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For many consumers, budget travel doesn’t stretch to flights, so what are the options for researching cheaper travel options online. Mariam Sharp and Pamela Whitby take a look

In the 1987 movie - Planes trains & automobiles - Steve Martin’s character Neal Page says: ‘When you’re telling these little stories, here’s an idea: Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener’.

So here is the point: budget travellers need a different kind of metasearch. 

While an online search for cheap travel will quickly bring up options for flights and hotels, this isn’t usually what low budget travellers are seeking. Trains and buses are difficult to book, especially outside the country a traveller aims to visit.

Add to this the fact that most journeys need to be booked in advance - usually three weeks before travelling for the best deals – and it’s challenging for low budget travellers to find the right information. 

Globally train services and the bus industry operate in a fragmented market, and until recently finding options on routes has been difficult.

There does seem to be a gap in the market and increasingly startups in Europe are linking up different service providers through metasearch. All, it seems, part of a growing trend towards multimodal travel websites that provide planning for a door-to-door itinerary with several transportation modes such as car, train, bus, and plane.

Matteo Cellini, Head of Search at Rome-based metasearch Venere believes that going forward we could start to see existing meta players facilitating the building of such packages. He could have a point.

Already, one of the biggest players – Skyscanner – is seeing success with flights, hotels and cars. But Nikhil Gupta, Skyscanner, Director of Hotels says going forward the aim is provide the lowest cost, most relevant end-to-end travel service, that could involve all areas of travel - that could include multimodal packages. After all, Skyscanner has already dipped its toe in the water with bus travel in India.

The multimodal start up scene

Multimodal travel is already happening in a limited fashion with a growing number startups providing metasearch to these segments.

Let’s take a look at a few.

Newest on the block is Gopili, the recently launched European arm of French ticketing startup KelBillet. A search engine that enables users to find the best travel rates in one click for more than 80,000 journey options, Gopili starts its Western European expansion in the UK.

“The UK market is dynamic, fully grown and travellers have more and more options to travel. But this makes it challenging, even confusing to find the best rate, especially as long-distance coach services and new travel alternatives, like ride share, are coming of age,” says Rodolphe Morfoise-Gauthier, Gopili’s UK Country Manager.

By presenting all of the data in one search, Gopili enables a clear overview of the options and to simplify the process. ‘Simplicity’ is something that Cellini sees as increasingly important in the area of search.

What Gopili does is to compare all transportation modes including train, rideshare, coach and plane. Just five years ago, travellers used their personal car, the train or low cost airline companies for their domestic journeys, says Morfoise-Gauthier. But now, thanks to rapid deregulation across Europe, coupled with fast internet connections and the rise of mobile, they have more choice. Gopili.co.uk is partnering with Blablacar for carpooling but will also provide other transport options from brands including National Express, Eurolines, ebookers and Loco2. A move into other countries in Western Europe is planned in the course of 2015.

Loco2 is another meta on a mission but it’s core business, to date, is trains. It went live in November 2013 with the goal of ‘making a train booking as simple as booking a flight’. Co-founders Kate Andrews and her brother Jamie grew up with environmentalist parents which led to their idea ‘to start a global, multimodal company that could bypass the need to fly anywhere in the world’. Last month the train meta announced a partnership with Rome2rio, another player offering multimodal trip offerings and today offers coverage in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark.

Wanderio, an Italian startup that formed in 2012, was inspired by the fact that one of the co-founders Disheng Qiu, a student based in Rome at the time, wanted to have access to cheaper travel options to visit his girlfriend in Amsterdam. Wanderio also provides multimodal travel options including planes, trains, shuttles, taxis and private transfers. Its business model is referral fees, with a core function being to help people book their ground transportation to and from the airport or train station.

“Those are services without much exposure on the internet so they’re willing to pay high referral fees,” says Wanderio CTO Luca Rossi. On flights it’s just a tiny 1%, for trains it’s 5% to 7%, but on ground transportation it can be as high as 10% or 15%.

It’s still early days, with multimodal players seeing fairly limited success to date, but this is definitely a space to watch.

Join us at the Travel Distribution Summit, Europe which takes place in London (May 6-7) to hear more from Matteo Cellini, Head of Search at Rome-based metasearch, Venere and Nikhil Gupta, Skyscanner, Director of Hotels

TDS Europe 2015

May 2015, London

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