During our presentation at the PhoCusWright Innovation Summit last year, we outlined our vision for Rome2rio: to be the platform of choice for travel sites planning to replace their air-only search results with multi-modal results. We believed then, as now, that air-only results will meet the same inevitable fate as black and white TV; that consumers will naturally gravitate towards sites offering a search experience that reflects their real world choices by including rail, road and sea transport next to air.
Although we didn’t reach the final round for the Summit’s various judged categories, we did take home the People’s Choice award. We surmised later that perhaps our vision was too disruptive, or the judges so US-centric, that they couldn’t see their way clear to supporting us. The Summit audience had fewer qualms, but were they right? After seven months, how well are we doing in our quest to lead the industry towards this new generation of travel search?
Although we’re not currently focused on consumer-direct business, traffic on the rome2rio.com site has grown dramatically since the November conference. The site had some 139,000 unique visitors in November 2012; in May 2013 we hosted 550,000 visitors. That’s a four-fold increase in six months, and well above our expectations.
Our marketing spend is zero: the increase is driven by word of mouth and SEO. Check out this result for a search on “how to get from Gstaad to Venice” to see the type of query that works so well for us:
SEO results like this are behind the traffic growth on Rome2rio.com
At this rate we’ll soon pass one million uniques per month; that will force us to pay a little more attention to the consumer business, which at the moment plays second fiddle to our partnership efforts. Sadly, we can’t name any of the big accounts that are working on Rome2rio integrations, or what exactly they’re working on. What we can say is that if you are an OTA, an airline, a corporate travel specialist or a hotel booking site, you should watch out: one of your major competitors is planning new functionality that embraces multi-modal, door to door search, and they’re doing it to gain a competitive advantage over you.
Working with these well established, high volume players has taught us a thing or two about how the switch to multi-modal is likely to play out. No-one, it’s clear, is going to turf out their air-only results one day and replace them with multi-modal the next. The investment in the existing model is too great and the risks involved in switching far too high to make it anything but a gradual, carefully managed process. Having said that, we’ve been surprised at the innovative ways these large-scale partners plan to introduce multi-modal search: while we expected that people would take our platform and do cool things with it, we’re shocked we didn’t think of these applications ourselves!
Besides our work with “marquee accounts” capable of tens of millions of search requests per month, we are also active at the opposite end of the traffic scale, enabling smaller sites, often startups, via our free-access API model. Partners who generate less than 100,000 search requests per month can access the R2R API at no cost; this is a tactic designed to place pressure on the larger sites, and it seems to be working. Hundreds of small sites have signed up for either the API or White Label program. Results, as expected, are a little patchy: many partners begin work on the API connection but stop once they realize the UI will require a great deal of effort; others crank out a white label partnership in an afternoon. We expect to see dozens of partnerships go live over the coming months, though we have no insight into how effective or well-realized they might be.
Some partners are opting for the White Label and a quick integration process.
In summary, then, we’re happy with our progress since PhoCusWright. There is growing interest in the multi-modal space, some of it fueled by Google’s relentless (though leisurely, and certainly uninvited) entry into the mainstream of the online travel sector. As more and more incumbents take stock of Google’s strategy, and then analyse the changes that the emergence of multi-modal search is likely to herald, we expect things to heat up even more. Fun times ahead.