We have been discussing the online travel industry and have covered Yahoo! Travel, TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline and LonelyPlanet from a Web 3.0 perspective earlier. Here we will take a look at the popular travel meta-search engines, Kayak and SideStep in the light of the web 3.0 framework.
Kayak was founded in January 2004 by former executives of Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. Both BusinessWeek and Forbes.com have included Kayak among the “Best of the Web”. Entrepreneur magazine had selected the site as the “Best Site for Airfare Shopping”. Currently Kayak receives more than 6 million unique visitors per month.
SideStep, founded in 1999 is headquartered in Santa Clara, California. SideStep has won numerous awards and acknowledgements including the “Best of the Web” award from Forbes.com and BusinessWeek. In 2006, PC World included SideStep among the Best 100 Products of the Year. The site receives more than 5 million unique visitors per month.
The Context for Meta Search Engines is almost always to find the best possible flight or hotel.
Hence, it is the Search function that is most key.
Both Kayak and Sidestep provide various nuances of vertical search that are fantastic. Both do the bread-and-butter flight, hotel, car rental searches that one would expect on a travel search engine, and do them well. You can narrow down searches by Price, Date Ranges, No. of Stops, Class of Travel (for airlines), distance from landmarks for hotels, and a host of other search criteria. And they not only search Expedia, Orbitz, and other online portals, they also search the hotel and airlines sites like BritishAirways.com, HolidayInn.com, etc.
There are a few minor issues, however, which both engines need to fix. British Airways and United, for example, have a class of service called “Economy Premier”, which is between Economy and Business. Try searching for Economy Premier tickets on Kayak. Doesn’t work.
Personalized Alerts on Best Fares across travel portals and airlines to various destinations is also very useful. Below is one that I have set up for Africa.
Kayak doesn’t have any Content, but SideStep has a Travel Guide feature, which is powered by Travelocity, Frommer’s, and other Content Partners. Seems like an easy function to replicate via some partnerships, and Kayak should emulate.
Community doesn’t really apply here, since we’re reviewing a vertical search engine, although being able to do a search on the community generated reviews of a particular hotel across various portals could be very helpful also. Besides that, the community function is pretty much unnecessary here.
Commerce is also not part of a Meta Search engine’s business model.
In fact, Meta-search engines earn money mainly through advertising and referral fees. Kayak also enables travel search for AOL, CNN, About.com and USAToday.com. Some of SideStep’s advertising partners are Forbes.com, Priceline, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, and Orbitz.
Travel is a very significant category online,
and in these days of active M&A, it is very likely that these two vertical search engines will soon be acquired by one of the bigger internet conglomerates, or a larger Travel portal.