Playing meta search at its own game?

The industry has sat back and let the meta search engines create another layer, steal volumes of traffic and drive prices down. But it seems there could be another way.

Depending on the figures you go by, we know that consumers are looking at least four sites before making a purchase decision.

We also know that the majority of shoppers begin their travel research online. Combining these two factors with the threat of a downturn in the economy could drive consumers increasingly to price-comparison sites as they seek out the cheapest deal.

If we also assume that time is a factor in driving people to meta search engines, then what would happen if OTAs offered a meta search facility within their sites and allowed themselves to be directly compared with competitors?

This rather far-fetched cat of a concept was thrown among the pigeons at Travolution’s recent advisory board meeting by Kristie Goshow, group director e-business and customer development for luxury hotel chain Jumeirah.

Surprisingly, the idea wasn’t immediately shot down by her counterparts around the table, including representatives from online giants and Expedia.

On the one hand senior figures claim they saw no future for the meta search business model in its current form (see earlier article), while on the other hand most admitted for consumers there was some value in it, perceived or real.

“People are going to jump from one site to another anyway, so maybe providing that transparency would build loyalty. It’s bringing in an element of what meta search is doing,” says Goshow.

Expedia EMEA marketing director Patrik Oqvist is quick to point out that such a move would increase commoditisation, which would be counter-productive to what OTAs are trying to do.

Meanwhile, chief operating officer Ed Kamm says: “We would be open to it if it is of benefit to consumers.

“We’re testing it out to see if consumers see value in it and whether partners value it.”

No more on this yet, but it isn’t stretching the imagination too far to think an online giant such as might stick a toe in the water.

This is an OTA that has already put flight-comparison technology, developed by Amadeus, to good use.

However, it does seem ironic that comparison technology, based on price or something else, isn’t really anything new. After all, the traditional bricks-and-mortar industry has been using systems to simultaneously search for tour operator packages for decades. Are we coming full circle?

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