Next Gen Travel Search Engines Threaten Travelocity, Orbitz, & Other OTAs

Kayak, Farecast, Mobissimo, and Sidestep represent a highly disruptive new breed. Travel specific meta-search engines facilitate real-time fare comparison from hundreds of travel “suppliers” (like airlines and hotel chains) rather than going through a single OTA (online travel agency) like Travelocity or Orbitz. This technology threatens OTAs in serious ways, among other reasons, because the final transaction is consummated on the supplier’s website, not the OTA. Suppliers are (of course) thrilled with this technology.

Travel aficionados, who care about such things, still get their Northwest Airlines frequent flyer miles or Hilton points for purchases. Customers who arrive on a supplier website after searching meta- engines tend to enroll in loyalty programs and become long term customers, so suppliers love it. Airlines find that international travelers who purchase tickets by this method yield high profit margins.

Heading Mainstream
While today’s travel specific meta-search engines appeal primarily to US users who are already Internet savvy, it is probable the concept will grow more mainstream in a significant way. Mobissimo, one of the smaller niche players, boasts over 6 million unique monthly users and Farecast entertains 20 million searches each month.

Better Tools
Each travel meta-search engine sports unique features that transcend the “search box & 10 blue links” roots of Google and Yahoo. For instance, “Baked in” Farecast features help craft itineraries by “filtering” out red eyes, long connection times, or avoiding airports like O’Hare. They’ve learned that price is only one variable of a consumer’s purchase decision and the delineation between players in this arena is all about which meta-search engine provides users more intuitive tools for research and booking.


Social Media Matters
Farecast created a Facebook application called “Fly by Farecast,” which has not yielded massive downloads but converts well. Sidestep built a Facebook application “Trips,” which generated over 300,000 downloads and found great success in tool usage and as a traffic driver. As with other Facebook apps’, the demographic skews somewhat younger which portends future success as today’s 18-24 year olds come of age. Krista Pappas shared that Farecast was launched from beta from the blogosphere and that the “long tail’ comes from “influencers” in the blog world communicating the value of the meta-search engine products.

Ad Platforms
Kayak enables advertisers to find very specific travel patterns to target customers, by way of a self-serve ad platform, and is their primary revenue driver. Though the CPCs are slightly higher than traditional search engines, the conversion rates tend to be greater. The conversion ratio for air and car click-throughs can exceed 15%. Drew Patterson noted that “Consumers are actually buying above average ticket prices, buying earlier.”

This SMX Travel@PhoCusWright session, Meet the Travel Meta Search Engines, was moderated by Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land. The speakers were Krista Pappas, VP Business Development, Farecast, Drew Patterson, Vice President Marketing, Kayak, Sam Shank, Vice President, Sidestep, and Beatrice Tarka Co-founder and CEO, Mobissimo.

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