Inside Online Travel Portals

The boom in Indian aviation sector is reaching its peak. The Air travel market is expected to grow at a brisk rate for at least next decade. This boom has created a big market for Indian online travel portals. Currently there are 8 to 10 players in the market competing for their pie. As most of them have come up recently they are still fine tuning their search capabilities. The Travel portals are expected to get better as time goes by.
With more than 75% of e-commerce spend happening purely on online travel booking, this space is getting quite lucrative. This puts Indian OTAs (Online travel agents) back in limelight. With the number of Online Travel agents reaching double figures, it is quite competitive too. The quest to move ahead of the competition has pushed some portals to introduce features that attract more audience. Cleartrip and IxIGo are pioneers in this field.

IXIGO a recent entrant has conveniently positioned itself as a pure ‘No-Nonsense’ search engine. It has introduced a new feature that will allow the users to search comparative rates among the major players - Yatra, Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip. Aloke Bajpai, the dynamic CEO of IxIGo and a personal friend, intends to offer its users total transparent deals. Drawn on the lines of Kayak.com, metasearch capabilities of IXIGO has already taken the company places. The user has the option to perform a live comparison from Yatra, Cleartrip & MakeMyTrip. The users have to simply click the three checkboxes while searching for the airfares on IXIGO itself.

This is an excellent feature!

Cleartrip on the other hand has launched Cleartrip graphs that provide users with indicative prices across range of dates for 9 different airlines. This will help users to find the cheapest fare rates across different carriers. This is a good feature but how many users would like to analyze pricing trends?

What is expected out of the Travel Search engines?

Taking into consideration the demographics of Indian market and the rural/urban population mix; the following (popular) parameters define the basics for the travel search engines.

- Cheapest fare search

- Flight options and connections

- Easy to use (User Interface)

- Ancillary services/Content

We have discussed so far what is happening on front end. Let’s take a walk on the other side and understand how it is done. The primary challenge for a Travel portal is to be able to offer ‘Cheapest’ fare. This basically involves the following;
- Gather content from multiple sources
- Run algorithms and arrange data
- Display the information
Gathering information may be through various channels, for example, direct feeds, APIs’, GDS etc. out of these GDS being the most popular ones. Studies conducted by an independent research group have proven that the Sabre global distribution system is the industry leader in finding the lowest available fares.
Here is how the Sabre system performed versus the competition:

The content is generic and available to all. Travel search engines are constantly trying to better themselves by utilizing latest in technology. The very popular trend these days is WEB 2.0 Mashup.
Web 2.0 uses technology based protocols to display information from multiple sites and categories and lets users organize that information in different ways on the screen or do more flexible searches. Common consumer examples of Web 2.0 include the social-networking Web site MySpace and YouTube, which allows users to post and watch videos via the Internet.
The year 2006-2007 was called the year of the travel portals. As more than a dozen travel portals were launched and almost half a dozen got funded. Among all the travel portals the ones like TravelGuru, Yatra, Makemytrip, Travelguru, Cleartrip and Ezeego1 have a lot of muscle power due to the funding and backing of large companies and VC’s. But from banner ads and TV ads for these portals it has been a paradigm shift to web 2.0 buzz and pull marketing.
Makemytrip along with their agency Webchutney were the early movers when it came to linking web 2.0 to travel. Their travel community Oktatabyebye which started as a contest has now graduated into a full fledged community with travelogues, travel QnA, polls, photos, videos, destination features, hotel reviews and recommendations with friends, family and other members of the site.
The other travel portal Cleartrip.com till now has had a different approach to web 2.0. They have used web 2.0 to get closer to their customers and get instant customer feedback by having an official cleartrip blog.

Final Verdict: It is difficult to judge or come to a conclusion based on couple of searches across multiple sites. However, it seems that there is tremendous scope for improvement, it is imperative that you got to have tie-ups and partnerships with different carriers to get the best rates. The newer search portals are quite user friendly and give you a much better user experience. However, when it comes to rates the older players still rule the roost.

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