Travel: The emergence of Meta Search

Online travel is big: Seventy million consumers researched travel on the Internet in July 2006 alone. While this activity remains dominated by Online Travel Agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz (the “OTA’s” attracted 48.5 million consumers in July), there is a new type of travel site emerging that is drawing attention. Travel “Meta Search” sites, which are sites that scan hundreds of other travel sites and pull all of the results together into an easy-to-use interface, are attracting a rapidly increasing user base. The largest sites in this category – Kayak.com, Sidestep.com, and Yahoo’s Farechase – attract up to 3 million users each.

Combined, the Meta Search category attracted an audience of 6.2 million users in July, for a 9% reach among all online travel researchers. Growth has been rapid: in January 2005, the reach of the Meta Search category was a mere 3%. Meanwhile, consumers have felt less of a need to visit an Online Travel Agency like Expedia or Orbitz; the reach of the OTA category has dropped from 77% in January 2005 to 69% in July 2006.

How large can Meta Search grow? Driven in large part by Kayak (300% growth in the past year) the category is becoming mainstream among travelers. If current growth rates continue, Meta Search will eclipse 10 million monthly users by the summer of 2007.

Why would the average person want to use one of these sites? First, by scanning for results across hundreds of other travel sites, Meta Search engines are able to pull together perhaps the most comprehensive view of travel listings and pricing information available online. Second, the sites offer excellent sorting, filtering, and navigation tools to sift through travel options quickly and easily. Tools such as a Google Maps-powered hotel finder on Kayak.com make the process of finding a flight or hotel a snap. This has helped lead to rapid growth in usage among travelers, with even more growth forecasted for 2007.

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