Metasearch dates back to 1999, when both SideStep and
FareChase launched as search engines that aggregated prices from other online
The following years saw many additional entrants into the
metasearch arena - some created with that specific purpose, such as Skyscanner
(2001), Kayak (2004) and Wego and Trivago (both 2005), and others that have
added price comparison to their existing offerings, most notably TripAdvisor
and Google. (Yahoo purchased FareChase in 2004 and then shuttered it five years
later, and Kayak acquired SideStep in 2007.)
In a November 2017 report, Phocuswright found nearly half
(43%) of travelers in the United States use metasearch sites to shop for
flights and hotels. That’s up from 28% in 2010.
In recent years, with the rise of mobile, metasearch sites
have been shifting from strictly providing price comparison and referrals to
getting into the business of booking as well.
Newer entrants have also entered
the field in the complex arena of ground transportation, including GoEuro,
Rome2rio, Trainline, Wanderu, Wanderio and others.
This sector, what is known as multimodal metasearch, is the
topic of this third piece in our series on metasearch.
We take a look at some of the unique challenges facing
multimodal platforms and the future outlook for the sector.
There’s a bit of an ebb and flow to what subjects dominate
the conversation in the world of travel technology.
The tours and activities sector has been the hot topic in
travel this year, but - if past trends hold true – the buzz will gradually
subside in coming years as the digitization of suppliers and distributors
becomes more widespread.
Waiting in the wings? Some say it will certainly be
multimodal search and booking systems – a sector with untapped potential to
make the shift from offline to online.
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“The industry only has so much fire power to focus on
things. For a long time, it was just focused on flights, and then it realized
there’s not a lot of money in flights, hotels are where the money is.
So for 10
years, the industry was all about Booking.com and all those companies in the
business of selling hotels - until that became more of a mature marketplace and
the focus shifted over to tours and activities, because the industry realized
there’s real money to be made there,” says Rod Cuthbert, founder and former CEO
of Viator and former CEO of Rome2Rio.
“I think the same dynamic applies for multimodal. Right now
the industry doesn’t have much time to focus its interest on it. The technology
is patchy, the commissions are low and in many geographies the systems aren’t
there. It’s still an emerging market.”
In short, there is still much work to be done.
In a June 2018 Phocuswright report, Door-to-Door Trip
Planning: Why so Difficult?, analyst Michael Gerra writes, “Technically, a key
hurdle to successful D2D [door-to-door] trip planning is the engineering
complexity of integrating a vast number of fragmented and dynamic data sources.
"On the business side, key challenges include the need for local expertise and
partnerships with local transportation providers. Importantly, local culture
and conditions play a role too: the level of pervasiveness and maturity of
transportation infrastructure and public/private service providers varies
considerably from region to region.”
The “fragmented and dynamic data sources” Gerra refers to
have spurred a shift in services for some multimodal platforms.
While companies such as Rome2rio (launched in 2010) and
GoEuro (2012) began as strictly metasearch sites – showing users the available
options and prices for their requested itineraries and then sending them to
supplier sites to complete the booking – both have been transitioning to offer
the purchase function within their systems.
And it’s easy to see why.
The sector has multiple thousands of suppliers across bus,
rail and ferry routes, with varying levels of technological sophistication.
Multimodal platforms have found the customers’ experience
booking on those supplier sites is often less than ideal. Bringing the entire
process into their systems has allowed them to ensure consistency and quality.
“In the metasearch world, when you are controlling the front
end of the product… but then you might click off to bus company ABC, if their
product on their end is not enabled in the same way as we would like it to be
to give good experience, then clearly conversion will drop off,” says Tim Claydon,
chief strategy officer at GoEuro, the Berlin-based multimodal platform that has
raised $146 million in funding to date.
“So I think the whole idea of it being self-contained, in
one product, and seamless regardless of the provider, regardless of the mode of
transportation and regardless of the geography, that obviously builds
confidence for the customer.”
And Claydon says the strategy is working – conversions are
up – and GoEuro will continue to develop its technology to enable research,
booking and mobile ticketing.
The geographic mass and complexity of ground transportation is tricky.
Kristeene Phelan - Rome2rio
That’s also the plan for Rome2rio. The platform currently
offers information about 100,000 train routes, more than 570,000 bus routes, 12,000 ferry routes and 52,000 flight paths.
In addition to price comparison and booking, which Rome2rio
launched in 2016, acting CEO Kirsteene Phelan says the site aims to be a “trusted
traveling companion” by offering travel guides and user-generated tips.
“The geographic mass and complexity of ground transportation
is tricky,” Phelan says.
“Rome2rio wants to hold people’s hand through that. So let’s
say you are booking a route between Rome and Milan. We may have extra
information from one of our customers… to say, ‘Hey you might think you need
that business class seat, but if you get this seat in this car, you’ll have a
great experience.’ Sort of a cross between TripAdvisor and SeatGuru if you
Unlike flights and accommodations, ground transportation is
often booked at the moment it is needed. That immediacy reinforces the need for reliable mobile
“Without a doubt, mobile is the way to develop this industry,”
And the fact that, in many cases, there are multiple ground
transportation options to connect between two points – for example dozens of
trains and buses between two cities in Europe when there may only be a couple
of flights – puts more control in the hands of travelers.
“If you are not having a really great experience in a mobile
environment people might end up booking elsewhere for their ground
transportation needs,” Phelan says.
Claydon says 75 to 80% of GoEuro’s customers interact with
the platform via its app or mobile web product, with customers from 120
countries using the product in 16 languages.
As they work to add more content, he says GoEuro’s biggest
challenge has been integrating data from its 800 partners.
“In the airline space and even to a lesser degree in the
hotel space, there are standardized systems that allow travel providers to be
able to standardize the booking process and the booking systems,” he says.
“Unlike a standard global distribution system or any
internet booking engine that might sit on top of a GDS, with trains and buses
in particular, it’s very complex.”
REGISTER NOW! Skyscanner, Kayak and others speak at The Phocuswright Conference 2018
for details, tickets and the program for this year's event in Los Angeles, November 13-15.
Cuthbert sees positive signs from some of the large
state-run rail transportation organizations, such as Trenitalia and Deutsche Bahn,
to open themselves to new distribution systems.
“It’s a real change since even five years ago when they were
largely closed and only wanted to sell tickets themselves,” he says.
For buses, Cuthbert says Germany’s Distribusion is making
“It’s essentially a GDS for buses,” he says.
“You get hundreds of bus companies around the world. I think
they are really revolutionizing that space and they are going to bring the bus
market onto retail sites and apps really quite quickly.” And for ferries, he
notes Rome2rio is working with Direct Ferries to facilitate online bookings in
the near future.
Along with improving the supply and distribution mechanism
for ground transportation, multimodal platforms are working toward better
bundling of options – combining routes from multiple suppliers in a single
purchase – and greater personalization.
“So we can tell you what your seat type is like, what
platform you are on, whether there is food on board – things people are
interested in,” Phelan says.
“Or timely valuable notifications – you’ve just arrived, and
these are the options to get out of the airport. Knitting it all together in a
way that makes sense for the customer… so they have a one-stop shop. There’s a
lot of opportunity not only for serving the customer but providing new avenues