Monthly Archives: September 2013

Multi-modal: An Existential Threat For OTAs & Meta-search Sites

​There are good reasons why travel search results are limited solely to air travel, despite the fact there’s generally a variety of  ways to get between the origin and destination you’re enquiring about. Principal among them is that our industry has, since the 1970s, been most interested in selling air travel, and made enormous amounts of money from doing so. And then there’s the fact that air travel has for so long been seen as the premier mode of travel, while rail, bus and ferry were thought of as déclassé unless absolutely necessary. Finally, there were simply no technology solutions that could quickly and reliably serve up a search result showing air, rail and other options alongside each other.

Cognitive dissonance: Only showing flight options when you know your customers prefer the train.

The availability of Rome2rio’s search platform—and presumably the others that will follow—eliminates that final barrier. But that still leaves OTAs and metasearch sites in a quandary, wondering how and when they should embrace multi-modal search. The savviest of them realise that their customers, especially those travelling in or to Europe, want a choice between air and rail; and that they’d also appreciate help figuring out how they travel that final leg to their vacation rental in Tuscany, or their business meeting in some out-of-the-way part of Germany.

Responding to those customer needs, those early adopters are finding ways to adopt multi-modal search into their sites: on property and destination pages, on booking confirmations, SEO pages and elsewhere. What we haven’t seen yet—and we’re not surprised—is an attempt to replace air-only search with multi-modal on a genuinely high volume OTA or metasearch site. So why aren’t we surprised?

The main booking path on a top-ten travel site is a carefully constructed, finely tuned and highly valuable beast. Millions of visitors click through it each day, and the results and options they see represent years of careful analysis, design and development. Changes to the booking path are not made lightly, as so much depends on the customer staying engaged and not bouncing off to some competitive site for some comparison shopping. Put simply, there’s a lot of money invested in air-only booking paths, and we’re not surprised that they’re not being changed overnight.

Waymate allows users to compare, and then book, air & rail journeys in Germany, and beyond.

But therein lies the problem for the market leaders. Smaller players, as usual, have less to lose and everything to gain by experimenting with new models. A startup focused on the Italian market, for example, can afford to experiment with all sorts of approaches and designs until they hit on something that resonates with their audience. Their funding may run out before they gain traction; or, on the other hand, they may find themselves with a wildly successful site, and begin to place real pressure on their more established competitors.

Cleartrip emphasises the many transport options users of their site may choose from.

We’re already starting to see this kind of dynamic. Waymate and GoEuro, both focused on the German market, use their own multi-modal technology to drive their sites; Wanderio, in Italy, uses Rome2rio’s platform; while in India Cleartrip, a more established player, is another Rome2rio client. Each has a different approach, each is interesting, some are gaining real traction. To make matters worse for the air-only players, Google, a perhaps unwelcome entrant, has been rolling out limited multi-modal functionality in its mapping products. How irritating.

Want to travel cheap, green or fast? Wanderio, an Italian startup, gives you options.

This dynamic—annoying startups biting at the ankles of industry giants—has been played out many times before, and this won’t be the last time we see it unfold. What remains uncertain in this case is how long the major sites can hold out before responding to the market, either through acquisitions, internal development projects, or brand new strategies that we can’t yet predict. Interesting times ahead.

Rod Cuthbert


In Online Travel, Three Events Matter

A nice surprise today: at the annual Traveltech industry conference in Sydney, Rome2rio was announced Australia’s Travel Website Of The Year for 2013. The award is judged on five criteria: innovation, design and usability, meeting the brief, speed, and content.

Winning this year’s award was something of a shock—we had not entered the competition, but the organisers included us anyway—and our competitors included some fabulous companies, among them Qantas, Lonely Planet,, Agoda and Expedia. Not exactly a bunch of no-name startups. But they have all been around quite a while and we suspect the judges scored us strongly for innovation, the one criteria in which early stage companies have an obvious edge on their bigger, more established cousins.

This is exactly what I wanted to avoid…

Frankly, I’m more than a little embarrassed by the whole thing. I was a speaker earlier in the day but had booked a 3pm flight, hoping to get back to Melbourne before the rush hours that clog the freeways, especially on a football final weekend. Martin Kelly, the Traveltech conference supremo, had asked me if I’d be around for the awards; his question made me think it would be a good idea to stay, so I called Jetstar to see what my options were. You can guess the answer: my $90 fare would blow out to $350 if I swapped to an evening flight. I decided to stick with the original plan, and missed the awards ceremony. Oops.

Industry conferences like Traveltech, Singapore’s Web In Travel and the big daddy of them all, PhoCusWright, play a crucial role in bringing together the people who make online travel the incredibly vibrant industry that it’s become. At Viator we did all our early deals over drinks and dinner at PhoCusWright; now Rome2rio has enjoyed award wins at both PhoCusWright and Traveltech. Frankly, I can’t imagine doing business in online travel without these three annual events. Long may they reign!

Rod Cuthbert