Guest Post: Michael O’Leary is smart to call for airline websites to show competitor’s fares

Guest Post: Michael O’Leary is smart to call for airline websites to show competitor’s fares

By Damon Tassone, chief revenue officer of Intent Media

I highly recommend reading Michael O’Leary’s latest comments on how big airlines should collaborate to offer price comparison on their websites with the objective of cutting out both metasearch and OTAs. I found his thoughts in equal parts provocative and insightful.

Provocative, in that he asserts metasearch, and likely by extension, online travel agencies (OTAs), provide no value. We don’t agree – both metasearch and OTAs serve travel shoppers in meaningful and unique ways.

Insightful, in that he also asserts it is smart for airlines to show their competitor’s fares on their sites. On this point he’s absolutely right.

What may surprise many readers is that he’s not the first to have this idea, and in many ways he’s referencing a trend that is already well underway and has gained significant momentum in the last few years.

The lines are blurring between online “commerce” companies (the OTAs and supplier sites where transaction happen) and “search” companies (the search engines and metasearch sites where consumer discovery happens).

It seems like news articles appear daily about TripAdvisor or Google’s hotel booking functionality. Traditional “search” entities are moving aggressively into the transaction phase of travel shopping.

At the other end of the spectrum, major OTAs are increasingly providing comparison shopping and metasearch capabilities on their sites, offering up direct links to their competitors, and becoming more like search engines. Full disclosure: powering and enabling this is Intent Media’s business, and we’re privileged to work with many of the world’s largest OTAs.

This isn’t a theoretical idea, it is a trend that is happening in the market today. Why? There are a number of reasons, but fundamentally it comes back to the simple fact that this is what consumers want.

They don’t want sites that either just let them transact or sites that just let them discover and compare prices – they want sites that let them do both. And doing both is, ultimately, smart business.

Smart business because you provide a better user experience and demonstrate transparency to the consumer – which builds trust and long-term loyalty. And smart business because you open a significant new revenue stream, enabling you to stay ahead of the pack in customer acquisition and ongoing product investment.

So, it makes a lot of sense for Ryanair to offer consumers the ability to shop its competitors products directly on its site.

Think about the consumer who searches for a Ryanair flight and finds it is sold out. Or the consumer who goes to Ryanair with a route in mind and finds that Ryanair doesn’t serve those cities or those airports. Or the consumer who always cross-shops multiple sites before booking.

All of those are real use cases that happen thousands of times each day on and many of its competitors’ sites. And what do consumers do in those situations? They usually go back to Google, type in ‘cheap flights to X,’ and then go to the next site in the search results.

There’s a much smarter and more efficient way to serve consumers than what’s happening today, and Michael O’Leary has put his finger on it.

He’s not setting a trap for his competitors here, nor proposing an idea which he says is good for consumers but really isn’t – this is straight-up a smart idea where, executed well, everyone wins.

The challenge he’ll face is brokering the deals and making this work directly with his biggest competitors.

I’m not at all surprised if he hasn’t heard back from his competitors yet on his offer. In our experience, a trusted, neutral third party who balances the needs of all the players and ensures a fair marketplace is going to be necessary to get this off the ground.

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