Are OTAs really the threat to agents everyone seems to think they are?
We’ve had a look in our crystal ball and saw some insights on how much of a threat travel sites will pose to agents in the coming years.
Just kidding, we actually just had a chat with our mate, Michael McQueen the futurist.
That’s right, folks, welcome to the final instalment of our three-part series of articles where we consult McQueen about all things travel.
McQueen told us that travel sites might actually be driving customers back to agents. Not stealing their business.
“The interesting double-edged sword is that even though they are seen as a threat to agents, the challenge now is it’s coming full circle,” McQueen said.
“It’s added so much complexity and people are getting overwhelmed by how much is online. They just want someone to simplify the complexity.”
“So in some respects, they’re the best of friends and the worst of enemies. In a way they offer something you can’t get: no travel agent has enough experience or exposure to the market to compete with all that’s available online.”
“But part of the value proposition [for agents] is that people are busy, they don’t have time to wade through 47 options for hotels in Soho so travel agents can then sort through it, they have experience, they have relationships with some of these providers, they can get you a good deal and make it simple.”
McQueen told us the future of online travel platforms revolves around data.
“Google flights is one of the biggest ones to watch. Google flights are making it easier to monitor fares, you can put on a fare alert and Google will let you know if the price has gone up or down or the best time to buy it based on historical data.”
“That’s very valuable for consumers and Google can do it because they have the data.”
“That’s a big thing that’s coming into play, the value of data.”
He predicts that Facebook will be used as the equivalent of a guidebook because of their vast quantities of data.
“Facebook’s play for providing travel guidance is interesting because the stuff they have access to from a data perspective is very valuable.”
“If I got to a city and open up Facebook City Guides, it will show me that three friends, who i know have good taste, went to this restaurant last time they were in Venice.”
“Whereas going onto TripAdvisor and seeing people’s reviews, when you don’t know if they have very different taste to you or different budgets does not have as much appeal.”
In terms of the other big online players, Michael also commented that he can’t see Airbnb’s expansion into business travel going very well.
“I mean if you’re travelling for work do you really want to be staying in someone elses’ apartment and trying to work everything out? Or do you want to go to a Hilton where it’s all very low requirement, the same as every other Hilton you’ve stayed in for work.”
“[Airbnb] are also looking to own other parts of the travel business as well so I guess they’re trying to pitch themselves as a competitor to Priceline and Expedia, but I think they need to be mindful of extending themselves too much.”
“They’re good at one or two things in the travel market but can they be good at all things? Maybe not. They probably don’t want to expand too rapidly. But that’s one to watch.”