More from TRAVELtech. I talked some months back about my theory about how the short history of online travel can be broken up into three phases. For a quick recap here is what I said
Phase 1 (1995-2003) – I know where I want to go, find me the cheapest price.
Consumers treated online as a price based flight business. They knew exactly where they wanted to go from and to. All they wanted help on from an OTA was price. Not information, not help, not recommendations, just price.
Phase (2000-2006) – I want to find a deal on where to stay, can you help me with rates, availability and advice.
Consumers gain in confidence and cheap hotel deals flood the Internet. Consumers now begin asking OTAs for limited advice on finding and booking of accommodation.
Phase 3 (2005 – now) – what do I do next, where should I go next.
For the first time ever the consumer starts to ask an open ended question of the Internet. Instead of the specific questions of phases one and two where the consumer knew most of what they wanted to know - consumers gained the confidence, tools and networks to ask for advice from OTAs, "the crowd" and the Internet at large. "What do I do next?" Content started to drive traffic and sales like never before. Best available rates and set pricing from suppliers made it harder for the OTA to offer deal advantages.
In my presentation today at TRAVELtech I talked about my thoughts on the future of online travel - phase 4 going by my timeline. Here is what I said.
Phase 4 (2009 and beyond) - Too much information
Consumers begin to feel overwhelmed. They are searching sites with 50k, 100k and maybe 200k hotels (though a comment here says that the sites like HRS claiming 200k hotels are exaggerating a little). There are review sites with 20 million or more reviews. Social networks are producing hundreds of friends with thousands of recommendations. Emails, RSS feeds, SMS suggestions and more are flooding into consumer inboxes. Too much information!!
The challenge as we head into this phase is to take all this information and build a coherent story for consumers. My expectation (and hope) is that this will produce a return to the need for customer loyalty. For online retailers making a connection with customers that they keep through the development of loyalty programs - be they actual rewards, good deals, community building and other marketing and product activities.
The reason to care about this history is that it helps us in planning our products and marketing plans for the future. One of the downsides of a maturing industry is that growth in the traditional markets (US and EU) takes more work and greater innovation. One of the upsides is that we now have a history to look to in preparing of the next trend.
UPDATE - you can find a copy of the presentation here.