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The next frontier for hotel metasearch: product instead of price comparison

A recent article published by Tnooz argued that it’s time for travel metasearch to evolve.

If that’s the case, exactly what form should this evolution take? After all, a number of metasearch engines have recently overhauled elements of their design to integrate booking and improve overall customer experience.

But if you look at the big picture, it’s a pretty small step forward.

More and more companies have begun entering the travel metasearch domain. In principle, an increased amount of metasearch engines would seem beneficial to help find and compare hotels. In reality, it’s created a bit of a digital quagmire, bogging consumers down under the weight of countless options.

With heightened competition, you might expect a surge of innovation from companies striving to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace, but the metasearch model has in fact remained pretty uniform.

If the user experience is to improve and companies want to stand out from one another, it’s clear that evolution is essential.

Beyond price comparison

The current process of comparing hotels involves customers being offered a huge selection of properties to pick between.

They’re then left to sift through these options using a broad range of filters such as type of property, star ratings and general amenities.

Of course, the main way to compare hotels remains based largely around price. More than any other filter, the lowest rates or the latest discounts are given on-page prominence. Users are made to feel it matters more than anything else.

Which it doesn’t. Certainly not for everyone. Because while price is important, even the most financially motivated consumer cares about more than just the cost of the room.

It’s clear that if a new metasearch model is required, it needs to be more nuanced in its design. Ideally, it needs to have the ability to consider, understand and act upon the subtleties of individual preferences.

The shift towards product comparison

The industry is starting to wake up to the shifting demands of the modern traveler.

Today, people demand more personalized travel experiences, and it naturally makes sense that this desire for personalization should include the kind of accommodation they want to stay in.

Slowly, it’s a trend that certain companies are beginning to recognise and respond to.

Orbitz now offers a service that allows customers to enter the names of favorite hotels they’ve stayed at in the past. Using this information, their search engine then compiles a tailor-made list featuring similar properties that may be of interest.

This move marks an ambitious new approach to hotel metasearch that places priority on the product ahead of the price.

And evolution is also taking shape in another important area.

At Travel Tripper, we’ve begun to consider how understanding human psychology can alter consumer behavior and boost hotel bookings.

Currently, every possible option is made available at the start of a reservation process. Room type, upgrades and various other add-ons all need to be selected in one hit. But it turns out that too much choice, especially when offered all at once, makes for a pretty stressful experience. Surprisingly, this can actually lead to a potential booking being abandoned altogether.

The power of machine learning

The evolution of metasearch is also looking to the computing world to speed up and customize the booking process.

Travel search engine WayBlazer has turned to IBM to harness the power of their supercomputer Watson, a natural language-based cognitive service.

Watson can search online through vast amounts of data to find the most relevant information and recommendations, while also offering its own suggestions.

Thanks to its ability to interpret natural language queries, Watson can understand highly specific queries and offer suitable suggestions with supreme precision, effectively helping people find and book their ideal hotel in minutes.

For example, if someone typed the following request, “I want a 4 star hotel in Paris that has views of the Eiffel Tower, spa facilities, a lobby bar and in-room dining,” Watson could search out and find a list of hotels that perfectly match this request.

In an interview with Tnooz, WayBlazer chairman and co-founder Terry Jones summed up the system nicely, describing how it makes arranging a trip “as easy as having a conversation with a friend.”

The ultimate search engine

So, what might hotel metasearch engines look like in the future?

Broadly speaking, it seems the most important change will involve a shift away from price comparison towards product comparison.

Limited search filters may soon be replaced by a refined query-based system based upon accuracy and relevance. Choice would become less about quantity, more about quality.

An integration of personalization and machine learning would seem to be the obvious union to achieve this vision, resulting in a more intuitive and intelligent search engine.

Using this kind of advanced system, customers would no longer find themselves bewildered by options, which would undoubtedly help reduce the chances of them abandoning a booking altogether.

But there’s another important advantage to consider.

If features and benefits are suggested ahead of deals and discounts, customers would frequently receive the best experience rather than the best price. That’s got to be a good thing for overall satisfaction.

And long term, it’s got to be a good thing for repeat business as properties become increasingly selected based on their overall suitability.

A version of this article appears on HotelSpeak.

Gautam Lulla

Gautam Lulla

Gautam is CEO of Pegasus and an outspoken expert in hotel technology and distribution. When he's not busy disrupting the status quo, you can find him ripping powder on the slopes. Contact him at gautam@pegs.com.

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