Do you ever get the feeling that the online travel industry is losing the plot, just a little? I’m beginning to wonder. One red flag is the open lack of affinity many of the online players have for travel: ie they do not identify as travel companies…

“We are a technology company,” said TripAdvisor CMO Barbara Messing at the WIT conference last week.

Telling that Ms Messing didn’t identify TripAdvisor as a travel company despite it being the world’s most popular travel site with 170m reviews, 70m members and 280m vistors a month.

Travel meta-search darling Skyscanner feels the same way.

“We’re a technology company not a travel company,” Andy Sleigh from Skyscanner declared a few days earlier at TRAVELtech.

Debby Soo from Kayak weighed in: “Technology is what will distinguish Kayak from its competitors over the next 10 years.”

Only that’s what everyone else thinks as well, and in much the same way.

For example….

“The future of travel is going to be hyper-personalisation. By that I mean (us) knowing where you want to go before you even know yourself.” Andy Sleigh, Skyscanner.

And by us, he means technology, data and algorithms. Not people, who may control the technology but do what it says.

Gut feel. Old school.

Travel. Something we sell.

Interviewed separately, Tim Hughes of Agoda made a virtually identical comment on the future of travel…

“Being two steps ahead of the consumer and understanding what their intent is before they even know it, serving them stuff they didn’t know they want in places they didn’t know they wanted to go…

“That’s the future.”

(See video of these interviews).

Tim Hughes also said: “It’s never been better for the consumer”.

Yet new research from Google shows that, from look to book, the average search is spanning an average 53 days during which 28 different sites are visited over 76 sessions.

Of course, Mr Hughes has a strong argument to support his “never been better” belief.

“My view is that travellers have access to more options and more content than ever before,” he wrote in an email.

“There are millions of accommodation options that can be booked instantaneously or near instantaneously.

“Customers are telling us they are getting happier with the booking process.

“We see more customers submitting more reviews that on the whole are more positive about their experiences.

“This seems to tell us that while the data from Google says that customers may be searching more and longer that they end up a lot happier with the end result.”

But is technology the answer,?

The final word on this should go to another meta-search guy, Hugo Burge, CEO of the Momondo Group, which operates Cheapflights.

“Technology is useless unless there is a human touch,” he said.


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