How metasearch is shifting the balance of power

Metasearch as a channel is not only growing, it is improving but what does this mean for the whole travel ecosystem? Ritesh Gupta investigates

“Meta’s already come a long way – but we’ve yet to reach the tipping point of consumers fully understanding (and valuing) the insights of this exciting and dynamic sector,” says Pia Vemmelund, managing director, momondo.

According to Vemmelund, who will be joining EyeforTravel for a free webinar this Wednesday (Feb 12) “we’re going to see further mass adoption across new geographies – and explosive growth”.  This will drive further consoli­dation in the metasearch sector in the coming months and years, with smaller players finding bigger bed-fellows.

Ahead of the webinar on Wednesday we identify a few key trends that are making metasearch a forces to be reckoned with.

1. Metasearch aims to be relevant, quick and accurate and…cost effective

The ability of  metasearch engines to deliver a relevant offering to trip planners is strengthening and today they are much better placed to offer deals based on individual preferences. Helped along by strategic alliances signed in the last 24 months, metasearch players have focused on ensuring that search technology renders results quickly and accurately, in an easy-to-use display. This has been achieved by working closely with travel suppliers and OTA partners to improve the booking experience. In addition, firms have been redesigning their website for every possible screen to ensure that the experience is optimised across all devices. A key trend in metasearch has been a focus on the honest price and a fair user experience (ie. no pop-ups, pop-unders, etc), says Max Kraynov, CEO, JetRadar.

Interestingly, however, 50% of all visitors still think they’re buying from a metasearch site, so one opportunity is that branded bookings could actually increase conversion rates

2. Personalisation is a mega differentiator

When it comes to product development in metasearch, there is a growing trend to personalise search results to offer users a more targeted result; a positive user experience is viewed as a key differentiator. “I think we’ll see greater divergence of those metasearches focusing on ‘pure’ search, and those seeking a blend with booking. This is a drastic change in the way meta-searches operate as a business, raising the question of independence,” says Vemmelund.

Going forward, guessing user intent and improving search results that offer an alternative option to a particular customer will be a focus, as will working out how to retain certain customers with, for example, notifications, bonuses and retargeting. As no person is the same, all this will differ from customer to customer. As such, gathering as much meaningful data about a customer as possible by merging of different data sources will be inevitable.

Needless to say, customer tracking via multiple channels is an ongoing challenge and big data can create a level of certainty that user’s session becomes uninterrupted across different devices. Here social integration, to ensure a high user experience across touchpoints, could play a role.

3. Semantic search is a key focus

Metasearch engines recognise that semantic search technology has the power to change the way travel is searched and consumed online, and they are actively working on this. They realise it’s about improving the accuracy of results by intelligently deciphering what people are actually looking for and the context within which they are looking for it. What works in favour of semantic search is that it gets to grips with a user’s intent, rather than aggregating results by a narrow keyword. From a user experience perspective, the general consensus, as shared by ixigo last year, is that instead of having to piece together different parts of the holiday in individual search boxes, it would be preferable to have just one search box into which you could type your request.

4. New ways to boost revenues

According to Kraynov, CEO, JetRadar there are a number of opportunities when it comes to revenue generation. These include:

·        Selling new products - airport transfers, insurance, physical goods [travel bags], tours & activities.

·        Cobranding with other verticals - partnerships with financial institutions for, say, co-branded credit cards.

·        Selling meta-metadata - statistics on queries, purchases, destinations, etc. “All metasearch players have toyed with this idea and some - including JetRadar - are at least supplying this info to its partners at cost or for free,” says Kraynov.

5. The balance of power is shifting back to the supplier

“I don’t see the end to it in sight,” says Kraynov. In other words, metas will continue to bypass OTAs by forming direct contracts with end suppliers.

There are several reasons why this makes sense:

·        Metasearch sites are implementing changes faster than most OTAs, so they'll be able to do more for the supplier in less time or at least do it cheaper

·        Metasearch sites are a cheaper channel for suppliers than the OTA channel. Use of meta will shift the balance of power back to the suppliers

·        The end user experience is better in a direct model

6. Meta and mobile go hand in hand

Mobile is always in your pocket which means more usage and with roaming charges coming down this could increase. To focus in on one opportunity, wearable technology offers a unique opportunity for flight/hotel metasearch sites to become pure travel metasearch services. In other words, they'd be able to assist with comparing prices for every travel product, not just flights/hotels/car rentals. This also include automatic use of discounts for travel experiences (an instant coupon when you visit a zoo, for instance). The number of mobile bookings will keep growing and it will be important to focus on experience. Indeed, mobile is a trend that goes beyond metasearch and increases in importance throughout the whole value chain.

Max Kraynov, CEO, JetRadar and Pia Vemmelund, managing director, momondo will be joining EyeforTravel for a free webinar on February 13 that will explore what the growth of metasearch means to travel

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