If you think you need to sell seats or rooms to be a player in the online travel industry, think again! Travel research firm PhoCusWright found in a new survey that the online travel marketplace has evolved over the past few years to include a wide selection of non-transactional travel sites that serve as “pointers” to those online destinations were eager travelers can melt some plastic. But, the publication of regular content — at sites like Gadling, for example — is where many travel buyers are forming their relationships, leading to the possibility that the strongest online travel brands may not have any selling capabilities (or interests in developing them) at all.
For companies in the business of selling travel online, this opens a new range of considerations, in which relationships with non-transactional content providers have to be managed carefully. After all, the seller wants to cultivate the customer’s loyalty but also wants to ensure a steady stream of traffic from complementary businesses. “Metasearch” sites, like Kayak, which scour several online travel sales sites, are also playing an increasingly important role in the online travel dynamic.
“Before consumers ever hit the ‘book now’ button, they undergo a whole process of gathering, qualifying and comparing travel options,” says Carroll Rheem, director, research at PhoCusWright. “Both metasearch and review sites are designed to help consumers in this often cumbersome decision-making process. Therefore, it is not surprising that the popularity of these types of Web sites has grown significantly over the past several years.”
As of the end of June this year, Kayak was the top met search site on the web, with close to 7 million monthly unique visitors. Rheem observes that Kayak is among “the most exciting brands in the travel space today.” She notes, “We wanted to take a closer look at which elements of their content and functionality consumers are gravitating toward and what impact they have on booking behavior.”
Markets tend to change during periods of upheaval, so look for the next few years to yield a completely different landscape online. The online travel agencies and other sellers will probably become spots for trigger-pullers only, with the relationship being owned further up the travel information supply chain. Travel buyers will form their relationships with sources of information, not sources of inventory.