Even as metasearch sites continue their strong growth and the distinctions between metasearch and online travel agencies get murkier, the metasearch players still don’t own the customer and their transaction data.
To be sure, metasearch sites collect a massive amount of data on users’ search patterns but the online travel agencies are much closer to the transaction.
Ken Sena, managing director, Internet analyst, at Evercore Partners, sees this discrepancy as a major disadvantage for the metasearch sites and an increasing advantage for the “seller,” namely online travel agencies and suppliers such as hotels and airlines, as they have to make increasingly complex choices about the most attractive marketing channels for their needs.
Skift discussed these issues with Sena.
Skift: What do you see as some of the big challenges for the metasearch players and their supplier and online travel agency partners?
Ken Sena: What happens is you go to the metasearch site and the meta has all the prices. They all look pretty much the same. If you go and find it you could buy it through this online travel agency or that online travel agency, but they’re pretty much all the same. How does that start to become different? It’s really by starting to recognize more data about the consumer. It becomes important to be able to appeal to the seller and start to give them a way they can maybe drop a price on a certain number of rooms or promote a certain number of rooms to folks who they view as more attractive or incremental buyers.
All I’m talking about, truthfully, is just data. It’s just understanding how do you start to get sellers to want to share their data and collaborate around it. You start to pick up more data on the buyer in terms of them using a mobile app or getting them to want to log into your experience and then putting those data sets together ultimately for the sake of efficiency within the transaction. The seller doesn’t pay a lot, the buyer gets a good price but you, the distributor, still make your share.
Skift: Are any of the metasearch players standing out in terms of servicing the seller better with data along the lines you’re talking about?
Sena: They don’t really get that close to the seller and that’s been their problem. If you think about it, a meta provider is more of an advertising channel. They provide a lead product to the marketplace that’s conducting the transaction. It’s that marketplace that stands to capture more data. Ultimately, when you think about mobile, there’s even more of tendency to that marketplace experience in providing you that pricing or convenience.
If you go to Kayak, you’re going to see a number of options but at some point is Kayak going to recognize what your preferences are as a traveler or maybe would you find that those preferences start to get recognized more from a TripAdvisor or a Priceline? These folks maybe have a little more data, either in terms of how you’re researching or what you’re actually booking when all is said and done.
Over time, do those experiences start to become your go-to experiences? What each of these guys is doing is competing to be that first place in your travel process. They could be the guy who guides you down to ultimately book.
Skift: You are basically saying that the metasearch sites are disadvantaged in relation to the online travel agencies because they’re further removed from the transaction and access to all of that data?