The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) runs the country’s biggest e-commerce portal, www.irctc.co.in that gets about 3.65 lakh online reservations per day, which is roughly 45 per cent of the total reserved tickets of Indian Railways. And now with the launch of flight ticket booking on IRCTC, the PSU is offering a “lenient” cancellation policy with no service charge.
We talk to Rakesh Kumar Tandon (RK), managing director, IRCTC about the company, his plans to improve the services, Air travel via IRCTC and how technology has changed the face of the business.
Q – IRCTC ranks highest in terms of railway bookings. How many bookings do you get each day and how has it grown over the last year?
RK – Presently about 3.65 lakh online reserved tickets per day are being booked through website www.irctc.co.in. There has been tremendous growth in e-ticketing since its inception on 03rd August 2002. It has increased from 27 tickets on first day to maximum of 4,70,670 lakh tickets booked on 14th March, 2012. As for the figures of last few years, we were at 1.21 lakh tickets per day in 2008-09 which grew to 1.97 lakh per day in 2009-10 to 2.65 lakh per day in 2010-11.
Q – IRCTC had started booking airline tickets sometime last year but nothing has been known about it till now. Are you planning to grow it and how are you going about it?
RK – The new portal www.air.irctc.co.in has been launched. This will provide tickets of all FSC and LCC airlines for all sectors in India. With our expertise and experience of e-ticketing of Indian Railways we will be able to take air.irctc.co.in to new levels. The site will have a transparent and secure payment procedure, quick refund process and a discount of Rs. 100 to each pax each sector.
Unlike other OTA’s we will levy no service charges and a ‘lenient” cancellation policy. We are also trying to tie up with certain banks wherein if you use their Credit Cards you will get a cash back offer.
Q – In terms of bookings what are you targeting for the next three years..say 2015? How much of that pie do you expect will be from railway bookings and airline bookings respectively?
RK – We expect to grow at about 15 to 20 per cent YoY over the next three years. At present about 50 per cent of total reserved rail tickets are being booked through IRCTC website. The balance 50 per cent is sold through railway reservation offices. A substantial number of tickets being booked through reservation offices are of concessional categories requiring submission of physical documents. Railway Board is considering computerization of this segment also so that such concessional tickets can also be issued online for the benefit of rail passengers.
As for the airlines booking we are looking at 10 per cent market share within first 6 – 9 months of launching of the site.
Q – What is it that IRCTC is currently working on? What are the major initiatives for the year 2012-13?
RK – IRCTC is working on many initiatives as of now. We have recently launched the website https://www.irctc.co.in/mobile which can be accessed on mobile phones. IRCTC mobile website is convenient and easy to use, can be accessed from any browser enabled mobile having basic GPRS activated on phone. With the launching of mobile ticketing solution rail e-tickets can also be booked through mobile phones by individual users. As of today about 2000 – 2500 tickets per day are being booked via the mobile site. We see huge potential in m-commerce in next 2-3 years. IRCTC is working to facilitate rail ticket booking on mobile handsets across all platforms.
We are also working on Non Railway Catering i.e. catering services to non railway areas like educational institutes and government offices; food plazas in malls and multiplexes.
IRCTC has also started to provide Facility Management services, which entail Housekeeping, Maintenance, Security, Horticulture services apart from catering. We have already had a MoU with the NIFTEM (National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management).
Q – We have noticed that the time taken to book a ticket on the site is too long. As in first it takes a lot of time logging in and then similar amount of time to process the request. However, payment transaction is quick but the time taken to reach the payment page is humongous. How is IRCTC tackling the issue?
RK – There is huge demand for Tatkal tickets as against limited number of seats reserved by railways for being booked under Tatkal category. The sale of Tatkal tickets for next day starts at 8AM on IRCTC website as well as on railways reservation counters across India. There are long queues at railway reservation offices at 8AM and similar situation prevails on online booking website also. As many as 8-10 lakh connections are established on the network at 8AM for booking Tatkal tickets whereas the IT infrastructure for booking tickets during the rest of the day is underutilized. Due to heavy load on the system, the response time from various components in the system increases, thereby affecting the user experience.
In order to enable individual users to get tickets for their travel needs, IRCTC has taken the following measures:
- Agents are not permitted to book tickets between 8 and 10 AM.
- Individual users are permitted to book only two tatkal tickets between 8 and 10 AM.
- Only two tickets can be booked between 8 and 10 AM from each IP address.
- Internet bandwidth has been enhanced to 450 Mbps.
- High capacity ITANIUM servers have been installed.
Q – There were rumors that IRCTC is launching SMS based booking. How will that work and what are the challenges to launch the same. Also when is it expected to see the light of the day?
RK – As mentioned earlier we have launched the mobile site to provide seamless service to our customers. Continuous efforts are being made to provide user friendly ticketing application. SMS based booking application is one of them. The proposals received from various vendors in this regard are being examined and we will tow down to one soon.
Q – Please give us a brief snapshot of the technology infrastructure how many servers/load balancing etc. Do you plan to move to cloud based hosting (like AWS)?
RK – IRCTC has been continuously upgrading the technology infrastructure in terms of hardware as well as software. We have augmented high capacity ITANIUM servers and enhanced the bandwidth from 350 Mpbs to 450 Mbps. we have sought assistance from CERT-in (Computer Emergency Response System). We have also completed audit of e-ticketing system by STQC (Standardization, Testing and Quality Certification) Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India.