Travel search
Phil Donathy

Hitting the sweet spot for travel search

April 10, 2017

In today’s busy world, our attention is being demanded in more ways than ever before: consider the proliferation of options in your average coffee shop compared to the time when having milk and sugar were the only options.

The world of travel is no different.

There are hundreds of airlines in the world flying many thousands of routes between more than 40,000 airports. The number of different fares filed by those airlines has multiplied enormously.

The challenge for a travel commerce platform like Travelport which connects thousands of travel bookers around the world to this vast choice of air fares and other travel content is to find the right handful of suitable and available options at a price that will be acceptable to the consumer.  It has to do this by searching across the more than six billion fare records, which multiplies to trillions of choices once you’ve added in all the potential connections, feeder options and fare types that sit in the database - a task made even more complex by the fact that these fares are updated and change constantly.

“It is incredibly dynamic,” says Phil Donathy, Travelport’s Senior Product Director. “Airlines file new prices hourly as they run promotions or see a competitor has changed their prices.”

At the same time, airlines and other travel suppliers have increasingly unbundled their products to make them more personalised, offering a seat with extra legroom, a flight without a meal, a hotel room with Wi-Fi included for example.

All this adds to a potentially confusing journey for the consumer.

This dizzying whirlwind of travel means the way people look for travel options has changed dramatically.

According to recent Expedia research, those looking to book travel visit up to 38 sites before they do. As well as switching between websites, they jump between computers, mobiles, via mobile websites, apps and increasingly, chatbots and voice-powered digital assistants.

 “There has been an explosion in growth and it is accelerating on the back of continued growth in web, massive growth in mobile and voice search starting to kick off,” says Donathy, who estimates that search volumes have nearly doubled in the last 12 months increasing from around three billion per month at the start of 2016 to around 6bn per month now.

The challenge for travel companies is how to find the pure notes amid all this noise. At the heart of this challenge is the perfect search.

For an online travel agency or travel website, delivering the perfect search is about hitting a sweet spot balancing content, speed and accuracy. A travel search that does not address all three of these is unlikely to convert to a booking.

“One of the key investments Travelport has made is in travel choice - effectively breadth of content,” continues Donathy.  “And a number of Travelport’s online travel agency customers are now making effective use of this deeper content to bolster the value of their brand and grow their revenues.”

“We are making sure that through algorithmic improvements, compute power, machine learning and data science methodology, we get people the right content and that content is easy to connect for the travel provider.”

“We continue to move further away from old standards to a more API-connected world. We now have more API connections than ever before and travel providers like that because they have more control, can get changes out into the market more quickly and do not have to rely on old-school distribution partners and methods.”

At the same time, travellers are not interested in seeing the results on page three; the challenge is to make sure that the results presented on the first page – or, as voice search takes off, the one or two read back to you by your digital assistant, are the ones most likely to convert to a booking.

The power of the consumer is recognised by Travelport’s positioning as a B2B4C company rather than being ‘just’ B2B without a view of the person who takes the trip.

The computing power to make that perfect search happen is complex, something that Travelport has invested hundreds of millions into over the past decades. Recent investments have focused on leveraging cloud edge caching, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

 “All of these changes mean we are in a unique period where there are a lot of opportunities for companies that can get behind those shifts,” he says.

“Travel brands are increasingly pressurised by disruptors with new technology and delivering a better experience. If travel providers want to find new growth opportunities, they need to recognise the challenges and have an answer to them.”

Travel companies that recognise the seismic changes that are taking place, and the need to be able to filter and personalise huge and growing amounts of content, are well positioned to not just survive but thrive. Having the right technology partner is crucial.

This article first appeared in Digital Marketing Magazine.