Along with concerns about the COVID-19 virus itself,
consumers considering travel are wrestling with understanding the safety and
status of destinations, hygiene protocols of suppliers such as airlines and
hotels and the complexities of flexible rates, cancellations and refunds.
In a roundtable discussion this month during ATPCO’s Open Industry
Summit: The New Reality of Flight Shopping, product managers from three
consumer-focused online travel platforms say the need to provide this type of
useful information is challenging but also necessary to help travelers feel
confident enough to make a booking.
“These aren’t things customers ever cared about before and
now we are faced with the challenge of how do we communicate to a customer in
words they can understand and scale it to 26 languages across 56 points of sale,”
says Janet Hsiao, director of product management for Expedia Group.
Skyscanner’s senior product director, Phil Donathy, says that as a marketplace, Skyscanner aims both to provide information clearly to travelers
and to help partners such as online travel agencies and airlines build
transparency into their products.
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“As an industry, we’ve made this stuff way to complicated.
Travelers love simplifications, travelers love simplicity of information. We
all know the kind of dirty secret is it’s really hard to do that at scale, because
the structure of the data isn’t there,” Donathy says.
“To our airline partners on this call and the GDSs on this
call, the request to you guys is make it easier for us to describe your
products in a really simple way to travelers because then the demand will come
and find you. And perhaps it will not find the people that aren’t providing
Hopper’s senior product manager, Linda Abraham, says one of
its challenges is providing the information users want in the limited “real
estate” of Hopper’s mobile-only interface.
Abraham says rather than price, flexibility has become the
most important factor to Hopper’s users, and the platform also is seeing shifts in the
types of trips users seek and in their booking windows.
“At the moment more than 50% of our users are booking for
trips within the months [of the trips],” Abraham says.
“While we’ve been predominantly focused on leisure travel...
what we’ve been seeing over the last few months is an increased rate of ‘friends
and family’ visits. We’re seeing a lot more people being a lot more deliberate
about where they are going, maybe staying longer at places they are traveling
Hsiao says Expedia is seeing bookings taking place at one of
two extremes - either just a few days before the date of travel or very far in
“[Indicating] they are aspirational, they want to travel but
they think things will be better in three months. So all of our trends... have
been out of the window. It used to be a nice bell curve and now it’s a camel
hump,” she says.
Donathy also says Skyscanner is seeing a shift among user preferences.
“Traditionally people come to Skyscanner to search for a
flight. But we sell car rentals, and our car rental business has just gone
absolutely crazy. Looking at the U.S., May to June it went up 233%,” he says.
“Conversely in Europe, we’ve seen quite a bit of domestic travel
in Southern Europe - people flying from the north of Italy to the south of
Italy, the north of Spain to the south of Spain, people taking beach vacations within
their own country. So we’ve definitely seen that spike in short-haul travel.
“The desire is there. The demand is still there. It is just
kind of moving around, and of course it’s overall depressed. But it does feel
as if the green shoots are there.”