The days of straight forward travel booking on either an OTA or supplier site are rapidly coming to an end. The latest PhoCusWright report on Online Traffic and Conversion deals in great detail with this ever more complex landscape of what is also called the pre-booking phase. While the booking focused sites still dominate the market in terms of visitor traffic, a growing number of their present customers are expecting to be better served in their search for the most suitable trip options. The resulting gap between higher customer expectations and service provider functionality offered, needs to be addressed. It already is the focus of attention by a number of new market entrants attempting to close that gap. These developments are a further sign of the steady evolution of the travel industry and the move to the Web for more complex tasks that in the past were handled offline.
Recent surveys have shown increasing customer disappointment with the overall experience major online travel sites are offering. Metasearch sites like Kayak, SideStep and Mobissimo have been around for a while now and attract a steady number of users looking to save time by using them but at far lower levels than the major booking sites. Another category entering the fray are the review sites, dominated by TripAdvisor and lead generators like Travelzoo. Then there are the perennial also ran destination sites who bring up the rear in terms of traffic numbers despite many having been around for close to ten years, longer than any of the other nontransactional sites. The market is getting even more crowded with the growing number of trip planners like Uptake, TravelMuse, Tripbase and more, all addressing the need for improved planning, research and shopping.
With most trips starting with a search, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is, of course, Google. The pervasive ‘reading of the tea leaves’ about their moves into travel - usually denied - occupies many industry minds. Recent developments like City Tours, based on the ubiquitous Google maps, are an indication of their continued engagement in travel. The growth in traffic achieved by Bing must also occupy Google’s minds and with Bing Travel, the Redmond giant has a very competitive play in the travel search category. What the impact of all this will be on the specialist travel metasearch companies is still unclear but it doesn’t take too wild an imagination to speculate about a possible acquisition or two and further consolidation down the road. What is clear in all this, is that travel consumers will soon be better served in their efforts to make the search - plan - shop - buy - share experience an enjoyable rather than a frustrating one.