It would be fair to say that the conversation around instant booking on travel search sites has been broadly supportive of the concept so far.
Ever since March 2011, when Kayak piloted a direct booking service for hotels on the Travelocity platform, metesearch engines have talked up the idea that they can handle the booking end of the process (but not be responsible for the trip as the merchant of record).
The meta-booking model went up a gear in 2014 when TripAdvisor announced that it would start introducing Instant Booking for hotels in the US, with the programme gradually rolling out across all its markets (scheduled for completion by the end of this year).
Almost a year ago, Skyscannerbegan a test of its own for instant bookings of air tickets.
It seems like there is no end to the push by metasearch engines to incorporate this kind of facility - a concept that was originally touted as a way of keeping the user experience consistent for travellers, not least when for a long time the mobile booking tools on many supplier websites were substandard, to say the least.
But there are certainly some wrinkles emerging in the idea that instant booking is a logical next step for metasearch engines, perhaps the most high-profile coming from TripAdvisor after it conceded a few weeks ago during in its Q1 2016 earnings call that the instant booking model would continue to hit its financial performance.
TripAdvisor says there’s less money coming in as the value of a click is lower on instant booking than the existing model, plus many of those participating in instant booking are not collecting the guest revenue until the stay takes place, long after its involvement in the shopping process.
Companies such as Skyscanner argue that travellers are opting to make their bookings on the site, suggesting that there is a consumer need for the service.
Speaking at the Phocuswright Europe Conference in Dublin, Ireland, last week, Skyscanner chief marketing officer Frank Skivington says its analysis has shown that when the tool is made available to visitors, some 80% complete the booking on-site.
But, appearing on the same panel, Momondo Group CEO, Hugo Burge, says "assisted booking needs to be treated with caution".
In remarks made later via mail, Burge says the company currently sees instant booking as an area it is "interested in and is exploring", but he adds:
"It can increase confusion with users about who is handling the booking and who does customer service, an area where meta-search can sometimes struggle – as all consumers are not clear on the differences between search models."
Burge argues that metasearch is "not broken without assisted booking", with the model, in fact, "growing fast and creating loyalty on a large scale".
But he suggests that the idea has not been "cracked" as yet, with some implementations better than others, yet none offering "universal simplicity".
Furthermore, the best working example of "one-click universal purchasing" is by Amazon, he adds, yet "this is quite a different model to what metasearch parties are striving for".
"The ultimate direction of this path is not yet clear."