Skift Take

With Tingo, SniqueAway and hotel metasearch, TripAdvisor is moving closer toward becoming an online travel agency everyday. The smart money says it's only a matter of time.

Three travel-company launches — Google Flight Search, Room Key and TripAdvisor’s Tingo — caused a stir when they debuted, but none has really had a significant impact among consumers.

Sometimes you even wonder if they are still around.

The search for Google Flight Search

Google acquired flight-shopping maven ITA Software in April 2011, and launched Google Flight Search about five months later.

Some feared the move would kill Kayak and the flight businesses of online travel agencies such as Expedia, who would be forced to pay Google even more-exhorbitant advertising fees than they already do to attract consumers eager to plunk down their credit cards to buy airline tickets.

In the interim, Kayak executed a very successful IPO, and Priceline is poised to acquire Kayak for $1.8 billion, although UK regulators are delaying that fait accompli for a couple of months.

Meanwhile, when is the last time you heard friends tell you that they found their flights through Google Flight Search?

Online travel agency executives consistently say they have felt little impact from Google Flight Search or even from Google Hotel Finder, for that matter.

Room Key floored

The next envisioned apocalypse occurred when six major hotel chains (Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, Marriott and Wyndham) launched Room Key a little more than a year ago, in January 2012.

Hotels and online travel agencies have been battling each other for travelers’ loyalties for eons  (OK, about 15 years), and with the big-shot chains banding together, many thought they would start getting stingy when online travel agencies came begging for some rooms to sell.

That hasn’t happened.

The premise of Room Key is that it will entice travelers who leave one of the chains’ sites without booking to search for hotels from one of the other chains on Room Key instead. In that way, at least the online travel agencies wouldn’t get the booking, and it’s a more cost-efficient way to sell rooms for the hotels.

But, Room Key employs a hokey strategy for wooing the wayward travelers; Room Key serves up thousands of pop-under ads when consumers navigate away from or without making a reservation, for example, to divert them to Room Key.

Such pop-under ads are a turn-off for many travelers.

And, there is another big stumbling block for Room Key.

Other than the annoying pop-under ads, how is Room Key going to promote itself to consumers? When Marriott and InterContinental Hotels are determining their marketing budgets for the year, they are going to tend to give a much higher priority to spending on their own websites than on Room Key.

How much of a commitment do the chains actually have to their joint venture?

Victor Owens, general manager of in North America, tells Skift that Room Key doesn’t appear to have mustered much traction, and he opines that a pop-under strategy “isn’t a recipe for long-term success.”

“We haven’t seen any substantial impacts from Room Key,” Owens says.

The Tingo tangle

TripAdvisor unveiled Tingo in March 2012, and it caused concern among some hoteliers for a variety of reasons.

TripAdvisor is a powerful advertising vehicle for hotels, its user reviews can impact hotels’ reputations, and now it was really getting into selling hotel rooms on its own for the first time in a big way.

Tingo enables travelers to book a pre-paid room, and then Tingo will automatically rebook the room for the traveler if the rate drops, and then refund the difference. That creates an infrastructure problem for hotels, and they lose out on the higher revenue coming from the original reservation price.

As with Room Key, Owens of notes that Tingo has been fairly quiet, and inconsequential when salespeople call on hotels for new business.

“The challenge that these companies face is getting eyeballs to the site,” says Owens, who adds that has 85 websites around the world.

We’ll take two caveats

Just because the three “game-changing” travel launches haven’t caused a ripple among consumers, that doesn’t mean they are doomed forever.

All three have powerful backers with plenty of resources, after all.

And, with the exception of Room Key, which really doesn’t have any innovative features to speak of, Google Flight Search and TripAdvisor’s Tingo are indeed doing interesting things.

Google Flight Search is lightning-fast. You don’t even have to click or tap “find flights” or “search,” as is the norm on rivals’ sites, to get Google Flight Search to retrieve flight results. And, it sorts flights by departure, duration, arrival, airline, route or price in a heartbeat.

And, Tingo provides a valuable service by enabling travelers to book a room, and then let Tingo do all the rest if the rate drops.

Tingo even recently redesigned its site and began offering travelers free room upgrades as an alternative to re-booking the room at a cheaper rate.

So there is still hope: Perhaps Google Flight Search and Tingo will just be late-bloomers.

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Tags: google, room key, tingo

Photo credit: Room Key may have lost its way as the hotel chains that founded the site may have larger priorities. Room Key

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