The move to facilitated booking price comparison sites risks undermining the “magic” of metasearch, the boss of Cheapflights parent Momondo has warned.
Hugo Burge, chief executive of Momondo Group, told this week’s Phocuswright Europe conference in Dublin that trust and independence were key for meta sites.
In a debate on the sector, Skyscanner’s chief commercial officer claimed sites like KAYAK and Google were blurring the boundaries between meta and OTAs and causing consumers confusion.
“Clearly consumers are very, very confused as to what meta is trying to do. Is it trying to morph into OTA?“Partly that confusion is down to the way Google Flight Search and KAYAK are trying to do this. It looks like a KAYAK ticket you are booking, and Google is very similar. It’s clearly creating confusion.”
Burge said: “Assisted booking is in danger of undermining the magic about meta; it’s neutrality, trust and independence.
“Trust is rare in travel. People are shopping around. You have to tread very cautiously. It [assisted booking] was hailed as a panacea in mobile. The danger is it undermines what meta stands for.”
Skivington said, done well, assisted booking offered a richer shopping experience and should be part of Skyscanner’s clients’ first party distribution strategy.
He said that given a choice its users opt to book with Skyscanner 80% of the time and with the partner 20% of the time. “That says something,” he added.
“Under no circumstances are we trying to become a transactional site or become a travel agency. What we are trying to do from a consumer perspective is remove a lot of friction,” Skivington said.
Trivago managing director Johannes Thomas said the Expedia-owned hotel price comparison site was also not trying to become an OTA.
“We are helping travel become smarter and the experience more pleasurable,” he said.
“We are trying to support businesses that do not have money to invest in technology to give them competitive products so they can compete in our marketplace against the big players.”
Thomas said Trivago has experimented with assisted bookings in its home German market and English speaking markets with “mixed results”.
“We want to remain an independent, trusted and unbiased source of information for hotel and prices.
“Our facilitated booking is literally an overlay. It really looks like you’re booking on the advertisers’ site.
We are not a booking site. We want to make that clear for the user.
Jan Valentin, KAYAK Europe managing director, said its focus was on breaking down the verticals within travel and becoming making all components of a trip available.
“We are investing a lot of resource in Trips [KAYAK’s personal travel assistant]. We feel we have strength there and we can win in that space.
“Trips’ core vision is making everything accessible in destination, before and after booking, and being the app in people’s hands.”