A decade and a half ago, when the first set of OTA’s(Online Travel Aggregators/Agents) were born, travel planners were all of a sudden empowered with tools that enabled them to do all kinds of Hotel/Flight bookings without going to a traditional travel agent, while still being able to secure the best deal via comparison shopping. However in a few years, this gave birth to a unique problem of having to search in multiple OTA’s to find the best offer since a deal you found in one aggregator might not necessarily show up in all others. So it was a big headache –esp. to deal-hunters – when it came to finding the best deal available.
Thanks to the constant craving for disruption in the tech world, the Metasearch was born. The metasearch platforms (like Kayak,SkyScanner, Trivago etc) started providing a consolidated view of search results that compared travel products across OTAs and hotel brand owners, giving a fast and comprehensive view of product choice and almost instantaneous purchasing option. That is wonderful right? All problems solved!
Unfortunately not. The advent of Metasearch did help the users by providing a one stop shopping portal, but soon they also started breeding like rabbits! Shortly, where were so many clones executing on a similar functionality, but with strong disparities in the prices they fetched. So, a user now had to look up multiple metasearches to pick the best offer! So, eventually they didn’t completely resolve the laboriousness of online travel booking, but rather made it more tedious – especially around the hotel/accommodation space.
Also, both the OTA’s and metasearch platforms that target cater to Hotel booking bewilder the users with an overwhelming list of choices. Adding to that pain is the fact that it’s not easy for users to carefully select and book an accommodation based on the overall experience the property offers but rather primarily restricted to comparison based on low rates or latest offers. So, in my opinion it is time for the Metasearch industry to grow up. Below are some of the areas of innovation I can think of that will lead to the next stage in the evolution:
Going Beyond Price Comparison
- Not everyone wants to book a hotel based on the best deal or the lowest rates. So add more focus on the comparison of the overall Product rather than Price alone
- Highlight the differences in the actual product in a better way – Not just as Filters!
- What this means in the hotel sector is start comparing the various aspects of the hotel( like suitability for business travelers, romantic travelers etc.) or their individual attributes like
- Compare attributes of the Property
Going beyond plain User reviews & ratings
- Evolve the Meta-reviews even further.
- Instead of just showing Raw reviews start comparing and ranking accommodations based on their meta-review aspects like Location, Amenities(Trust You already provides such ratings)
Adding more Personalization
- Understand the consumer behavior to boost hotel bookings.
- Present to the user only a targeted shortlist through which they can then systematically filter through to find a hotel that suits their specific taste. Replacing the completely impersonalized – and largely unorganized - list with highly relevant & recommended set would help in relieving the users from the typical decision making fatigue they go through.
Tap into the power of Machine Learning
- Understanding Natural language queries
- Example: when someone types in a request for a ”boutique hotel in Barcelona that’s great for families, close to the best tourist attractions and has in-room Wi-Fi”, the system should offer a perfect match that meets these preferences.
Integrate Personalization & Machine Learning
- Replace limited search filters with refined query-based system upon Accuracy& Relevance
- Focus more on Quality instead of Quantity – Don’t overwhelm the customer with too many choice
- This point is actually well articulated by Derek Halpern in his article Social Triggers, in whichhe demonstrates how offering too many choices can actually overwhelm customers and prevent them from buying.
Rating the provider/supplier
- Instead of just showing all the deals offered by various suppliers start informing the user on the rating of each supplier based on the overall experience they provided to the user for a booking
- Some Metasearches actually rank the offers based on the Supplier’s performance, but this is quite opaque at this point and more tied to the benefit of the Metasearch(like commission rate, liquidation prospect etc.,) than focusing on the user delight and experience. In any case there needs to be an indicator about how good a supplier is (like how AMAZON.COM does for their marketplace vendors, so that the users can order only from a trusted vendor though there might be cheaper deals offered by an unreliable vendor.