It has been a frustrating conference season for me this year. I had to leave TRAVELtech early this year to rush to the side of a sick relative. Then I missed WebInTravel altogether because of a back injury. As well a missing out of a lot of schmoozing and boozing, I missed a chance to catch up with Martin Symes and others from the Singapore based meta-search company Wego (aka Bezurk). Martin is an online travel veteran with stints at Zuji/Travelocity, BA and American Airlines. He is also an entertaining presenter and dinner companion. Through Wego he is at the forefront of meta-search in Asia so an interesting person to hear from. Last week I had a chance to catch up with Martin and Wego Product Boss Ross Veitch by phone to hear the latest on Wego, meta-search and the Asian travel market.
Here is some of our exchange. [nb- I was not smart enough or well trained enough to include in my notes which of Ross or Martin answered my questions so in the below I have blurred them into one respondent]
BOOT: How’s business?
Wego: Great – steady growth in all the metrics we look at. Traffic is up 200% year on year and revenue about the same. The recession has been good for us as it has brought to us looking for distribution and has added to the price sensitivity of consumers. Move from Bezurk to Wego brand and new platform has also helped, especially with SEO traffic. [SEO] Now makes up 50% of our traffic so acquisition costs are low.
BOOT: I noticed you have a new feature of ranking hotels by popularity in the sort order. Does a meta-search company have to choose between being a price based search engine or being a a mechanism for recommending hotels to consumers?
Wego: See them as complementary. We have adopted the same philosophy toward UGC aggregation as we have to price aggregation. Have not tried to do it ourselves. For content it is critical to get a mass of reviews so have crawled hundreds of different review sites and then broken down the content, created indexes and built a snapshot of what people are saying. The volume of hotel reviews for larger properties is overwhelming. We can help customers cut through the reviews and the price.
BOOT: The theory was that the recession/GFC would drive down CPM rates and drive up CPC rates as advertisers shifted their marketing budgets from display advertising to direct response. Is this true? What have you seen?
Wego: Hard to say as our display business is coming off such a low base. June on June we have had a 600% growth in display revenue – again a low base. Also for most of our customers we are selling integrated packages for display and direct response [clicks - BOOT]. An example is Hotel Spotlight [three hotels at top of search– BOOT] which is generating a dramatic increase in click through rates to not only the spotlight itself but organic listing further down the sort. Now trialling the hotel inserting their twitter feed messages into the Hotel Spotlight. Giving hotel a chance to put fresh content into the promo spot [now available in Singapore and coming elsewhere soon – BOOT]
Wego: Some days India is our biggest source market for traffic. Though the click through rates are lower than other markets. Even so we think that it has more potential as a market than Chian. Very hard to monetise traffic from China. Our Chinese language sites are launched we have a few more languages planned
BOOT: ADR declines are hurting everyone. You are able to see prices from so many different angles. Where do you think ADR is going next year?
Wego: Agree, we saw big declines in ADR this year. Can’t see too much continued downside next year without another recessionary event. We hope to see rates stabilise and then we can get into targeting of deals. We are having discussions with suppliers about targeting to different user groups. This is the exciting next step for us and OTAs.
BOOT (to Martin): Final question about conferences and presentations. Twitter and instant blogging are now an unstoppable feature of presentations at conferences. How has it changed the way you present and prepare?
Wego/Martin: With presenting you now have to be aware that things will be taken out of context, re-twitted and sent around in seconds.
PS – Apologies again to Ross and Martin for (other than the last question) losing track of who was answering which question. Chances are that the answers I have above are a merger of comments from both of them
PS 2 – disclosure: Back in 2007 I did some consulting work for Wego