcome to charge whatever margin he wants. If he gets customers (like me) at that margin, good luck to him. I have no problems with that.

As a customer, surely I have the freedom to be dissatisfied with any aspect of the agent's service. For example, I would be dissatisfied if he told me he had made a reservation for a particular room, and I found on getting there that it had been made for an inferior room. (This actually happened to me some years ago).

Just as I would make a noise in that case, I will make a noise in this case. Exactly as he is free to charge whatever margin he thinks he can, I should have the freedom to tell people I know, "don't go to this agent because he charges a large commission; go directly to the hotel instead".

This would apply whether for a hotel booking, or for rice, or for a carpet, or whatever.

In Pachmarhi itself, we wanted to buy honey. A local we got to know told us not to buy from shops on the main tourist strip (he named them) because they inflated prices, but suggested that we instead buy the same honey from another shop whose prices were 25% lower.

How is that different from what I'm doing here?

This applies whether I have a platform (as you assume I do) or not (as the Pachmarhi local presumably did not).

This has become longer than I intended.

Suresh said...

Dilip,

Of course, you have the right to point out to people that they would be better off buying directly from the hotel rather than through ES. I said that in the opening paragraphs of my very first comment. What I don't understand is why you got into a discussion with Mr. Tiwari in the first place. What is there to discuss anyway? That's the only issue that I had and after all the discussion, I still don't understand it. But this has been an overlong thread so please respond in private.

With all due respect to the other posters, I am not sure that there is much to be gained by the distinction between "agent" and "seller." A manufacturer of a computer, a car and almost any product you can think of is an "agent" to some extent because his/her own product uses products manufactured by others.

In this particular case too, it can be argued that ES is "producing" something because they are "marketing" the product to the customers. But whether one agrees with me or not, arguing about the "right" level of commission is not really fruitful. As I observed before, that's why most economies rely on things like competition from rival sellers and yes, information spread by customers to prevent sellers -- whether they be "sellers" or "agents" -- from charging too much. In the extreme case when there are no effective rivals, regulation kicks in. I don't think regulation is at all warranted here.

'Nuff said.

AmOK said...

Dilip -- thanks for your inside news about ExtendedStay. I shall never buy from his channel as you have told us the direct channel is always going to be cheaper.

You are a "price-insensitive market segment" and such guests will continue going to ExtendedStay for the convenience. Had you been more price-sensitive you would have shopped around more.

Now can you also complain to the Government of India regarding the fees to enter the Taj, based on national origin.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7098370.stm
From each according to his ability? Of course Mr. Tiwari takes the medal with his silly response.

Chitta said...

Hi Rahul:

I have found some vacation packages to cost quite different if you buy from a travel agent and if you go down to the source.

A recent one was a trip to Kerala backwaters. Just look up the prices the travel agents charge for those trips and I can give you the names of the locals (I got a copy of the compiled book that the locals use) who get paid much less.

For my trip, I went over more than 10 India based travel agents in the web and got quotes and booked with a Bangalore agent who had close to the best price. I paid a deposit (about 40% of the package).

When I arrived in Kochi I paid the rest to the Kochi people. I found out that that is what they get paid. (I.e., 60% of the total cost.)

===

Another time and another place, I tracked down the local businesses and got the package at close to 50% of the cost of what the travel agents were quoting.

===

But all of the above involved more than hotels. So Dilip's case does sound a bit excessive.

===
Anyway, the Tiwari guy is running a business; he should be polite. Just on that account, ...

Chitta said...

Dear Dilip:

As a writer you really have a lot of power and your writing has a lot of impact.

With power comes responsibility to use it wisely, which you mostly do.

... Enough of preaching.

cheers
Chitta

insignificant said...

Dilip,
While I agree that ExtendedStay took you for a ride (and well, in civilised society that should not be allowed, and that's what customer forums are for. Please do lodge a complaint)... look at it this way as well.
You did not research enough, did not find out enough about the prices and the rates offered by other travel booking agencies. And got duped. Partly to blame, don't you agree? Really, research does not take much. Two hours on Google and say three or four phone calls, and that's all.

Dilip D'Souza said...

insignificant: but of course I look at it that way (that I didn't do my homework and got duped). I thought that much was clear from my mention of how I "trusted them" and was "naive". I had left plans till very late, I was in a huge rush with all kinds of other things, and this happened. Most of all, I'm kicking myself.

Chitta: point taken. But while I might quibble with what power I have and so on, let me pose a few hypothetical scenarios:

* I read a book, like it a lot and write a review saying so.

* I read a book, think it is mediocre and write a review saying so.

* I go to a homestay in a holiday destination, think the servie and location etc is outstanding, and write an account saying so, recommending that others go there.

* I go to a resort overrun by cockroaches, where the sheets and towels are dirty, I write an account saying so and recommending that others don't go there.

* I go on a holiday in a resort that I've paid an agent to book for me, I find out that the agent has charged me twice what I would have paid had I gone to the resort directly, I write an account saying so and recommending that others don't use that agent.

OK, 5 situations. As it happens, they are not really hypothetical, I've done all 5 at different times.

In which of these 5 would you tell me that as a writer I have a lot of power and I should use it responsibly? Why or why not?

Anonymous said...

wow this thread is still live!
Reversing the cash-flow proved interesting and kind of made it different. Eg.

'Dilip' rents out rooms at his resort thru 'Tiwari' for 5K per night. 'Madhai' takes it thru T for 10K per night.

When D comes to know, he approaches T and complains.

The crux of Suresh's arg. seems to be that this is pretty much the same thing.

To me though, it makes a difference what D asks T to do in this case:
- give me 4K
- give M back 4K

One of these feels more right than the other though there is no legal basis most likely for the complaint.

rgds,
Jai
PS: Dilip I think Chitta has your example as:
I go to a resort. find out I have been charged 100% + commission. I tell the agent. When he is uncooperative, I remind him that I am a "bigname journalist" and imply that I can make things tougher for him than he imagines. I still dont get a refund or an apology. He just gets more combative with hemorroids and saliva. I go ahead and....

.... do a story on NDTV!
.... write it up on my blog.

tick one of the above.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I tell the agent. When he is uncooperative, I remind him...

Only, the sequence did not go quite this way. In my first note to the guy I told him I was "disappointed by what I learned in Madhai", and that I planned to tell everyone I know about this. (i.e. I didn't wait for the uncooperative part to say that I wanted to tell everyone).

I have never asked for either my money back or an apology.

As for who's a bigtime journalist, that's for someone else to figure out.

Anonymous said...

Bizarre (but not totally unheard of) situation, and (even for the Internet) discussion following it.

Seasoned travellers like Mr Dilip do get taken for a ride now and then, and as several commenters above have pointed out (and listed sites where this action can be taken) complaining about being taken for a ride is common. It should hardly have bothered Mr Tiwari so much.

But! did Mr Dilip in fact inform Mr Tiwari that he was a well-known (take a bow, Mr Dilip) journalist, and that is why his complaint would resound a little longer on the Net? No such hint from the info presented thus far.

Still, as Douglas Adams pointed out (in The Holistic Detective Agency), "Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible", so perhaps Mr Tiwari is justified in equating complaining with 'belligerent, coercion, threatening and blackmailing': after all, who knows? sharp operators may resent being outed.

As far as the 'commission' goes, 5-star hotels too charge ridiculous prices for soft drinks and other 'packaged', 'MRP', goods, so perhaps Mr Tiwari believes that ExtendedStay is justified in doing the same. Paying 250 bucks or whatever for a bottle of water is one's choice, and so is using ExtendedStay for a hotel booking on the Net. Not using ExtendedStay is also a choice, something that Mr Tiwari may (or may not) find out suits his cost, or palate.

But let me grouse a bit (now that I have this famous site at my disposal). I was on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway a couple of days back, and stopped (willy-nilly, that's what ST buses do) at a food court for a snack. I asked for a Cadbury's Fruit and Nut, and was appalled to find the attendant demanding Rs 35, as against the MRP Rs 30. I remonstrated with him, to which the young fellow responded, "It's not my choice, I only work here, and I can't sell it to you for less."

I thought briefly about what it would take to get the Weights and Measures Department to raid the place (and all the other food courts on the Expressway) and decided that, in all probability, the concerned government departments are all perfectly 'aware' of what it takes to run a food court on the expressways, and raids are hardly in their interest. Mr Koda would doubtless clap his hands in delight, if they weren't clapped in cuffs already.

jatkesha said...

Well, I would call the website's actions really cheap.

You should perhaps request a few of your friends to link to your blog post so that they are subjected to Mr. Google's treatment.

Down with such shady people.