21 September 2006

Travel Search Engines [Meta Search 2.0]

While travel remains the largest sector of online commerce, more an more users have moved from "looking" to "booking" on travel Web sites. The complexities of what’s on offer, as well as choices among search tools, continue to increase as well.

SEO, was a passion with me during the start of my professional career. Invariably without any second thoughts, I wanted to know more about the the developments in the Online Travel Search Engine space.

The trend is off late is being touted as the next best thing to happen to Travel Search. I happened to download this interesting report on Whether Travel Search Engines Deliver? (click the link to download) and thought that I might as well share it with you.

Although the report primarily evalutes consumer behaviour in the US with respect to Online Travel Websites and Online Search Engines - it is very evident that the rest of the world may not be too far in catching up.

Looking not so long ago, the now “old school” online travel sites (like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity) have to compete with meta-search sites that aim to gather travel fares and hotel rates faster than it takes us to browse and query all the best online travel sites from our bookmarks to find out the cheapest prices. They are like a google for travel. They basically search for travel deals, just like google searches for content.

This generation of new travel sites is quite competitive; One could think that once they will have integrated most of the major travel players, all those aggregators will probably create (competitiveness but also) confusion to the internet customers as they won’t know which aggregators to choose (Mobissimo, Sidestep, Kayak, Yahoo, Farechase etc.) and will have to price compare the aggregators!

Apparently according to Forrester - "Metasearch sites had sold themselves to the travel industry as a panacea for its distribution ills. But this initial version of metasearch — metasearch 1.0 — quickly built a bad reputation with the industry. Airlines, in particular, were on the receiving end of unfulfilled big promises and unexpected, unbudgeted costs — from escalating polling fees to increasing demands on marketing, IT, and legal."

The good news is that the travel search firms are maturing. Increased use of cached fare data, innovative technology like mashups and AJAX, and creative solutions to help travelers search for trips help make metasearch 2.0 a more viable distribution option. It's far from perfect: Airlines remain less than pleased with fare polling costs, and some travel search engines' business models frustrate industry executives.

Online travel search engines should keep their perspectives right on track and milk the advantage of metasearch 2.0, which will combine richer, perspective-based content aggregation with greater user control and more attractive, user intuitive displays.

These services exemplify what Travel 2.0 is all about: flexibility, transparency and consumer control and consumer being the king.

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