EyeforTravel North America 2017

October 2017, Las Vegas (USA)

Value matters and other insights from Skyscanner

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Skyscanner’s recent white paper is worth a read, and finds that travel firms should be looking to offer value and understand customer behaviour better to truly personalise the experience

Any savvy traveller, who is comfortable using metasearch to find the cheapest possible flight, will know that the third-party providers to surface first are sometimes unrecognisable names. And those that do a quick Google check on the ‘credibility’ of these providers, soon see that many other travellers have had the same concerns. It is also true that very often these third parties have hidden costs, and lack transparency about, for example, links to loyalty programmes, flight connections and add on fees.

This was likely one of the reasons behind Skyscanner taking steps towards ‘value-driven search’ by launching its so-called ‘Partner Quality’ feature. This aims, says its latest white paper, “to help travellers by displaying a rating for each supplier based entirely on travellers’ booking experience feedback from the past 91 days”.

In other words, Skyscanner is taking steps to get partners to price more accurately and transparently so that customers can take better decisions, and waste less time.

Needless to say, the white paper is keen to promote Skyscanner’s latest developments such as its mobile-friendly ‘Direct Booking’ solution, and it’s push towards personalisation and seamless transacting. There are, however, some broad takeaways, which we share in the context of research underway for EyeforTravel conferences and reports.

  • Value matters more than price

It is probably fair to say that given very similar options, a consumer will always choose the offer that comes in at a lower price. But there is a growing view, and one that we hear often at EyeforTravel, that brands that focus only on price are missing a trick. According to Faical Allou, Senior Commercial Manager, Skyscanner, who is quoted in the report, their “data has shown that users are willing to pay more to get more – even for something as simple as a better booking experience.”

data has shown that users are willing to pay more to get more – even for something as simple as a better booking experience

  • Travel solutions have not moved quickly enough

How you deliver value is difficult. Among the challenges are that legacy systems can’t keep up with what is needed; the low frequency nature of travel purchases means that there is a dearth of intelligent data; and airlines have tended to have a purely transactional relationship with customers. What comes up and again, is that consumers are still overwhelmed by the number of choices they face when searching for travel, and this needs to change.

  • Lessons from other sectors like entertainment or retail are valuable, but can’t be applied directly

Skyscanner looked to Netflix to understand how past viewing behaviour could influence and help to narrow down recommendations. There were certainly some lessons to be had but as Filip Filipov, VP Product Management, but in travel it’s not so easy. “Making recommendations in travel is more challenging than in verticals such as entertainment and say, groceries, where behaviours are replicable. Travel is vast and the cues are more complex – the fact that you went to Dubai five times might mean you want to go again, or exactly the opposite…”

  • Firms may be lagging shifts in consumer behaviour   

Distribution is on the verge of unprecedented change, the result of rapid shifts in technology and consumer behaviour. But it seems brands aren’t keeping up. So, warns, Skyscanner, instead of focusing purely on desktop and mobile solutions, travel brands should also be looking at bots and voice because this is where the consumer is today. Ahead of EyeforTravel’s event in Las Vegas we interviewed Microsoft travel and transport expert Stuart Greif who said travel companies should at least be looking into how voice applications might apply to their business.

Skyscanner data certainly underscores the shift underway. In 2016, 61% of all visits were made on mobile. However, since launching its innovative bot and voice platforms last year, it recently passed the milestone of over half a million unique users. On Facebook Messenger, Skype, Amazon Alexa and Cortana last year.

Just for the record, a study from Google by Northstar Research tells a similar story; it finds that over half of US teens and 41% of adults use voice search daily, and it continues to grow.

Elsewhere, transactions via mobile are also likely to surge as technologies like Touch ID and facial recognition become more widespread.

  • Direct booking may be the future, but it’s not what you think

Microsoft’s Greif (watch out for the in depth interview next week on EyeforTravel.com) uses the word ‘agnostic’ several times to describe Microsoft’s stance in a fast-changing landscape. And it seems Skyscanner agrees that the future of travel retail is going to be about more than a transaction with no one brand dominating the customer relationship. Says Skyscanner co-founder and CEO Gareth Williams: “Not only do you have apps and much smaller screen space, but you’re also now getting voice technologies: Google Home, Alexa and others, first party, third party. So really there is a blurred line, and a gradation of degree of first party and third party.”

Partnerships are going to be crucial, and Skyscanner, for one, has been working with partners like IATA on its new distribution capability (NDC).

Indeed the changing face of third party distribution is something that Shane Corstorphine, GM – Americas at Skyscanner, will be speaking about at EyeforTravel North America 2017.

  • Keeping it simple is key

Going forward, Richard Macdonald-Keen, Principal Engineer at Skyscanner, acknowledges that: “The key challenge is adding more capabilities without over-complicating the interface and negatively impacting usability, which can be greatly assisted by natural language and contextual understanding”.

He continues: “We believe travellers will start seeing the benefits of increased natural language and contextual understanding and personalisation in travel search in the short term and are actively working on bringing this to our customers.”

No doubt, Skyscanner is not the only one!

Join us for EyeforTravel, North America 2017 in Las Vegas (Oct 19-20) this year where Skyscanner’s Shane Corstorphine and Microsoft’s Stuart Greif will be speaking about the changing face of travel

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