Four reasons why Amazon Marketplace would never work for travelNewsBy Viewpoints | November 3, 2010Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest post by Ben Colclough, director of online adventure travel agent Tourdust.The big trend in the world of retail ecommerce recently has been the incredible emergence of Amazon’s Marketplace.Amazon is capturing much of the growth in the online retail industry thanks to its third party marketplace, which, rumour has it, now accounts for a significant chunk of operating profits.An army of small e-retailers now depend solely on Amazon and eBay marketplaces for their lifeline, but what of the marketplace model in the travel industry?Will we see the emergence of the travel marketplace?You could argue that all online travel agents are marketplaces of a kind, but in reality they edit and approve product content, dictate booking terms and act as agent of record which is a far cry from hands-off approach of Amazon and eBay.Even if you look at sectors of the industry which would seem most suitable for a marketplace, those with large volumes of small merchants such as holiday rentals and tours, there is little evidence of marketplaces emerging beyond lead generation listing sites such as HomeAway.There seem to be a number of factors unique to the travel industry that obstruct the creation of marketplaces:1) The Listing Quality ProblemTravel is a difficult sell. There is very little tangible product.Accommodation is easier than tours, but even so, selling travel relies on good descriptions, great photos and merchandising and most importantly an absolute glut of information.Online travel agents devote considerable attention to this key area of competitive differentiation. The problem then with marketplaces is that the sellers write the listings.Sellers can be the best merchandisers, but they can also be the worst. They have to keep a blog, website, PPC and any number of other marketplaces updated.So the chances of the marketplace getting consistently decent quality content are next to none. Admittedly Etsy.com’s handcrafted goods marketplace has had considerable success in using community to raise the standards of sellers listings, but unlike the travel industry, they can lay claim a passionate Mac-owning design-biased community of sellers.2) The Curation ProblemAnother quirk of travel is the massive overlap between similar but slightly different product – this is particularly the case in the tours market.The exact same product could be booked through a host of local operators, and International tour operators all using the same local guides, they will all carry a different brand, but the end product is the same.There is so much overlap, the customer needs help choosing.A travel marketplace will always end up a dog’s dinner of overlapping products providing an exhaustive but ultimately unusable choice.3) The Online Booking ProblemTo elevate from a listing site to a marketplace, an aggregator needs to facilitate the financial transaction.If the purchase is built around an offline conversation it is hard to see how the marketplace can do this. Implementing online booking across a large range of small merchants is an incredibly difficult proposition.Managing the quality and timeliness of availability data is nigh on impossible unless there are a host of niche intermediary aggregators doing the job.This is exactly the problem faced by the home rental industry at the moment.4) The Trust ProblemAn important role of a marketplace is to create an environment of trust for the buyer and seller which wouldn’t have been there otherwise.This is a tricky proposition for a travel marketplace.It needs to facilitate the transaction to do so and it needs to navigate the legal minefields of the travel industries’ existing consumer protection environment.Next?So the odds on a successful travel marketplace emerging seem slim.One thing is for sure, it won’t be a start-up who cracks it, only big ecommerce brands with deep pockets and massive existing traffic streams stand a chance of replicating the success of the Amazon marketplace.NB. This is a guest post by Ben Colclough, director of online adventure travel agent Tourdust.