Is India Becoming a Rip-off?

Old Nov 1st, 2005, 03:18 AM
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Is India Becoming a Rip-off?

Sorry for the provocative title, but I've been working with a few U.S., Great Britain, and India-based travel agents to arrange a trip this December/January and am finding the prices simply astronomical. As someone who has stayed in my share of $2 South American hotels, I know that India has a wealth of budget options. For this trip, however, I wanted a driver and some "glue" to hold together the various components of the trip. I also wanted the capacity to search out hotel rooms in a place where internet bookings seem a shaky proposition at best. What I'm finding, though, is that the quotes I'm getting are twice what I would estimate using internet/guide book rack rates and the hotel options include recognizable names like Taj ("or similar") hotels. Yikes. The experience has me wondering whether India is a worthwhile travel destination right now. Any feedback or advice on this question would be appreciated. India looks beautiful and intriguing, but it seems that for anything above backpacker-level hotels, it is also becoming--during the high-season at least--a destination for people with money to burn.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 04:45 AM
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From what I have heard and seen, India will be a much more expensive place to visit until there are more lodging options in the moderate to expensive range. We went last February and were very lucky to have "locked in" our lodging prices back in May of 2004. My travel agent tells me he is now requiring 100% deposit on hotels in order to ensure that the reservations are honored. Our deposit was 10% and we did not pay it until 3 or 4 months prior to our trip.

I think you have waited too long to plan this trip and that you may be paying an additional premium for doing it at the last minute. Have you considered postponing for a year?
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 05:25 AM
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I suspect you are right. We could postpone the trip, but we are taking advantage of my wife's business travel to India on the front-end. We are relatively certain of our plans, so 100% deposit may be a chance worth taking (cross fingers). That said, my concern is that the travel agents seem to be inflating prices far beyond the escalated high-season room rates. How much should one expect to pay for a guide and driver? On a recent trip to Bali (a different demand scale to be sure), the driver/guide add-on was a pretty marginal thing. Here it seems that the cost of booking, driving, and guiding is similar to the cost of the luxury hotels themselves. I believe that drivers and guides should receive a fair salary, but my suspicion is that the money stays with the tour companies either here or abroad and is simply a huge markup for peace of mind. Should I try and book hotels myself? If I did so, and managed to book flights, could I find a driver/guide to take me from place to place for a reasonable fee? Any tips on this option appreciated.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 05:48 AM
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Why not arrange this yourself rather than going through a travel agent? You might want an agent to set up the driver for you. Since your wife has business in India, I expect that her business contact could recommend a either a driver/guide or a local agent who could get you better prices. You can book hotels yourself on the internet, as you mentioned.

Do a little research and see if it's do-able for you.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 06:02 AM
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If possible, try to e-mail your hotels directly to make your reservations. Keep a copy of all correspondance. As part of the process, you could inquire what the going rate for a car, driver and tour guide are. Be specific about what you want - if you want the driver for a full day and the guide only for a half day, say so. Also ask what the cost would be to hire a car and driver to take you from your hotel to your next destination. Be specific about the size of vehicle and a/c or not - that will affect the pricing.

We paid about $65/day for a full time (evenings included) driver and an air conditioned Toyota Qualis (minivan). Guides are cheap - maybe $10/day because they make their money on commissions from the shops they take you to - you don't have to go to shops with your guide but do expect some pressure to go to at least one "just to look". We booked our driver and guides through our travel agency because we wanted the same driver for the whole trip and everything to be taken care of. I did solicit quotes from my hotels for comparison and found that the prices they quoted were similar to what the agency was providing.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 07:30 AM
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Actually, I feel India is a place where a good TA adds a great deal of value- the hotels we stayed in at Jaipur and ranthambore were not hotels we would have found on our own (same - not yet internet booking, etc) yet both were delightful and hugely VFM. Re not being sure of which hotel u are being booked at you can just not pay until you get firm names. I don't think you will find quality guides and drivers very easily in all parts of India - certainly options your hotels may suggest are gen suspect! We paid about 25% less than Craig for an a/c SUV.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 07:36 AM
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We are traveling to India at the peak of peak season (Dec 16-Jan 7th)and were required to provide additional security for the rooms 90 days before departure. The nice part was, that since they required it of everyone, a hotel where we were wait listed suddenly had a plethora of available rooms.

Our trip is expensive. We are staying at Taj and Oberoi hotels for the entire trip with the exception of the Imperial in Delhi. The prices are essentially what you would pay in the US for the same room, ranging from a low of $100+/night in Varanasi to around $350/night in Jaipur and Udaipur. After our recent trip to China, the cost was a a bit of a sticker shock! This trip, for the same number of days in China, is more than a 100% increase in cost. (however, in India we are on a private tour with daily car and guide, so it is not exactly comparable.)

We have used a US based travel agent who specializes in private tours to Asia. We are paying a premium for premium service. We have been happy with their responsiveness and I will report back after the trip on whether that translated into a great trip.

Craig is correct. Until some Indian entrepreneur opens up a huge chain of Best Westerns, the jump from the top tier hotels to the next level can be a big one to the uninitiated. However, there are many good, less expensive hotels that have been discussed at length in this forum by frequent travelers, and I am sure that the seasoned India travelers in the forum will provide their favorites to you shortly.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 08:26 AM
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I recently read in an Indian newspaper that the prices of deluxe hotels in India have gone up 60-70% since August 2004! There is far more demand than supply in the upper end market. And the problem in India is, anything below 5-star and you are stepping into the unknown. I mean, when dealing with 4-star and below, you need personal testimonials to certify budget accomodations and not go on their star ratings.

So yes, luxury accomodation has gotten very stiff in India. However, for the dollar and euro-armed tourist, the rest of the trip (food, transport, shopping) is still a very good bargain.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 05:37 PM
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India is booming both for tourists and for business and it is the latter that is really driving the higher end hotels in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, etc. It is very difficult to get a hotel room in an international-class hotel in those cities at any time. It's also hard to get flights, but thatís another story.

In addition, as you know, you are going at the very peak of the tourist season so demand and prices are higher. Finally, my assumption is that you are going to Rajasthan and the "Golden Triangle" area of northern India rather than places in south India or less touristed parts of north India, so you are going to the most expensive places in India in relative terms.

I don't ever work with travel agents, after a few bad experiences years ago when my pre-paid bookings did not show up as being pre-paid at the hotels. I would definitely do as much booking on your own as you can, the hotels on your list all take direct bookings and with fax and the internet it is so easy these days. I would hunt around and then ask them to meet or better any bone fide internet or travel agent rate you can find. If you are staying at more than one Taj or Oberoi, ask about a discount for multiple stays, free breakfasts, etc.

As for car and driver, I differ from many people on this site. I travel a lot in India for business and pleasure. My preferred method is to travel by air for long distances, by train for certain trips and by car for others. However, I only hire drivers for specific trips, never for a whole vacation or business trip. In a place like Jaipur and Delhi, I would hire a driver for a day or half-day, but there will be days when I don't need or want one. In small places like Udaipur and Agra you don't need a driver at all, and if you have hired one for the entire trip, you are paying for meals and lodging for someone you are not using. I also wouldn't go by car for some long distances like Jaipur to Udaipur, the roads simply are not that an enjoyable experience to me. You can arrange a driver through your hotel, or step outside the grounds of your hotel and find plenty of free-lancers waiting for you to hire them. Get an idea of price from your hotel and if you want to go with the free-lancers, bargain down from the hotel's quoted rates. You can hire for a single trip to a site (like a taxi), a trip to a restaurant where the car will wait for you, or hire for a few hour tour with multiple stops. Hotels sometimes have a minimum 3-hour rate, which is usually pretty reasonable.

I use the same approach for guides. I generally book through the hotel for specific sites or itineraries which I pick, although I am open to suggestions from guides. I don't see any reason to pre-book a guide before a trip. I have usually been happy with the quality of a guide; I will say you won't find anything like the quality of the Scale Reale guides in Rome or some other European cities, but that is really an Asia-wide issue in my experience. In some cases, the best thing a guide can do is to keep OTHER guides and beggars from bothering you; but some are indeed excellent. In any case, pre-booking will not guarantee you a great guide. If you find a guide you like, you can keep using them in that city. The worst for me would be to pre-book a guide for an entire stay in a city and they turn out to be terrible (same with a driver for an entire trip).
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 06:59 PM
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cicerone---thanks for this excellent advice...now you have restored my self confidence in dealing with india!!
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 09:24 PM
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India is no more a rip-off than any other developing nation which everyone wants to see, before it's ruined with overdevelopment & too many tourists.

India is very simple to do by oneself. Even I managed it & twice to boot!

What are your destinations?

If you are considering Rajasthan then check out www.jasvilas.com. The owners are wonderful people, well-travelled & smart; I'm sure they can assist you with hotel recommendations like they helped me in Dec 2004. They can organise a reliable car/driver for you and they have contacts in many Indian cities so they can recommend some unique places to stay in the medium price range i.e US50-100. Good luck. India is worth the hassles, either in planning or in spending a little more to acquire what you need to enjoy your trip.
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 11:30 PM
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I am originally from Mumbai. If anyone needs a serviced apartment to stay, feel free to let me know. I could help out...

Yes, it does become a rip-off, since people take the tourists for a ride. But I guess that happens everywhere!!
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Old Nov 1st, 2005, 11:43 PM
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Hi Dilip-what suburb of Mumbai is the apt, pls?
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 05:18 AM
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Cicerone's remarks are generally right on. Through this forum she helped me work out a great itinerary for our india trip, including places to shop and stay, the best order to do things and what train to take from Ranthambore to Delhi. I would like to offer a couple of comments relating to her post about drivers and guides. First of all, it makes a lot of sense to fly or take the train over long distances. However, if your travels are confined to the relatively small area of the Golden Triangle, you might consider having a driver "on call" for the entire trip. Even when we took the train from Ranthambore to Delhi (avoiding a 10 hour drive), it was helpful to send our larger bags along with the driver so that they would be waiting for us when we arrived. Yes, it is expensive to do it that way and perhaps I paid more than the going rate for the privilege. However, if your time is limited, why waste it making arrangements? The same goes for guides, if its all arranged in advance, then its one less thing you have to deal with while on vacation. You will have plenty to deal with, especially if you are doing a lot of shopping. Whether you arrange your guides in advance or hire them while you are there, Cicerone's point about your guides keeping other guides, beggars and touts from bugging you is a good one.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 08:21 AM
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Mackenzie10 - We are going to Rajasthan at the end of the year and have done all of the bookings ourselves. We have to give credit to many of the Fodorites who have posted replies to your message -- everyone has been so helpful and the insights have been critical in planning our trip. What a great board this is!

We had inquired with several US travel operators initially and got astronomical quotes -- shockingly expensive (not sure whether it is the US firms who are adding huge markup or the Indian operators they use, or both...). Using the same high-end hotels, we booked directly ourselves and our trip will end up being a fraction of the price.

If the hotel websites indicate no availability, don't give up -- call the hotel directly and speak with a reservationist (you can also use email, but the person-to-person contact can be most helpful in understanding options). Many times you have to be willing to pre-pay, but it sounds like no problem for you since you are sure that you are going.

We also booked our own internal India flights on both Jet Airways and Indian Airlines (you have to register to use the latter's website, but it is easy). Now that we have the hotels and air transport all done ourselves, we are contacting India-based TAs recommended to us (including by Fodorites) to see about booking car/driver/guide. Given Cicerone's helpful post to yours, we may also ask the hotels in each place (since we are now likely flying several legs of the trip and don't really need the same driver/car for the whole time).

While travel of a certain style in India is not inexpensive, it can certainly be more reasonable if you book direct.

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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 09:02 AM
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Just thought of one more thing - in Agra you WILL need some sort of transportation, preferably a car and driver. If you are staying at Amarvilas, they will drive you to the Taj in one of their electric golf carts, though it is close enough to walk. If you are staying anywhere else, you will need transportation to get to the Taj. If you want to see other attractions like Agra Fort and Itmad-ud-daulah ("Baby Taj") or do any shopping, you will definitely need transportation - we found that a car and driver was most helpful for navigating the very congested roads in Agra.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 09:03 AM
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Lyndie, the apartment is in the Central suburbs, place called Mulund. From here it is easier to get access to the freeways t Goa, Aurangabad and Mahabaleshwar. I should also be able to arrange a car with a local-driver to take you around, if necessary...
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 09:06 AM
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I found India (cw other Asian countries) quite expensive. I think a fair bit had to do with the tax and service charges that get levied at 5* establishments.

I remember paying over £30 for a meal without wine at the Hyatt Regency in Delhi - I thought that was expensive.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 01:01 PM
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Tks Dilip-we'll be in Mumbai mid 2006. We love Fort area or around Marine Dve. So will probably use our favourite cheapie, Hotel Lawrence, near Trishna's in Sri Sai Baba Marg. Thanks anyway, for the info.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2005, 04:28 PM
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There are bicycle rickshaws in Agra that you can take you everywhere within the city and out to the Fort, and easy, cheap, fun and environmentally friendly way to get around. You can hire a driver for several days. They can get around all the car traffic and park anywhere and wait for you. For shopping in outlying areas they don't work, but I wouldn't do much shopping outside Agra anyway. Agra is quite small and the bicycle rickshaws are a great way to get around. In Udaipur you can rent your own bicycles and get around the little village yourself.

Craig's alternative of sending a car on with bags is certianly a nice one; but remember that in India there is always a willing team of porters will who carry your bags on and off the train to the car for (almost) pennies a bag, so that is an alternative as well. They won't run off with the bag either even if they seem to disappear into the crows, so no worries there (at least in my experience).
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