Cast of thousands (nine actually) at meta-search panel, WIT 2013

Cast of thousands (nine actually) at meta-search panel, WIT 2013

Kathleen Tan, CEO of AirAsia Expedia, told the audience at Web In Travel: “You think of Google. Google is trying to rape you.” She was talking about stuff that occupies her mind as the boss of one Asia’s biggest OTAs.

It was a juicy statement to kick things off at one of the region’s leading online travel events. This year Meta-search was the big topic – literally – with a panel of nine search operators exploring their businesses and the issues that surround them. Google was also a big part of that conversation, though it was TripAdvisor that really caught everyone’s attention.

Five of the nine meta-search companies  nominated TripAdvisor as the competitor they have their eye on. Including Google. Nicola Simionato, General Manager EMEA & APAC, said: “We are looking at TripTripvisor – we are intrigued by the way they are building direct relationships.”

Brian Schmidt, Vice President Global CPC Sales, TripAdvisor, was doing exactly that, speaking at the conference and talking to anyone who listen. “Our number one priority is to improve mobile. It’s critical.”

He said mobile conversion rates are “challenging” but that in terms of the company’s shift four weeks ago to the meta-search click-based revenue model, “a lot of our partners have voted with their wallet. We’ve had feedback that TripAdvisor is one of their important acquisition channels. The Asia-Pacific market is really important to us with 22% of our traffic coming from this region.”

TripAdvisor now has 350 staff in AP servicing 10 local language sites. Mr Schmidt said the meta-search vendor conversion rates are increasing with better quality leads but there’s also less clicks with just a single page display instead of three ad windows, which has adversely hit TripAdvisor’s revenues. The company though of taking the right direction.

In other meta-search news, Trivago said it now has TV advertising campaigns in 25 countries. Robin John Andes Harries from Trivago said as a result “most of our traffic is branded”, which is unusual for the sector.

Debbie Soo of Kayak said the Priceline-owned travel search engine is now also taking bookings on the site. “It’s been a very successful product for us,” she said, adding that the development has been user-led. She said Kayak has just 200 staff total. Lean and mean?

Meanwhile, Ross Veitch, the CEO  at Asian travel search engine Wego, said he thinks meta-search is becoming a global game (even though each industry leader has a different regional power-base).

“Over the next 6-9 months you’re going to be seeing the Wego brand in all sorts of places,” Mr Veitch said.

Mobile was high on the agenda for all the panelists.

Bonamy Grimes, Co-founder of fast-growing and freshly-wealthy Skyscanner, advised: “You shouldn’t focus on mobile but on the user. The key is seamless transition between each of the devices people use.”

Kei Shibata, CEO of Venture Republic Japan, said traffic at his main sites – travel.jp and hotel.jp – was up 200% year on year  with almost 50% via smartphones.

Hugo Burge, CEO, Momondo Group, which owns Cheapflights and Momondo, claimed meta-search is “bringing consumers back again and again because it’s a product they trust”. Certainly, right now it’s in a sweet spot.

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