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Liberalisation, falling prices and shifting business models are among the drivers for growing competition in bus distribution. Pamela Whitby reports

Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. For companies innovating to take bus travel online, now is that time.

Here is why. Today millions, if not billions, of people travel by intercity or shuttle bus, a market that is worth €70bn worldwide and continues to experience two-digit growth, says to Johannes Thunert, founder and CMO of Distribusion, and the recent winner of EyeforTravel’s Start-Up & Innovation Awards in Europe. And yet, 90% of tickets are still booked offline.

Marc Hofmann, CEO and founder of Checkmybus, a metasearch that is working with Distribusion, agrees that this is an interesting time in the world of bus travel.

Among the trends worth noting are:

  1. Liberalisation: New markets are springing up. Germany and France are two examples but more are expected to follow

  2. Innovation, competition and transparency: Innovation is resulting in the modernisation of vehicles themselves, as well as better marketing strategies, pricing and availability and improved access to information. Markets which have been dominated by a few large companies today are challenged by aggressive new operators, information services and integrators

  3. The shift from offline to online: The share of online bookings is still small especially in big bus markets like Eastern Europe, Turkey and Latin America, and to some extent in the US

  4. Aggressive pricing and new business models: Fares are falling as new business models are adopted.  The Ryanair and EasyJet model of delivering low prices but maximum capacity is growing in popularity. Business models are changing too. For example, one trend, which is playing out strongly in Germany, is the separation of fleet and operations/marketing. This, says Hoffman, “allows rapid expansion and focus of company expertise on marketing (multichannel) and customer service”.

  5. Changing user behaviour: The growing popularity of alternative modes of transport has been well documented – peer-to-peer models like BlaBlaCar, Uber, Zipcar and so on.  And with growing pressure on the environment, and people’s pockets, the move away from individual car ownership looks set to continue.

One of the challenges in bus travel is that resellers – from OTA’s to affiliate websites and travel agents – have refrained from selling bus travel because they can’t get data from a single source. So the number 1 agency in Germany, for example, which is selling 21,000 tickets a month still has to go to every operator directly to book those, explains Distribusion’s Thunert.

The reason is that unlike in aviation, where GDSs (global distribution systems) bring inventory to online resellers and offline operations alike, and body’s like IATA do clearance, in the bus industry there is nothing like it.

Distribusion aims to fill this gap by targeting the entire value chain.  Not only is it aggregating, standardising and distributing intercity and long-distance bus data to resellers, it’s also helping withexecution, payment and settlement between different partners.

So as Tim Hentschel co-founder CEO of Hotelplanner, and one of the brain’s behind EyeforTravel’s yearly Start up & Innovation Awards, puts it: “The innovation curve in our business [of travel] is anything but dead.”

Certainly the market for bus travel is still wide open and there is money to be made. In a world of increasingly connected travellers, innovators in this space have everything to gain from making bus travel as easily bookable as flights.

More on Nida Rooms, runner up in EyeforTravel’s awards and an innovator in South East Asia’s budget hotel space, in the coming weeks

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