Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Consumer as the Ultimate Aggregator

Much has been written about the changing travel distribution landscape. The four GDS have been forced to lower their fees in exchange for "full content" agreements with the airlines. A closer look at these agreements reveals loopholes regarding special promotional fares. Recently there has been some rumbling from the major hotel chains about going direct. TMC platforms such as TravelBahn (Amex) and Symphonie (CWT) are being promoted as the ultimate solution for total content. GNEs have emerged as viable aggregators and alternate distribution platforms.

Within this context, old models continue to be the dominant theme as the traditional distribution players promote their definition of total content. A key point missed by this familiar discussion concerns the very nature of the Internet itself. So let me ask, how many travel Websites are there on the Web? What percentage of these sites have content in a single system? This facetious comment does have a point. There is no limit on content on the Internet. One might argue that there are a limited number of airlines, hotels and car rental companies so therefore there is a limit on the number of potential content sources. That may be true, but once you add new Travel 2.0 sites that promote user generated content, predictive modeling or mash-ups of fares and maps, the true nature of content is revealed. I believe that no single system will ever have total travel content. Ultimately it is the consumer who acts as the ultimate aggregator. The continued discussion which paints content as finite, misses the very nature of the Internet. Travel 2.0 will be followed by Travel 3.0, 4.0 and beyond. The way we think about online travel may be radically different within 10 years. Let's abandon the archaic notion of total content access and recognize that the travel industry has been permanently changed by the Web. Expecting any one source whether GDS, OTA or GNE to have full content is not only outdated, but ignores the very nature of the Web. At the end of the day it is the consumer who decides the relevance of content sources.

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