Is Google Flights the OTA antidote?
By Alice Jong, Research Analyst at Phocuswright, Inc.
Travel metasearch was initially built on the premise that travel suppliers needed a platform to compete against OTAs for the attention of bargain-hunting consumers. Suppliers have fared better at holding the stronger metasearch position in the more consolidated U.S. air segment than in the fragmented hotel market. However, when examining U.S. metasearch referral data from analytics firm Jumpshot to the top 15 downstream travel websites over the past two years, share of air referrals to OTAs has been rising and surpassed 50% share last year.
Google Flights is speedily growing monthly visitors (it took them less than five years to surpass KAYAK despite KAYAK's eight-year head start to market), but fewer visitors are clicking onwards to airline or OTA websites. So, while Google may deliver conversions at a higher rate, it's delivering on smaller referral volume. KAYAK wins in the middle and generates more leads to downstream sites, leaving room for Google to bridge the gap between its two strengths.
Enter Google Flights' updated design. The company rolled out a new format in beta late last year that suggests a shift from "inspirational" to "let's-get-right-to-the-point." The new simplified homepage cuts down the "Discover Destinations" feature from displaying a lengthy laundry list of suggested places to just three recommendations. Reduced clutter means the flight search bar is featured more prominently, and all content is now above the fold. These moves position Google to better compete for those mid-funnel travelers where KAYAK currently leads, and encourage its existing base of window shoppers further down the funnel.
If Google Flights can successfully drive a higher volume of referrals while maintaining its attractive conversion rates, then they just may be able to deliver on that original metasearch "OTA antidote" promise.
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