Travel Booking Systems of 2020
What might the Online Travel Booking Systems of 2020 Look Like?
Our Head of Online Development Tom Kingston peers into his crystal ball and takes a look at some key trends impacting on the future direction of online travel booking systems.
First of all, it’s worth putting things in context a little by taking a brief look at the recent past and present. (And those of you interested to learn more about the early days of online travel might also enjoy reading Skift’s comprehensive potted history of the evolution of online travel.)
In the Past
Once upon a time, back in the 1960s and 70s travel agents used to have a fixed allocation on certain flights which they were able to sell, or they had to phone each airline’s reservation team to confirm prices and make bookings.
Then in the 1980s along came Global Distribution Systems (or GDS) which democratised distribution over night, giving agents access to many more airlines and options, with distribution increasingly became first-come-first-serve for airline seats.
Soon travel agents began to branch out into nation-wide entities, some without any physical locations (think Teletext Holidays, Dial-a-Flight etc.)The growth of the internet lead to international players like Expedia and Viator becoming iconic brands in the mid-90s.
During the dot-com boom that shortly followed, a large number or travel agents launched online booking platforms, which were essentially a public-facing version of their GDS.
Online booking systems gradually evolved, transitioning from single-product offerings, to become platforms supporting all kinds of travel services, including flights, hotels, rail journeys, package holidays, ferries, cruises and more.
No-longer dependent on Global Distribution Systems, booking platforms are increasingly pulling content from multiple sources – here at CTM we pull from over 400 direct suppliers and consolidators to offer a truly diverse range of products and prices.
So what’s in store for the Online Booking System of the Near Future?
We’re seeing more and more airlines moving away from Global Distribution Systems model towards a hybrid of Direct Booking / Global Distribution Systems. There are various reasons for this, such as transaction fees, the longer development cycle entailed with many GDS, the proliferation of travel classes airlines use and governments squeezing more taxes (like APD) from dwindling airline profits.
There is also a general trend in the increase of aviation fuel costs. That’s why airlines now increasingly rely on selling customers “extras” like speedy boarding, additional luggage, more legroom and so on.
The GDS companies are working hard to fight back of course, but whether they can beat smaller travel technology providers who are focusing solely on the ‘new distribution capabilities’ and direct connections remains to be seen.
The Rise of ‘Meta-Search’
Websites like Kayak and Skyscanner are increasingly playing a role by comparing rates from travel agencies, airlines, and hotels directly, allowing users to browse and compare like-for-like itineraries from hundreds of sites.
This is now common practice across any products and services sold online of course, from the likes of Compare The Market to My Money Supermarket.
The online booking systems of the future must be able to compete with the breadth of market view afforded by meta-search platforms.Crowdsourcing & Social Media
Review sites are becoming increasingly influential when it comes to buying behaviour, especially among millennial and generation X audiences. Unless you’ve been living in a cave in Outer Mongolia, you will have noticed the prevalence of sites relying on user-generated reviews and content, ranging from the likes of Check-a-Trade, to Trust Pilot and Amazon Reviews. The customer is king and has been empowered by such sites. There is no rolling the clock back to simpler times now.
In the travel industry TripAdvisor has single-handedly dominated this arena since around 2004. Which other companies can compete and make inroads in this area?
Again these work on a broadly democratic principle. Simply put, as with search engine rankings, the better reviewed your product / service is, the closer to the top of the pile it will be, and consequently the more you will sell.
Successful booking platforms of the future must be aware of the role crowdsourcing plays in e-commerce and be able to adopt it intelligently.
Bloggers and social media users and influencers focused around travel have been a source for inspiration and advice for a while now. Marketing algorithms based around trending areas and topics can also help online travel agents generate content and product ideas.
Peer-to-Peer & Sharing Economy Models
On a related note, the growth of sites like Airbnb points another way forward. Similar to how airlines and hotels are moving away from centralised distribution channels like traditional travel agents, individuals are taking advantage of the abundance of internet connectivity and web development to ‘cut out the middle man’ for small-scale and personal leasing.
This is still an emerging industry of course, so naturally there are many questions around legalities, insurance, duty of care, consumer protection and so on to consider. No doubt new companies will move in to plug some of these gaps in the coming years.
Many boutique hotels and apartments are already using Airbnb to reach their customers. Perhaps the future will allow greater differentiation of room / property types which can work alongside meta-search functionality (comparison sites like Travel Supermarket, Kayak, Skyscanner etc.)
Personalisation Comes of Age
Merchandising and tailored offerings are becoming increasingly standard.
From online retailers like Amazon and ebay filtering results and tailoring newsletters based on shopping and browsing history, to TripAdvisor offering deals based around review and search history and Google changing results based on location and browsing patterns, customisation is often forced on technology users to try and increase sales.
Personalisation itself is becoming more customisable for users. Social media sites allow you to change what content and updates are shown, and who your content reaches. This is also commonplace in mobile technology, apps and even news media, where users expect to be able to tailor the content that’s served to them based on what they’re most personally interested in.
Travel sites can already learn what to offer you by analysing your search and booking patterns, but in the future they will need to give users more options to guide cross-selling.
Do you always take a train or drive? That’ll affect if you need a ticket or airport parking. Are users interested in being offered attractions and things to do? All of these things can be used to create opportunities to upsell.
One Stop Shop
In today’s customer-centric world, users expect to be able to go to one place for all their needs and booking travel is no exception. There is already huge collaboration between different travel sub sectors, this can only grow over time. Airlines partnering with hotel chains, tour guides with attraction and event companies, trains with bus operators etc.
Travel agents have traditionally offered a physical ‘one stop shop’, a bespoke combination of every element of travel needed to get you from your home to your destination and back again, with every stop along the way covered in the process.
As more and more organisations are standardising their online distribution platforms, travel booking websites won’t just be for booking a flight, a hotel, or a train journey – they’ll should allow you to source the entire travel experience in one easy sitting.
From Fleet to Mobility
A small example of this diversification in action on the business travel side is that we’re now working with a fleet management company called Logical Vehicle Management to help them offer a full range of travel services to their customers.
In the fleet industry, ‘mobility’ is fast becoming the buzzword of the day, encompassing everything from fuel cards to expense management and staff travel. In just a few years companies like Logical have gone from being about helping their customers hire cars and vans to looking after every aspect of how their staff get around and about outside of the office. We can all look forward to far more cross fertilisation along these lines and its attendant buzzwords in the years to come.
Want to know more? See what useful travel technology we currently offer our clients.