EBay ‘on track’ to boost travel category in UK

Online auctioneer Ebay set tongues wagging recently when it announced plans to bid for a slice of the UK’s estimated £7 billion online travel market, with a focus on sales of short breaks and hotels.

But the news was not really all that new – eBay entered the online travel space in the US in 2002 with the creation of eBay Travel, which it launched in conjunction with Priceline.com.

That same year, eBay appealed to high-street retailers to distribute their distressed packaged inventory on the site. EBay then unveiled a scheme to allow customers to use their airline miles and points as currency to purchase items from the site.

Early numbers suggest eBay Travel should have been a raging success. In 2001, an eBay research study concluded 42% of its 55 million customers made travel-related purchases online, worth $8 billion, or roughly 40% of the then value of the US online market.

But to date, eBay Travel has achieved only marginal success – except in certain European countries such as Germany, where it lists thousands of holidays, versus a few hundred in the UK.

EBay senior travel category manager Karim Lankarany said the company is now on track to beef up its travel portfolio here, though, for now, it is not planning to sell flights or sophisticated packaged holiday products.

While eBay is not straying far from its original travel strategy, it is paying closer attention to current consumer trends in the UK, namely the ever-increasing popularity of short breaks.

The company hopes high-street retailers such as Thomson, which began exporting holiday products to eBay in 2004, will welcome the opportunity to shift short-break inventory to the site.

EBay is also positioning itself as a channel to help hotels boost occupancy rates during off-peak periods.

A new partnership between Cultuzz, the primary distributor of accommodation content on eBay, and Leonardo Media will improve the look and feel of the site, luring consumers with slicker visuals and richer content.

EBay shoppers will also be able to list and read travel reviews within the site’s tamper-proof user-evaluation section.

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