Airlines and OTAs are both essential for a healthy metasearch sector that offers consumers choice, transparency and simplicity, Cheapflights’ managing director Andrew Shelton told this week’s Travel Distribution Summit Europe.
“What meta provides is something really for airlines and OTAs,” Shelton said. “Airlines are fairly open that they are spending a lot of time trying to build direct revenues and links with consumers directly and meta allows that to happen. We are a very good cost-effective source of traffic.
“For OTAs, it’s also good. What they bring to the party is richness of rates and different fare combinations and price points you cannot get directly with airlines. What meta has also done for OTAs is allow them to compete. It’s allowed smaller players to grow in markets.”
However Shelton said what price comparison sites must focus on is the customer experience, making things as simple as possible, ensuring pricing is as accurate as possible and enabling customers to shop based on factors beyond just price.
“What we offer is transparency and simplicity so that’s really good for the consumer. You cannot show shoddy deals or provide poor experiences. The [Cheapflights] team is focused on making the sure the price on the site is available. If you don’t have people keeping on coming back, meta is a little bit more questionable.”
Cheapflights has been making the transition from a media model to metasearch for the last three years following the purchase of momondo and switched in the UK last year ahead of the brand’s 20th anniversary.
Shelton told delegates the decision was made because technology had moved on and it was time for Cheapflights to offer customers something different.
“The best people to listen to are the people actually using your site. We believe we can offer something unique and different,” he said.
Cheapflights will start offering assisted bookings on its site, blurring the lines between the OTA model and meta, but Shelton said this was purely down to the need to offer users a simple seamless experience.
He said it was vital not to over complicate meta by bombarding consumers with data, but he said more could be done to sell products linked to the air ticket and encourage consumers to shop based on value rather than pure price.
“Meta is alive and kicking and growing at a rate of knots,” Shelton said. “It will only be successful with a choice of airlines and OTAs. More and more airlines are choosing to work with meta.”
Zdenek Komenda, vice president of business development at Skypicker.com, said the move by many meta sites to become more like OTAs was causing the potential for confusion among consumer, but he added: “We are open to that. We are API prepared to support such moves.”
Shelton added: “All metas are looking at some form of assisted booking but the driving factor is how you can make it easier for consumers when you are trying to connect 400 or 500 different partners. The proportion of people using that [assisted booking] is small at the moment.”
Trivago head of global hotel sales Adrian Hands said the blurring of the lines is making it more complex for suppliers, particularly smaller hotels and chains to decide which is the right channel for them.
“There are different products out there where it’s unclear whether it’s still meta. In our case we commit to comparing prices and we direct you to the site that you choose as your preference to complete your booking.”