Tim Frankcom – Supplying a multiple choice service

The rapidly growing phenomenon of travel search companies have been given many labels, such as screen-scrapers, brokers, travel aggregators, price comparators and meta-search engines. But while some terms have been wholly inaccurately applied, others simply reflect one aspect of this new approach. Yahoo Travel Europe general manager Tim Frankcom explains.

What is travel search?
Travel search provides an aggregation service: it brings together offers from the major travel suppliers and, in some cases, online travel agents to deliver a comprehensive choice of services to the user. It saves time for the user by searching multiple sites simultaneously and returning relevant results. From the results page a user is able to make a selection based on personal criteria. Having found a suitable offer, the user then clicks on it and is redirected automatically to the advertising website to complete the booking.

How can I work with a travel search company?
The means by which travel search companies work may differ. Some do use screen-scraping, hence the phrase ‘screen-scrapers’, but others, including Yahoo! Travel, prefer to work directly with partners through an XML feed, allowing stable integration to control the search partner’s access to your website. Results are also returned faster as it is a separate resource from your website.

Isn’t this just price comparison?
Not necessarily, this assumes that results are displayed in price order and secondly that the user is solely interested in price. While savings are a key lure in search marketing and terms such as ‘cheap flights’ are in high demand, when it actually comes to choosing a flight, a number of other factors come into play: departure time, airport, airline reputation and frequent flyer membership. The number of influences on holiday purchases is even greater – type of accommodation, location, accommodation rating, type of holiday. For this reason Yahoo! Travel, for example, has developed a filtering system for holiday searching which enables the user to refine their search based on the criteria which matter most. Interestingly, price is rarely the first criteria selected to refine the results.

Is it free to work with a travel search company?
The principal business models used in travel search are ‘cost per click’ and ‘cost per acquisition’. A limited number, including Yahoo! Travel, offer a ‘cost-per-call’ model too. With this in mind, the goal of travel search is to give the user all the information they need, so they are ready to buy when they leave the site to make the booking with the travel supplier. 

So why should I work with a travel search company?
The strength of travel search is in generating targeted traffic and should therefore be considered as a highly cost-effective and critical element of a marketing mix, which should also include keyword buying, and display media. Evidence from a study conducted by Yahoo! in the US and Harris Direct proves that by aligning these three elements advertisers can reinforce both the brand and the conversion rates.


5 TIPS when working with Travel Search

1. Ensure that your offers are tracked: A third-party tracking tool, should be used. Clicks or leads, total bookings, value of each sale and even the destination of each booking should be available to you. If you are paying a CPC for each user you can quickly calculate return on investment by dividing total ad spend by the number of bookings.

2. Ensure all your offers deep-link: Sounds hard but in reality it is easy to do and a must. Deep-linking means that when a user clicks through to your site they arrive at the page the offer they clicked on relates to, instead of arriving at your homepage or a search engine page.

3. Product Placement: As in the traditional world, product placement is key. Not all travel search companies return results based on price order, so your products need to be best placed in order to maximise clicks.

4. Display media remains important: A customer viewing a display advertisement can: increase the number of relevant searches; the number of clicks on results; and enhance brand recognition.

5. Set up an XML feed: Don’t rely on screen scraping. Create a feed that accurately illustrates your offer. A hotel feed should contain an image, a hotel description and an accurate price based on the date selected by the end user.

Tim Frankcom is a member of the Travolution board and general manager of Yahoo! Travel Europe

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