I had a great conversation this morning with Jerome Thil the CEO of the French meta-travel search company Sprice. In Europe and other parts of the world purchasing static vacation packages has been the norm long before the advent of the Web. That buyer behavior has changed a bit with the concept of dynamic packaging, but roughly 80% of travel-related searches by European consumers still focuses on static packages. The Sprice meta-search capability is currently only available on the Spice French site:
For those not up on their French the "Sejours" button starts the travel search for packages. The package meta-search capability took 4 years to develop and uses an interesting technology approach to capture the unstructured and non standardized content from package seller Websites. Rather than using intelligent agents to screen scrape the site, Sprice built an extraction application as an extension to the open source Mozilla Firefox browser. As a Sprice developer uses this modified browser to identify fields on a given site, the extension records the session and thus captures the structure of the site. When the user enters a search query, behind the scenes, the Sprice technology sends these knowledgeable browsers to the sites tracked and extracts the information. Please note that this is a fairly simplistic way to describe the technology as cleansing and parsing the data is a major step in providing consistent comparisons across sites and thus the 4 year development cycle to bring this to market.
Comparative shopping is at the heart of the Web. Rather than focusing on air or hotel shopping as many competitors are already doing (e.g. Kayak, Mobissimo, Farecast), Sprice is focused on the package segment providing important functionality to markets that still predominantly purchase pre-packed tours. User generated content and mobile applications are on the near Horizon for Sprice, particular as the company has a long standing relationship providing the travel channel for the large European Telco, Orange.