If you were to visit a site such as Expedia or Travelocity, you can easily access databases listing available hotel rooms in Las Vegas, as well as sort them by price, quality, and other parameters. However, when you enter a query such as “the best price on a three star hotel room in Las Vegas tomorrow night” into a search engine, you will likely run into a problem because search engines have not typically been able to delve into the databases of hotels and travel companies. This is starting to change, however.
A search engine without access to relevant databases will not be able to provide a precise answer to a search for the “cheapest flight to sfo from jfk tonight”. The search engine may be able to direct you to a particular online travel company, which often requires you to make another query. The information you need is out there but, like other Deep Web content, you have to work harder to find it.
Search companies are starting to develop/integrate this kind of functionality into their search engines. Google has recently purchased ITA Software, whose QPX software “uses algorithms to combine and parse multiple sets of flight information from airlines, including pricing and availability data, to create an up-to-date database that can be searched across.” This acquired technology allowed the company to roll out Google Flights.
The significance of this is obvious, as are the implications for booking sites. So much so, in fact, that rules were imposed in order for the Justice Department to approve the deal. It remains to be seen how much Google will disrupt the travel industry, but I feel it is safe to say “significantly”.
Difficult to Find, Difficult to Market
In the past, many travel companies have attempted to bridge (i.e., take advantage of) the information gap between airlines/hotels in a variety of ways. Many, for instance, have hired SEO companies to improve their rankings for terms related to destinations, airports, and travel routes. As a result, search engines may present a page from one of these travel sites, which may be the most relevant option it has to offer for these kinds of searches. At the same time, it is an incomplete solution – not ideal from either a marketing or usability perspective.
The landing pages of these sites often include current rates for a particular trip – sometimes the best rates they have to offer – but they are not usually the lowest rates available in general. If search engines could readily access and index this information, they could compare all rates across all vendors while also eliminating the added step of leaving their website. Google and others developing advanced search technology have already made great strides in this area, so it is only a matter of time before finding the best rate on a flight, hotel room, or rental car will be as intuitive as searching for the weather forecast.