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Travel search engines rapid rise poses threat to travel agencies

Just when you thought there was no room for another player in the travel and airline retail-supply chain, another group of players has moved in to aggressively seize market share…

Just when you thought there was no room for another player in the travel and airline retail-supply chain, another group of players has moved in to aggressively seize market share. First, there were online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. But now those must make way for travel meta-search engines like Kayak, Mobissimo and Yahoo! Farechase, the latest in the travel consumer`s arsenal for finding the absolute lowest prices.

According to Hitwise, the world`s leading online competitive intelligence service, the market share of visits to four of the major travel search engines has increased by 304 percent in the past six months (April 2005 versus October 2004) and their contribution of Visits to the Hitwise Travel Agencies category increased by 250 percent when comparing October 2004 to April 2005. In the same period, the market share of visits of the top 5 travel agencies (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Yahoo! Travel and CheapTickets) increased by 11.3 percent, while their contribution of visits to the Travel Agencies category decreased from 65.3 percent to 62.2 percent.

Accurate information about lowest prices is both viral and searchable on the Internet, and that there`s already a massive amount of comparison-shopping that already occurs manually across multiple agency and travel supplier sites, said Bill Tancer, vice president of research, Hitwise. If travel-meta search engines deliver on their promise to efficiently find the lowest prices, then it is possible they will quickly and successfully insert themselves into the travel-shopping value chain.

Among the travel search engines, showed the largest increase in market share, with visits up 6,019 percent in the past six months. Other travel engines are gaining significant ground as well: Yahoo! Farechase up 659 percent; Mobissimo up 350 percent; and Cheapflights up 56 percent.

Travel search engines dependent on traditional search engines

Traditional search engines like Google and Yahoo! Search play an important role in driving traffic to travel meta-search sites. Yahoo! Farechase received 39.3 percent of its visits from standard search engines for the week ending April 30, 2005, Cheapflights received 24.3 percent from search, Kayak 16.6 percent and Mobissimo 8.2 percent. In comparison, all sites in the Hitwise Travel – Agencies category (which includes travel search sites) received an average of 17.7 percent of their traffic directly from search engines.

What some of the new travel meta-search engines lack in brand equity and reach, they make up for in search marketing and optimization within the landscape of the traditional search engines like Google, said Tancer. Their product is essentially robust and sought-after content, and that is the lifeblood of search-engine functionality.

Of the top 100 search terms driving traffic to sites in the Travel Agencies category for the four weeks ending April 23, 2005, over 50 percent were generic terms, 29 percent were names of travel agencies, 16 percent were names of airlines, and 4 percent were miscellaneous terms.

Older segments more likely to visit travel engines

Visitors to the top travel search engines were at least 34 times likely to be over 55 years of age for the week ending April 30, 2005. Mobissimo had the largest number of visitors over 55 (25 percent), compared to 18.4 percent of visitors to the Travel Agencies category. Hitwise research analysts note that as Baby Boomers begin to retire and have more leisure time, this price-conscious group will become an increasingly powerful force on travel meta-search engines.

Top Search terms resulting in Visits to Travel Agency websites Period – 4 weeks ending May 7, 2005

Generic Terms Agency Names
airline tickets travelocity
travel expedia
cheap airline tickets orbitz
hotels cheap tickets
cheap flights
cheap airfare priceline
car rental
plane tickets hotwire
Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.