Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Travel Metasearch, OTAs Sweating the User Interface, Stupid

When it comes to the new availability of optional services data for the airlines' fee frenzy, the travel metasearch engines and online travel agencies (OTAs) are sweating the user interface (UI).

How do you cram the options into search choices and displays when checked-bag fees may be suited for apples-to-apples comparisons among airlines, but in-flight entertainment choices or paid seats may not?

The challenges for Kayak, FareCompare, Mobissimo, Farecast, TripAdvisor, CheapFlights and the OTAs is how to present a clean UI to consumers that would entice them to pick their optional-services preferences before they execute their search so travelers can take advantage of the new data without the metasearch engines and OTAs totally messing up the UI.

There also still is a technology debate, I'm told, concerning whether the new ATPCO standards are robust enough for airlines bent on those incremental revenue streams that optional services will generate.

Although 13 global airlines, ITA Software and Amadeus made some travel news by testing optional services' feeds with ATPCO, some carriers undoubtedly will build their own nonstandardized solutions, as did United Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines with the Sabre GDS before ATPCO had completed its standards-crafting.

The GDS UI issue can be easier and more complex than the problem for the metasearch engines and the OTAs. On the one hand, putting optional services on green-screens and in the hands of travel professionals might be easier from a display perspective. On the other hand, the GDSs need to jump through hoops to make all this work with their legacy technology.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting debate yesterday in the comments section about my post, "Airline Optional Services: TripAdvisor, Kayak, Farecast, FareCompare, OTAs to Get the Data."

Hudson Crossing and Valyn Perini of Open Travel Alliance fame cast doubt on whether many consumers will choose to shop for flights based on optional services choices.

A very legitimate point.

But, the more I think about it, the more I think that the issue is a chicken or the egg kind of question.

I think if the metasearch engines and OTAs succeed in creating clean, compelling UIs out of this admittedly morass of optional services choices, then a significant segment of travelers will take advantage of the choices.

That's because it is in consumers' interests to know what they will be paying for in advance, especially if the airlines are offering any new services that actually add value.

On that point, I like the comments yesterday in my blog by Sam Shank, the CEO of Dealbase.com.

Shank wrote: "I've long felt that if a la carte products are positioned as upgrades (vs. add-on fees), and strategically-placed within the purchase decision process, they'll represent a key new source of airline revenue. Metasearch, with their focus on innovation and rapid iteration, is the logical partner for airlines to roll this out to consumers."

He added: "As an air traveler, I'm looking forward to spending more money to have a better flight experience. But, if the only products offered are things I used to get for free, my wallet will remain shut."

Mine, too.


Susan Black said...

Great blog post, Dennis - and I agree, "It's the UI, stupid", will be the OTA/Meta cry going forward. Making it easier and more transparent for the consumer - now there's an idea!

Anonymous said...


Dennis Schaal said...

Anonymous: Hi back. Bet I know who you are. At least my readers will know I am responsive to comment posters:)