Same same but different. Marginally different. That’s what I have to say about the Aussie travel web – in fact the entire travel web after spending a few days research in compiling the Top 25 Websites for TRAVELtech.

I’ve been doing this annually for a few years and in 2012 the first impressions were: 1) familiarity and 2) similarity. Not much had changed since last year.

Safety first is the general approach. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just a tweak here or there to speed things up, streamline a booking engine, improve product displays, increase sales.

And that is easy to understand. Websites are now big business.

In particular, I would suggest website owners are terrified of losing visibility with Google, which it could be argued is hindering website evolution hostage through its domination of travel search.

As we all know, good organic listings are absolutely crucial to the economic success of any online travel business.

And if there’s one thing Google still rewards is maturity and stability.

So what we’re left with are a group  of websites that work a lot better but look the same as they did last year.

There’s also not a lot of variation in design and functionality.

The bigger sites do a lot of testing so the explanation is clearly that what we are seeing works.

Consumers use certain search and booking patterns and the websites cater to that.

This has resulted in an absence of innovation and inspiration.

History tells us that companies which do not continually innovate at some point cease to grow.

But innovation is a risk and right now online travel is a risk-averse industry.

With websites that are marginally better than the year before.

So it is progress, slowly.

And for now, that’s good enough.

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