Do search aggregators in the travel industry give consumers what they really want?
October 20, 2015 by Sarah Hughes
A recent article by Tnooz reported that Google and TripAdvisor are making their top three hotel search results even more ‘precious’. Both search engines will be using a spotlight to highlight the first three or four results, with the remaining results being cast into something of a greyed-out abyss.
This move aims to make travel research more incisive and less time consuming for busy consumers, while raising the competition stakes for those in the hospitality industry. Good news for travellers everywhere you might think?
Well – while these developments from Google and TripAdvisor appear to place more power in the hands of online users, they also prompt us to ask deeper questions about the ‘research-decision-experience journey’ – to borrow a phrase from Skift.com. Are travel consumers really getting what they want, or are they just getting what they’re told they want?
It’s fair to say that search aggregators have transformed online commerce over the last few years. Since it was first developed almost twenty years ago at Colorado State University, the concept of metasearch has changed the way consumers and businesses interact online across all the major industries. By channelling search results data from a range of engines into a simple ranking system, metasearch appears to do the leg work for the consumer by handily syphoning off all of those who are not worthy.
The benefits of this triage system is self-evident – data is gathered, formatted and presented in an easily digestible dish with a ready to view star rating. It’s quick, clean, sterile and increasingly devoid of all human personality, enjoyment or charm. Oh.
Metasearch makes the decisions that users used to. While this might be appropriate for some commodities – food, clothes, cars, household goods, beauty products – the travel industry is a little different. After all, what’s being sold isn’t an object, but an experience – and the research and booking journey needs to reflect this. Would-be travellers are making decisions about a purchase that is usually an emotionally significant one – whether it’s a weekend break away with a friend, a honeymoon or a holiday of a lifetime. A travel experience is a personal event that is rarely rushed into on impulse. It’s something you can’t try before you buy or return because it’s faulty. Basically, you want to get it right.
What do users want?
So what do users want when researching travel? Metasearches for travellers major on availability and price, shunting these listings to the top rankings with very little regard for the personal preference of the user or the total package offered by the hotel – and there’s the rub. Consumers are increasingly craving more vibrant and detailed content – information and inspiration over and above prices and availability.
Travellers want content to be contextualised. If I stay in this beautiful remote hotel, what activities can I do? Are there any nearby restaurants that cook with local produce? Are there facilities for young children? Travel material has to be relevant, informed and personal. It needs to be rich (plenty of it), dynamic (able to change and evolve) and, crucially, it has to be able to adapt to a range of different people with unique requirements.
When it comes to booking a hotel, our research tells us that a top priority for consumers is indeed researching its locality. Our technology is built to enable this, by arming the user with vibrant real-time content that can help them make informed decisions about hotels or locations before they commit to a booking – all by exploring the locality digitally without the need for additional searches.
Our objective is to bring destination websites (hotels and properties, tourist boards, resorts) to life with rich, attractive, dynamic and usable content, enabling prospective visitors to accurately visualise a future ‘experience’ before committing. Users want to feel empowered in their quest for information. Indeed, studies in 2014 showed that the majority of users now prefer to book directly via airlines and hotels rather than rely on online travel agencies (OTA’s).
These were interesting findings –
- 41% of users had booked digitally using an airline website or app, vs. 26% who had turned to an OTA.
- For hotel bookings – 34% reported using a hotel website or app to make accommodation booking, compared with 25% who booked through an OTA.
What does this tell us? That consumers are more interested in travel brands than they are in having information pre-filtered according to a narrow set of perceived needs.
It’s widely acknowledged that there is a lack of consumer loyalty in the travel industry. Some may claim that this is a consequence of consumers’ short attention spans, but it’s pointless to blame our digital age for everything that’s distinctive about millennials or digital adopters. It’s time the travel sector stopped looking for excuses and time for all of us in the industry to take a closer look at our performance and our priorities.
Consumer loyalty is scarce amongst travellers because the ‘research-decision-experience journey’ is currently incredibly fragmented when it comes to content and context. Yes, metasearch is convenient in some cases, but it is also limited and unable to cater for what is usually an emotional experience. It’s time the hospitality industry listened to what travellers want.
The research and booking process cannot be entirely separated from the travelling experience itself – and users will naturally swerve in the direction that offers the greatest inspiration and richness of content. In today’s climate of metasearch saturation, travellers want more. It’s up to all of us in the travel industry to uncover our ears and listen.
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