Improved digital experiences on supplier websites could put the OTA model under strain as meta search is favoured for providing the market overview.
Frank Fiskers, president and chief executive of Scandic Hotels told last week’s Travel Distribution Summit in London that suppliers piled inventory into OTAs in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
“They provide overview and they could provide price comparison and they did provide a very good experience which we in the industry did not. We are getting there now providing a much better digital experience.
“Meta can give the overview of what’s available in the destination. In conjunction with suppliers getting better that will be a threat to the OTAs. What we have lacked as an industry is we cannot provide that overview.”
Hugo Burge, chief executive of Cheapflights parent Momondo Group, said he could see the virtues of both the OTA and meta models.
“What’s not so clear is this perceived convergence between OTA and meta. We are clear in meta remaining independent and not taking the bookings ourselves or facilitated bookings for OTAs.
“That could be perceived as narrowing the difference between the two but I think they are very distinct.
“I feel meta is growing at a faster rate than OTAs but that’s because they are smaller and came to the market later.
“Markets globally are growing incredibly fast, more consumer are staying in hotels and flying for the first time.
“The shift from offline to online here is a phase we are through but in a lot of markets that shift is just happening.”
Bryan Batista, head of global partnerships at Booking.com, said the markets most heavily skewed to offline are most interesting for the OTA in terms of growth.
He said China still had a long way to go in terms of offline to mobile transactions, while the Middle East and India were still very much online and with relatively weak local players.
Latin America is also considered to be ripe for growth.
“The strong local players are realising it’s no longer good enough to offer strong local content and inventory. Chinese travellers are ready to step outside the Chinese border,” Batista said.
China’s C Trip has been quick to partner with Booking.com specifically to cater for this more international mind-set, he added.
The advantage a large multinational player like Booking.com has is scale to offer good customer service levels, Batista claimed.
Burge said: “Local players have an initial advantage but global players seem to be the ones growing and taking new markets.
“There is an advantage to scale and being able to invest in a mobile smartphone platform but you need to work with local suppliers and payments solutions.”