Please explain “Booking fees”

I’ve been an online citizen since 1996. I’ve seen the WWW grow from being a repository of information to an essential tool for everyday living. Internet banking, buying, selling, making hotel reservations, booking various types of tickets. Yup, can’t live without it now.

So we’ve come a long way and I’ve gone along with all these developments; they seemed like natural progressions. But something stopped making sense last week – booking fees. It’s odd ‘cos I’ve always paid that fee. I think it’s my current state of zero income and the $3 fee. It’s not a lot but I suddenly wondered why I had to pay it – $3 could buy me lunch.

I looked on the Sistic website for an explanation and couldn’t find one in their FAQ section. Next best stop – Golden Village ‘cos they charge a fee too. Here’s what they say:

“A $1 booking fee per transaction applies to all… This fee covers the administration, development and maintenance required to provide this convenient service to our customers.”

It’s an industry-standard reply that no one really looks at or thinks about these days, I reckon. And hence, venues, ticketing agents, cinema operators have all been able to get away with this great money-spinner.

In days of yore, when we migrated from paper to computerised ticketing, there was an increase in ticket prices as a matter of operational cost. Booking fees were not added. Is this because, based on GV’s explanation, a computerised system was not to the benefit of the customers but a needed upgrade for the operator? OK, let’s buy that for now. So for the customer, there were no changes. He still had to go to the box office to buy a ticket.

With the advent of phone reservations, everything changed, and this is when booking fees were introduced. For the convenience of the customer, venues, ticketing agents, etc (is there a collective word for this group??) had to hire extra staff to man the telephones. OK, I’ll accept that.

Then came the Internet and e-commerce. If this was say…1999, I probably wouldn’t be complaining. E-commerce was new, not many companies had figured it out, there weren’t many web developers who could integrate a payment gateway, banks weren’t on the bandwagon, customers were few and weary.

But this is not 1999. It’s 2010!! And now, I’m furious a booking fee still exists. An e-sales channel is essential to almost any business today. I would bet my entire life savings that none of these organisations would dare remove it now. Yes, it is to the customer’s convenience, but it is also a huge source of income for operators. This was acknowledged by GV. In 2007!!!

“Golden Village takes pride in serving our customers in every way possible and we know that they use the internet both as a key information source and as a ticket booking channel…” says Mr. Kenneth Tan, Managing Director of Golden Village Singapore (Press release, http://www.gv.com.sg, 2007)

The front and back end have long been integrated, administration and maintenance are almost negligible, and if Sistic’s system is anything to go by, the customer’s booking gateway is almost identical to the staff’s. Therefore, there really isn’t a separate system to maintain or develop. The increasing cost of a cinema/concert ticket should’ve covered all the above.

And we all know this – Internet bookings increases revenues and cuts operational costs. Once you’ve confirmed and made a purchase, the dollars are already earned. Operators can hire less staff, and sell tickets a lot faster, finite as it is.

If these organizations still believe that a booking fee is justifiable, then I’d like to hear them explain how the travel industry has been able to embrace this technology and even offer discounts for using the Internet. And don’t say it’s because they no longer have to use agents. That’s illogical. I could walk into Hyatt and get a room but if I booked it online, I could’ve gotten a discount.

So Dear Golden Village, Sistic, Ticketmaster, and all applicable organisations,

Kindly tell me why we still need to pay a booking fee. You know that I’m not the first customer to complain and this has been a long running issue. I..no, the Public deserves a good explanation and you need to do right by your customers. Right now.

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