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Robert Brown

8 online travel trends to watch in 2020

December 4, 2019

How prepared is your travel brand for the year ahead? As we approach 2020, Travelport’s experts have been keeping an eye on the trends that look set to shape online travel in the year ahead. With traveler expectations constantly evolving, the online experience—through both desktop and mobile—has become a key differentiator between the many travel brands consumers have to choose from when booking a trip.

Our Online Travel Trends 2020 report looks at eight trends that we believe will have an impact on online travel brands in the year ahead. Here, we take a brief look at each of those trends.

Let’s dive in.

1. Rise of the environmental traveler

2019 was the year that the world was gripped by ‘the Greta effect’. As the climate crisis continues to escalate and travelers become more aware of the environmental impact of their travel choices, now is the time for travel brands to consider what this means for their business.

Our Global Traveler Research found that 42% of consumers are now making travel choices based on environmental and social impact. This is a trend among both leisure and business travelers, where consumers are now acutely aware of the wider impact of their travel choices.

To quote Greta, “the eyes of all future generations are upon you” as travel organizations to address this growing crisis and find ways to offer more eco-friendly travel options.

2. Customer acquisition in 2020

In May 2019, Google did what it had been threatening for years—it changed the game for how people use the search engine to research travel. By combining its travel products, it launched Google Travel, a metasearch website, which aggregates flights, hotels, vacation packages, and trip planning features all in one place. 

The result is that organic links for booking intent keywords have now been pushed further down the search engine result pages (SERPs), meaning that brands are now forced to invest more in search engine marketing to get their offers discovered. So, in 2020 travel brands will need to look to alternative channels to drive customer acquisition.

When it comes to metasearch as an acquisition channel, Skyscanner also threw a spanner in the works recently by launching its direct booking service, in addition to its metasearch and facilitated bookings capabilities. For these direct bookings, Skyscanner becomes the merchant of record for an air booking and fully owns the customer relationship.

Online travel agencies will need to respond to these market shifts by exploiting their own direct channels for customer acquisition, including their website, app, social media channels, chat platforms, among others. In addition, inspirational and user generated content will play a bigger role in customer acquisition for OTAs in 2020.

3. The future of air retailing

Air products have been evolving for many years now and as airlines make a play for direct bookings, online intermediaries will need to find avenues to provide additional value for consumers in 2020. This means becoming a one-stop-shop where travelers can compare air offers from multiple airlines through one, easy-to-use interface. Furthermore, agencies need to offer the entire suite of airline products—like branded fares and loyalty programs—to ensure users stay on their site.

4. What to bot?

Advancements in software development kits over the last few years has made chat technology more accessible to smaller and mid-sized travel brands. As a result, in 2020 we can expect to see more applications of chatbots across the entire customer journey.

A quick win for travel brands is a customer service bot that answers some of the most frequently asked questions. But the most innovative brands will use artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) for a smarter chat interface that continually learns and develops.

5. Learning from the Big Three

‘The Big Three’, Trip.com Group, Booking Holdings, and Expedia Group, continue to dominate the online travel market, however there is plenty smaller and mid-sized online travel brands can learn from them to enhance their offering and drive a better customer experience. This includes product diversity, localization, direct customer acquisition, and diversity of payment methods. The trend looks further into the initiatives the Big Three are investing in to offer some inspiration for smaller online travel brands.

6. Virtual interlining

Travel industry disrupters like Kiwi.com have led the way in providing virtual interlining capabilities to travelers, letting them travel ‘from anywhere to everywhere’. Traditionally, to create this kind of itinerary, customers had to search, book, and manage multiple bookings from multiple suppliers and find an insurance solution in case of disruption.

In the coming years we will also see the growth of virtual and multi-modal interlining, where itineraries combining ground transport operators and air content to expand the travel options offered through one search. As this technology becomes more widespread and easier to develop, OTAs can truly differentiate themselves as enablers of a more consolidated end-to-end trip for travelers.

7. Generation Now. APIs Now.

In the last 10 years, online travel moved from ‘Generation Calculation’—an e-commerce, desktop-led experience that focused on booking transactions—to ‘Generation Now’, where customers expect to be able to interact with travel brands when they want, how they want, on the right channel, and at exactly the right moment.

Travel brands need to cater for the new consumer who has shifted to an always on, multi-device, multi-channel, multi-experience journey. How do they do that? To paraphrase a well-known political slogan… “It’s the (API) Economy, Stupid.”

If you’re selling air, hotel, or car, that means the delivery of APIs to support the full workflows you’d expect across search, price, book, ticket, pay, rules, cancel, and modify.  All of this allows your agency to remain closer to ‘Generation Now’ across the entire journey and offer additional value beyond the booking.

7. Messaging: The antidote to super apps?

Online travel agencies (OTAs) are the original digital disruptors—first-generation internet businesses that created digital destinations and became the first stop for prospective travelers. Yet the very thing that gave rise to OTAs—the ability to aggregate digitized data to create economical, do-it-yourself travel planning— now threatens to be their undoing. As with most digital upstarts and once-transformative business models, OTAs must disrupt again or risk being disrupted by super apps.

To combat the threat of super apps like WeChat, OTAs will need to quickly move beyond the simple point to point thinking of helping people get from A to B at the lowest possible price. Instead, they must consider how they can provide more immersive experiences by being where the customer is at every point in the journey. Multi-channel messaging enables OTAs to offer value at every step: whether that’s a restaurant recommendation, a check-in reminder, or an in-trip activity offer.

Trends 2020
Download the full report to deep-dive into these eight trends and what they mean for your business.

We’ve also published our fourth edition of Mobile Travel Trends and the results of our research with 23,000 end travelers across the globe. Download them for free now at travelport.com/Trends2020