Ed Whiting – Let the battle commence

Many travel companies are at a stage where they are aiming to move their online propositions to the next level. At Comtec, we know this from our experience with customers, many of whom still view e-commerce as offering significant scope for growth and improved profitability.

This is also true beyond the travel sector. In the wider e-commerce world, generic platforms that, to date, have achieved minimal travel penetration power some of the major global online brands. Generic e-commerce platforms include Comergent, Escalate Retail, ATG, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

These suppliers have developed some standard, generic, e-commerce functions that can be provided in a cost-effective way following the one-to-many model and, as a result, have achieved wide, global deployment of their services.

Therefore, it’s interesting to consider why these generic platforms have not yet penetrated the travel sector significantly. Is it because travel is seen as less attractive than other online sectors or perhaps that online travel is seen as too niche and sector-specific for major players to effectively compete?

Or maybe it’s because travel companies just prefer the specialist knowledge and experience offered by dedicated travel e-commerce suppliers. These specialist e-commerce suppliers include Comtec, Traveltek, Open Jaw, CSI Media, Anite Travel, eTravel and In-House (custom-built platform, eg. Expedia).

Of course, the dedicated travel e-commerce solutions offer different combinations of features. However, they do all offer critical travel-specific capabilities that have been developed over time, including data normalisation, discounting, biasing rules, calendar results and pricing rules, to name a few.

One of the major differences between these suppliers is the level of support for multiple travel types – eg. flights, packages, accommodation, airport car parking – both from external and internal sources.

These travel e-commerce specialists are also powering many more travel companies than generic suppliers today, and therefore they’re continually evolving their platform based on the need to meet the changing requirements of the travel consumer. For the generic suppliers, it’s therefore not just a case of matching the travel specific functionality offered by the specialists. They also need to commit to ongoing development of their proposition to meet the needs of a fast-moving industry.

However, I do believe the generic platform providers offer more advanced e-commerce-specific functionality in value-added areas such as customer segmentation and personalisation. And some of this functionality is particularly interesting to larger travel companies now looking to take their e-commerce proposition to the next level.

It’s therefore likely that, for travel companies operating higher-end websites, we’ll see more integration of travel specific and generic platforms – to create a new e-commerce proposition that leverages the best of both travel-specific and generic e-commerce platforms.

Unfortunately, of course, this approach will prove cost-prohibitive to some, who will increasingly need to look for other ways to compete with those who head down this path.

By the way, I’ve heard some viewpoints from within the industry that the generic platforms already do everything the travel industry needs. Everything is possible, however, but I believe that the cost of adapting a generic platform to incorporate all the functions available via a specialist travel platform will be too great in the near term.

Ed Whiting is e-commerce director at Comtec (Europe)

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