Thursday, April 19, 2012

Are Online Travel Agencies In India Violating Cyber Law Of India?

E-commerce has starting maturing in India. However, e-commerce in India is still managed more from the commercial point of view and lesser from legal angle. A major portion of e-commerce activities in India consist of online travel agencies and companies. Other segments of e-commerce are still evolving in India.

Most online travel agencies in India are using e-commerce method without realising that e-commerce also requires legal compliances. For them mere opening of a website is enough to start e-commerce business in India.

These online travel agencies cannot be blamed as cyber law awareness in India is missing. Further, e-commerce laws in India are still evolving and e-commerce stakeholders in India are not aware of cyber law due diligence in India.

However, ignorance of law is no excuse. This is more so when the cyber due diligence for Indian companies is now well established. For instance, cyber due diligence for foreign websites in India, cyber due diligence for press and media in India, cyber due diligence for PayPal and online payment transferor in India, etc have already been discussed.

Thus, legal formalities required for starting e-commerce business in India must be well understood by online travel agencies operating in India. Similarly, legal requirements to start an e-commerce website In India must also be well understood by online travel agencies operating in India.

In short, legal requirements of undertaking e-commerce in India must be duly complied with by online travel agencies operating in India in order to get maximum benefits out of e-commerce business in India.

In a related development, private airlines IndiGo and Jet Airways have accused MakeMyTrip of offering arbitrary and opaque fares despite objection by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Opaque fares is a trade practice where a portal sells heavily discounted tickets but does not disclose the name of the airline until the payment is made by the customer. This, at times, results in using the services of an airline that the customer does not wish to avail.

Reacting to this situation, IndiGo has withdrawn all content from MakeMyTrip and Jet Airways has limited the ticket sale to five seats a day on MakeMyTrip.

MakeMyTrip has already removed bargain fares from its site but it is claiming that it did so on March 28th 2012 itself due to the fact that DGCA had asked airlines to stop publishing opaque fares and users could now see all flight details before making the payment. The opaque fare issue had come to light recently following Kingfisher Airlines’ flight cancellations. Travel portals had put up a note saying the carrier was not part of the bargain fares.

However, despite this clarification, some believe that MakeMyTrip is offering an unrealistic rate that is killing the market competition. They believe that MakeMyTrip is acting like a banker to Kingfisher Airlines.

MakeMyTrip has also clarified the issue through a statement that claims that fares and inventory on its website were controlled by airlines and all the fares are displayed according to the guidelines received and approved by airlines, including special fares, which are approved by participating airlines.

According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of ICT law firm Perry4Law and leading cyber law expert of India, “E-commerce laws and regulations in India need to be streamlined. This must include the regulation of online travel agencies operating in India. Further, these online platforms are also required to observe cyber due diligence and follow the cyber law of India to escape various financial, civil and criminal liabilities opines Dalal.

Presently, there are no express regulations that can regulate the operations and functioning of travel agency portals in India. We need specific industry regulation for online travel agencies of India.