Ed Whiting – Stirring the mixing pot

In the mass-market online space, tour operators, travel agents, meta-search engines, hotel/flight/car hire consolidators, travel social media and travel portals all have one common denominator. They all want to sell travel.

And, as they share this common business requirement, I believe that, in a couple of years, all these companies will be driven to using online technology with very similar functionality and services.

By this I predict that, in the not too distant future, every major travel website will have price search, reviews, trip planning, social networking, destination guides, partnership/distribution channels, along with social applications on Facebook, Google and MySpace.

Some actually do all of this already.

This functionality will arise as a result of each website owner trying to maximise its share of total customer spend by offering the broadest range of travel research, booking and information services.

And this will be achieved by converging services – that today are often offered by distinct independent websites – into single websites that are richer in content and functionality.

This trend towards convergence has already started with Expedia Inc, as usual, spearheading the change.

The TripAdvisor business is already starting to look like the Expedia business.

We’ve seen Expedia recently move to a media-based system with the recent InterContinental Hotels deal and it publicly quoted at the Travel Technology Initiative autumn conference that the Expedia Inc business is in the game of earning off eyeballs that visit its websites – either by making a transaction or via a referral to a travel principal.

Although functionality will be aligned, the business models of the various websites, however, will not necessarily all be the same. Some will accept the sale and own the customer, others will get a referral fee for passing on qualified customers or will own product exclusivity.
However, all will need integrated technology to meet their business needs and as a result the convergence of technology will mirror this business convergence.

We can see a number of examples of this convergence trend already emerging:

  • As mentioned, Expedia Inc stating that it wants to earn off the eyeballs in various models

  • Thomson.co.uk is making strives to follow the Expedia Inc model with its acquisition of Holidays Uncovered user-review sites

  • Several travel technology companies are providing single applications that support tour operator, travel agent, consolidator and e-commerce distribution functionality

  • Sidestep, Trip Advisor and STA Travel all have social applications on Facebook

The trend-setters are already well underway with technology convergence.

It will very interesting to now see which other companies react positively and quickly to the relentless change taking place within our industry, by repositioning their business once again to grasp new online opportunities.

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

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