The Travel Market Races To The Bottom

by Jay Deragon on 01/04/2012

There is a war brewing within the online travel agency space over Google’s recent move with Google Flights and Google Hotels.

Google began positioning its new flight-finding feature at the top of general search results for airline booking information earlier this month. And its new competitors in the $110 billion online travel industry aren’t happy about the search giant crashing the party, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Chasing The Market To The Bottom

Travel is hot for 2012 and beyond.  An increasing number of people say they’ll do more leisure traveling in the coming year, and even more say they’ll fly if they can find good deals in 2012. Good deals are going to be hard to find. The airlines attempted to raise prices 22 times in 2011 (and nine of those attempts were successful).

Business travel spend is expected to have grown 6.9% in 2011 compared to 2010, hitting $250.2 billion.  The forecast for 2012 is 4.3% growth in business travel spend for 2012 (or $260.9 billion).

While revenue growth in the travel sector looks promising the user experience continues to decline. Flying today is like traveling by bus with few frills and even fewer fun times.  Consider some of the recent headlines:

  1. Airline Technology Leading to Customer Alienation
  2. Airlines Score Lowest In Customer Satisfaction
  3. 92% of Executive Unhappy With Business Travel Experiences
  4. Airline Delays, Cancellations and Complaints Rise

I could go on with an endless list but by now the picture should be obvious. Current market dynamics within air travel services is propelling a race to the bottom and Google knows this.  In other words air travel suppliers have boxed themselves into competing on price and thus air travel services have become a commodity. The meaning of the term commodity is used to describe a service for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.

Google knows that search has the greatest influence over consumer choices for travel services. 93% of people who seek information on travel services use search. Consumers seek ratings and reviews, news articles, word of mouth and blog post which in the end influences their decisions. When there is little differential in a market then price becomes the initial decision factor followed by “social influences”, i.e. quality of the experience.

In the beginning of online travel agencies new business models were created that changed the relationship among the key players. Instead of becoming more mutually dependent, they became autonomous and more competitive. In other words they created the race to the bottom.

As a result, the present online travel bazaar is very competitive and the margins are shrinking . The  tight competition led the market to compete on price rather than experience. Google recognizes this and simply stepped in and made the shopping experience better. Google doesn’t care about the price of air service they care about providing the price to consumers seamlessly.

As fortunes are made by leveraging technology to become ever more efficient, there is yet far greater wealth to be had by unleashing the discovery of new experiences and creation of new opportunities. That is exactly why we created Social Flights.  We are changing the direction of the race to the top.

{ 1 comment }

Lucy January 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Here’s to hoping increased efficiencies actually leads to better airline travel. Because hoo-dang, has the fun been sucked out of flying.

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