When it comes to online travel, we see constant evolution in technology fuelled mostly by end-consumers’ rising expectations and the need to address key industry trends. At this stage, we’re observing two fundamental trends:
- Following the benchmark set by generic Search Engines, online search is becoming more and more instantaneous, predictive and a conversational experience for users, who will soon start expecting the same for online travel search. This first trend is all about instant search which is one of the features most expected by travellers who have little time to waste waiting for website responses. Previously, online shoppers have been used to the (world-wide) wait between a request and the display of a result page. In the 21st century, this is becoming less and less acceptable. The trend is clearly moving towards instant results whether it is on a generic search engine or on an online travel site.
- The second trend is personalised search, which is at the heart of any online retailer’s strategy. Personalisation is the buzz word of Online Retail 3.0., and is the vision to create individualised shopping experiences for smart consumers, which can be easily applied to online shoppers in travel. However, the use of personalisation is still a little subtle and mostly driven by online retailers who seek new ways to boost sales conversion by tuning the result set to the identified profile or purchase pattern. There is no doubt that this is only the beginning as end consumers will also soon expect more targeted offers that match their purchase history or specific needs.
This is all great, but one question remains very much unanswered: are these two trends compatible?
From a technical perspective, the best way to deliver instant results is to use caching technology to store and pre-compute huge amounts of data that can be returned instantly to the end consumer. On the other hand, by definition, personalised content has to be assembled on the fly based on customer profile or context and we’ve quickly reached the conclusion that there has to be a balance between the range of instantly available results and the ability to cache enough offers so they are instant. Does it make sense to compute, store and refresh the price of a business class trip from Lima to Sydney for a family travelling with one child, if this type of request only happens once every 5 years? This is a simple example, but it very much illustrates the dilemma of Instant vs. Personalised search.
So from fully instant to fully personalised, having the best of both worlds surely poses both a mathematical and a practical challenge. We can assume that the mathematical challenge will be solved in the long run with advances in technology but we are left with the practical challenge for the foreseeable future. The answer will have to come from the right mix of Instant and Transaction search, depending on the use case or the stage in the booking path. For example using instant tools for the initial search stages (used for generic search: open search and inspiration) where instant really matters, and which can also be segmented by adding trends and popularity filters. As online travel shoppers move down the search process and enter into a more transactional world, instant may be traded off for more customised offers. This is where higher quality results with more personalised offers are made possible and can be fitted to single users based on their own profiles. This is even more true for the post-booking phase for up and cross selling opportunities.
Finding the right mix of technologies will be key to the success of online players over the next five years: instant for inspiration, content browsing and selection; transactional for depth and purchasing flows bringing differentiation in online travel flows. We believe instant search and personalisation will revolutionise the travel experience, yet there won’t be a big quantum leap to all instant but rather an incremental evolution.
Online booking engines will be able to leverage this technology to complement the very efficient transactional search tools already in use today to create unique booking flows as we already see with our existing solutions. Coupled with personalisation technology, dynamic profiling, and cumulative intelligence, the new killer application of this will be to mix the smaller data related to individuals for highly targeted offers and true personalisation.
So, we’re moving one big step forward to create the instant search paradigm while also integrating merchandising and personalisation capabilities in our core search engine, building towards an entirely new generation of flight search solutions which will empower online retailers to build their very own flight experience with relevant, personalised travel options – adding value to the travellers’ choice beyond price. This can only be great news for the end consumer user experience when purchasing travel online in the near future.