Naren Shaam, founder of GoEuro, discusses how the online travel search market will embrace ‘localised’ search platforms
The travel industry has come a long way from the days of consumers traipsing down to their high street travel agent to consult holiday brochures and timetables.
The rapid adoption of online travel sites is largely explained by their intuitive and informative nature.
Put simply, travel search websites have quickly squared the circle of delivering a lot of information to a would-be traveller in an easily digestible manner. This has resulted in a key consumer desire being fulfilled – convenience.
Online travel used to be quick to adapt to innovation. Travel search rapidly evolved from simple price comparison, to online booking and meta-search. The question many industry figures are undoubtedly pondering is what is next for online travel?
In my opinion, the answer will be the wholesale adoption of SoMoLo – or in other words, the advent of travel search engines that are truly social, mobile and local. Within the industry there are already plenty of social sites which allow consumers to share tips and reviews.
There are also many mobile apps for booking last minute flights, renting spare rooms or car-pooling. However, while the ‘local’ element of travel search is catered for within destination search, local transport options are conspicuous by their absence.
The current domination of online travel agencies has trained many consumers to consider travel in terms of simply getting from one airport to another.
This is because early online travel was based on legacy airline systems. Thus airlines and airports have a much more prominent position in the industry.
Rail and coach travel sites in Europe are only now catching up in terms of online presence and capabilities. This has opened the door to platforms which compare and combine rail, coach and air travel on one site.
As a result, fully localised search is becoming a reality.
GoEuro currently searches rail, coach and air transport across the UK, Spain and Germany. This allows travellers to search to and from any location in these countries – not just airports – to find the cheapest prices and fastest travel times.
The localisation of travel search is not key to the future of online travel simply because the technology exists to allow it to happen. It is the future because it meets the needs of the ever more demanding consumer.
Other market segments, particularly retail, are already leveraging the GPS facility on smartphones to make offers which are dependent on location. The result is usually a much more personalised consumer experience.
Consequently, the general public is getting used to the idea that businesses, in any sector, know what they want and tailor the offering accordingly. If online travel is to keep pace with the increased expectations of consumers, localisation must be embraced.
Consumers are quickly going to become exasperated when a travel search website only offers them one mode of transport or does not fully plot the route from their front door to their hotel half a world away.
The online travel search industry has, in the past, thrived on embracing innovation and adapting to the expectations of consumers. Localised search equates to a more natural search. The more natural an online search experience becomes, the more consumers embrace it.
The online search platform that best leverages localisation and creates the most natural search experience will become the travel industry’s next leader.