As we have reported several times over the past few months, the OTA market is in a phase of consolidation, and competition among the big players is fierce. However as Daren Barker, GM for Emirates Holidays UK noted in an opinion piece in Tnooz last week “Many of the market leaders have often very similar websites, in terms of look and feel, whilst also aggregating data and offering end users no discernible point of differentiation, or benefit to choosing one over another.”
With travel consumers becoming more experienced and also sophisticate in their de-mands, as well as an ever growing individualisation in our society; personalisation becomes a big issue. However travel search engines on the major portals have not yet managed to address this need for offerings and search results that are personalised to the customers’ individual circumstance and needs. In fact, search results are usually based on a set of very simple and straight forward questions (i.e. where, when, how long for, etc.).
The challenges of personalisation
The strategy that the major OTAs pursue – that is basing search results on a simple set of questions and a user’s browsing/ shopping history – takes a very narrow view of the cus-tomer. Thus it doesn't account for many relevant details of a trip, such as the reason for travel (e.g. romantic get away, stag-night, etc) or the travel companions (e.g. friends, family, children).
The rationale behind this drive for simplification is the assumption that customers want quick and straightforward access to search results. This preference of pragmatism and convenience over substance certainly suits the needs of many consumers.
New routes to personalisation
Given the size of the travel market as well as the unlimited availability of information, consumers seek meaningful recommender systems that allow them to filter and access the right product that fits their individual needs. In this regard, high street travel agents still outperform OTAs by far.
However, some smaller OTAs have upped their game and offer now a range of different search parameters in order to enhance personalisation:
- YouTravel lets users search by temperature
- Holidaysplease allows users to customise flight time, temperature and activity searches all at the same time
- Travelmatch is similarly capable at searching across a number of factors
Emotion and image based search
However, these are just first steps in the right direction. In order to achieve real market dif-ferentiation, the industry needs to develop new and innovative approaches to travel re-commendation.
Interesting in this regard is the Austrian travel start up Pixemeaway. Essentially the service allows to users to browse thousands of pictures and select those which appeal to their requirements for a trip. These can be cross-checked with fellow users to see whether a particular product or destination was popular with others, as well as obtain detailed destination guides.
In general emotion and image based search provides an effective way to help consumers communicate effectively and efficiently the personal needs in an online environment and thereby receive relevant and personalised search results. Secondly, the advent of big da-ta will open act as a catalyst of change in the field as well.
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