Since April 1, 2008, most major airlines operating in Kenya, including Kenya Airways and Royal Dutch Airline KLM, now encourage their customers to book their tickets online instead of using agents. Accordingly, they no longer pay commissions to travel agents.
However, online booking is not the panacea it was thought to be as only about 6.9% of the Kenyan population can access the internet. But even then, those with internet access only use it not for research, networking or e-commerce but for using free email service provided by sites such as Yahoo, G-Mail and Hotmail. The saying that you hide something from an African by keeping it in a book as not much reading goes on here has been amended to say that “Put something online if you want to hide it from an African.”
So, are carriers like Kenya Airways, British Airways and KLM getting out of reach for may travellers in Kenya by insisting that tickets be booked online?
By the way, the International Telecommunications Union’s statistics for internet use in most other African countries aren’t any rosier than those of Kenya.
According to the ITU 2006 statistics, about 36% of the population of Seychelles use the internet followed by 19.9% and 19% for Morocco and Sao Tome and Principe, respectively. Mauritius, Tunisia and South Africa follow behind at 14%, 12% and 11%, in that order. Then come Sudan at 9%, Zimbabwe at 8%, and Benin and Egypt tie at 7% each. In such a scenario, how do airlines hope to popularise their online ticket booking?
Internet access apart, reports Tourism-Review.Com, most airline websites do not cater for the disabled. Quoting AbilityNet, a disability charity which devotes itself to improving the online facilities available to the disabled people, most “airline websites do not meet the criteria set by AbilityNet, especially those with sites which do not allow for text to be enlarged and lack the so-called tool tips, which are spoken descriptions of pictures.”
“In a recent survey Easyjet”, Tourism-Review.Com reports, “British Airways and Monarch scored the highest from all the airlines involved. However, they only scored a maximum of 2 stars from the 5 available on the scale. The rest of the ten or so airline sites monitored scored a miserly 1 star.”
Saying that airlines shoot themselves in the foot by not accommodating people with disability, Tourism-Review.Com this could be corrected by “installing some relatively simple software in creating the tooltips, enabling visitors to enlarge text and restricting compulsory use of the mouse.”
Back to the travel agents who have been forced to charge for their service as airlines no longer pay them commission. “Remember that whilst you can look at the specific airline websites,” says Let’s Go Travel agency in Nairobi, “you only get the information on that airline; whereas we can give you all the options, the terms and conditions attached to the various airline tickets and booking classes, and some of the the pitfalls.”
As if tongue in cheek, Let’s Go Travel adds, “Some people have actually booked themselves to the wrong city (there is also London in Canada)! We can easily help with amendments, cancellations and processing of refunds – all a real headache online.”