The future of online travel is that the industry is moving from a transaction fulfilment model to platforms, systems, content and technology that cover the whole spectrum of the travel cycle/funnel/bow tie.
This is to incorporate inspiration, recommendation and discovery into the online consumer experience as much as transactions.
After 15 years of online travel being about online transactions, we are moving from answering closed questions (“How much for a ticket to New York?”) to answering open ones (“Where should I go next?”).
For consumers to get an answer to an open-ended question it will be necessary for them to use a booking or query widget that does not require the customer to know where they are going.
To start the online travel process from a search box based around something other than selecting a date and destination (the traditional online travel agent starting point).
In the last year I have met a number of startups and mature companies building, launching and promoting travel sites exploring this area. And through this I have spotted four approaches to non-destination base search.
1. Drag, click, build and recommend from as many sites as you like
The use of plug-ins or apps to build up a trip idea, notion, inspiration and plan without actually having an engine at all. By just dragging ideas from a site to a planning product.
Add links, add comments, add thoughts, share with others and build up from a broad notion to a detailed plan.
Gliider is very active in this space. They have a tool for collecting, collating and sharing travel plans using a plug-in that follows you while you surf. It has taken search off one site and allowed all sites to be used in one experience.
2. Multi-click criteria selection
Using something other than a destination but still requiring a click and selection. Instead of clicking on a destination these sites are getting consumers to start the inspiration or shopping experience using different criteria like:
3. Organisation and history first
Instead of starting with a search box, in this category sites start with the bookings already made by travellers.
Providing travellers a service for collating and storing all the bookings made on various sites. Currently this is being used to provide a travel management service and social networking space.
In time, this will expand to a recommendation service as players in this space collect more and more historical information about traveller behaviour – opening up a powerful data mining and merchandising resource.
TripIt is the first in this space and a tool I used with every trip (product review). A place to store and share all travel information with tracking and sharing tools.
Traxo has entered this space focused more in the leisure sector by building login in links to the major OTA customer information screens.
Allowing them to access a traveller’s account details directly from the OTA. Nokia’s Dopplr is coming from a more networking and “where are my contacts” approach but they too are collecting historical information about a traveller’s habits and desires. Tripcase scored a lucky break in this tight start-up battle when they made their way into iPhone app advertising.
While none of these sites are aggressively moving into the recommendation space – it is only a matter of time before they use the collected data for directing consumers to purchase paths.
4. No search – just a push
The latest version of non-date or non-destinational search sites are those with no search at all. Sites with no mechanism for conducting any form of search of investigation. Just a limited list of deals targeted at a select user group.
Playing on the strength of the user base and the ability of the company to select the right deals for the user base.
Biggest example is the Gilt-backed Jetsetter (interview with CEO). Start-ups are emerging regularly in this are. I have an example even closer to (my) home when some ex-Orbitz staff recently launched BonVoyou.
It is far too soon to call the death of the date and destination based search interface but there is a lot of venture money and start-up energy being spent on finding a new way to search for travel results.
This entrepreneurial push is evidence of the emerging desire from consumers for exploring new ways of exploring different areas of the inspiration, research and purchase funnels.
I predict we will see this start to change the UI, design and flow of the OTAs as they seek to chase this consumer desire and fight off the start up response.
Any other search approaches or companies you have noticed that are trying non-destinational search?