Travel Metasearch's Version 2.0 Could Fly to New Heights

When travel metasearch sites and applications launched in 2000, the airline industry was flooded with promises of lower distribution costs, higher online visibility, and stronger customer relationships--a free tool let users compare prices at a number of global distribution system (GDS) travel Web sites, along with suppliers' direct sites. Soon, though, these pledges became pipedreams and metasearch 1.0 turned from savior to menace as airlines found themselves hit with unexpected costs and underwhelming return. A new study from Forrester Research, however, projects that the release of metasearch 2.0 will fix its predecessor's follies and may expand metasearch's presence in the air travel industry. "What Travel Metasearch Must Do To Win" compiled interviews from e-commerce, marketing, and distribution executives at 10 major airlines to gauge how the travel industry will respond to the release of the improved metasearch. The results were markedly positive, showing that airlines are eager to work with metasearch 2.0's new offerings, especially in response to the content sharing deal between travel agent systems Sabre and Amadeus, which some airlines feel will reduce their commercial bargaining power. Henry Harteveldt, Forrester vice president and author of the study, says, "Metasearch provides [airlines] with a very attractive, much stronger alternative distribution channel. Many of the airlines already are using metasearch to some degree. Now, this release could give them the opportunity to show other ways their airline is better for you, beyond just price." The study found that metasearch 2.0 could become a bigger player in the travel industry by freeing some of the snags in the previous version, as well as by extending its content sharing capabilities. One of the main problems of metasearch 1.0, the study cited, was that while it promised to develop a more solid relationship between airline and customer, it did not come through. Metasearch 1.0 was used by only 6 percent of online leisure air passengers, the airlines' offerings only appeared in the display as one line of text, and the research activity required by the search sometimes interfered with customers' access to airline Web sites by consuming server capacity. Interviews with airline executives showed that metasearch 2.0 could solidify customer relationships through revealing airlines' presence in more marginal travel routes. Additionally, metasearch 2.0's application of AJAX and proprietary ITA Software makes an opportunity for layered marketing, allowing airlines to better target prospective flyers, provide space for more content, and make information more visually appealing. As for reaching a broader range of prospective customers, Harteveldt says, "I don't think they'll overshadow your Expedias and your Travelocitys, but [metasearch site] Kayak has publicly stated that they intend to launch advertising campaigns because they intend to narrow the gap." In addition to increased marketing, the study projects metasearch 2.0 will increase its customer base through tailoring their offerings more closely to their users. The study found that users of metasearches fly 1.7 more times than the average online air travel customer. The study argues that through giving customers access to more detailed flight information, such as seat descriptions and meal offerings, and allowing user-generated and third-party ratings of airline comfort and services, metasearch 2.0 will become even more appealing to its more discerning, control-driven customers. "Metasearches were very brash on projections and promises out of the gate," Harteveldt says, "The big thing for metasearch companies is to have their act together to deliver quality rather than just promises." Related articles: E-Commerce Gets Some Satisfaction
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