By Ken McLeod, corporate director of Advantage and advisory board member of Travel Technology Europe
Over the past couple of years the travel technology industry has seen an explosion of hotel booking sites; the vast majority claiming to be all things to all people.
It’s a worrying trend that shows no signs of abating anytime soon and the sad reality is that many are just clones of one another, aggregating data and offering end users no discernible USP or point of differentiation.
There are now even aggregators of aggregator sites; however, customers are increasingly wary as they recognise that each of the middlemen is taking a cut along the way, eroding any sort of savings they might have benefitted from.
While some, like Hotel.tv which provides users with specific video reviews of their chosen hotel room, have managed to carve out a niche for themselves within this ever growing segment, more and more rely on simple screen -scraping tools which provide users with the same data on a different interface.
With savvy consumers turning online, trawling for the best deals, it should come as no surprise that the sea of hotel booking sites is in danger of consolidation due to a lack of innovation.
And while the ease and ability to book hotels or travel in general has shifted increasingly away from travel agents (including TMCs) and into the hand of the consumers, the strange irony of it all is that with the proliferation of sites, travel agents are needed now more than ever for their knowledge, to navigate the options and locate the best deals.
The basics are simple - consumers searching for a hotel online all want the same things - good location, a certain level of standard and the best possible price.
The general perception in the market is that a customer is always going to be able to find a cheaper price if they scour each and every hotel booking site, but they are only likely going to be able to save £5 or £10 as opposed to the £50 - £60 many are hoping for, due to the fact that there really is not that much differentiation among the suppliers.
Online outlets looking to avoid the inevitable shake-up ought to take a cue from the airline industry who offer more options through GDSs and bookings sites.
Having the ability to offer and provide customers with added value opportunities and ancillaries like free wifi, additional leg room, premier lounge access, meals and checked baggage is what puts airlines on a different playing field and hotel booking sites would be wise to sit up and take notice of this.
Whether it be free buffet breakfasts, spa vouchers or room preference, the 10th anniversary edition of Travel Technology Europe offers a perfect opportunity for customers, clients, corporates and agents to update their knowledge, network with peers and, perhaps most critically, source the new technologies that will take them to that next level and provide consumers with a distinct point of difference.
Taking place on the 5th and 6th of February 2013 at Earl’s Court in London, Travel Technology Europe is an unmissable event for anyone working in the travel industry and if you’re one of those hotel booking sites looking to improve your online presence, increase sales and convert browsers to bookers I would encourage you to make it a priority to attend.