Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Blended Travel Search

As dynamic packaging is getting more established and the technology round it maturing it is interesting to see how it is being sold along side the traditional package.

So that we are all on the same page, let me outline the difference between a Dynamic Package and a Package Holiday.

Dynamic Package combines and prices the components (flight + hotel) from various sources real time or near real time.

Package Holidays are created and priced in advance and sold as a single component. Typically based on accommodation and flight committed allocations.

There are many travel companies selling both package holidays and dynamic packages online. This is correct for online travel agents, traditional tour operators selling direct and traditional travel agents. Most are selling both so that they offer the customer choice, however there are probably differing underlying motives in every case.

To gain a view about what is happening I have taken the top 10 travel websites (as defined by Hitwise UK agencies category, and marked whether they have a blended search, Dynamic Packages and Package Holidays.

My definition of a Blended search is where there is one search form for Holidays and the results displayed include both Dynamic Packages and Package Holidays. There are some cases where the website has offered both a single holiday search and separate Dynamic Packages and Package Holidays searches.

Summary of what the top travel websites doing in the UK around blended search:
Thomson Holidays:BlendDPPH
First Choice:NoBlendPH
Thomas Cook Holidays:BlendDPPH
Travel Republic:NoBlendDP
ebookers UK:NoBlendDP
Opodo UK:NoBlendDPPH
On The Beach:NoBlendDP

Blended Search = Blend
Dynamic Packages = DP
Package Holidays = PH

As you can see out of these top 10, only 2 websites feature a Blended Search, 8 sell Dynamic Packages and 7 sell Package Holidays.

One of the most interesting points from this, is that 8 out of the top 10 websites all have Dynamic Packaging. The 2 that don’t have Dynamic Packaging,
MyTravel and First Choice businesses have recently merged with Thomas Cook and Thomson respectively and so probably wont be long before we see it.

Do Users Care?
The main thing about a Blended Search is that I believe customers don’t care whether it is a Dynamic Package or a Package Holiday, they are more interested in the price and what they get for their money e.g. hotel facilities and location.

Why Blend?
One of the reasons for blending is that users don’t care, however it also makes the website simpler and the customer is able to compare similar products side by side so that they can convince themselves that they are making the right choice. Without blending the customer will have to dart around the website to try and compare all travel options next to each other.

Blending Tours and Other Travel Types
I have described blending Dynamic Packages and Package Holidays; however there is other product that warrants blending. Examples are Tours, Tailor Made Holidays and Fly Drives….there will be more.

Pricing and Protection
The one thing that is noticed is that when blending it is important that the user knows what each holiday consists of so that they know they are comparing like for like when they see a price. Examples of such things are transfers, in flight meals and taxes, which all can add significant additional costs to the holiday. The customer should also know whether they are protected or not with all the product, however with most of the top travel companies it would appear that most are bonding the Dynamic Packages as they would a Package Holiday.

There are now quite a few technology providers saying they can do this e.g. Traveltek and Comtec, however the devil is in the detail with each one and the product that it is being blended. Comtec powers the Thomas Cook blended search and Thomson Holidays I believe has been developed in-house. One issue that I know Comtec has overcome is the speed difference between a dynamic package search and a package holiday search. The Dynamic Package search tends to be the slowest if it relies on external sources of product such as bedbanks – it is as quick as the slowest bedbank connection. Caching Dynamic Packages like Package Holidays is the solution to ensure fast results.

Will the Blended search become the norm?
This is only applicable to those that sell more than one travel type, however I would say the answer is yes. It is too important for the customer to see all options in one screen for the destination that they are looking at, albeit getting to the destination by plane, rail, car or ferry.