How might an economic downturn affect the online travel market?

February 13, 2008

Reuters have been holding a Travel & Leisure Summit in Los Angeles and this was one of the topics of conversation. The main answer seemed to be that deals will be key!

While consumers may tighten their belts, hoteliers may give better rates to online travel agencies as they will be more eager to fill their rooms. This should really benefit the large online agents such as Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz etc.

While a recession could erode demand generally it can also have the opposite effect in the activity of bargain and deal hunters as more people hunt for something affordable. This could benefit not just the big players but also the price comparison websites as they have access to so many rates they are the obvious place for any bargain hunter to start their search.

Another factor of economic weakness could be airlines who cannot fill all their seats, this should push them to offload unsold stock to online travel agents and may mean that there are some better deals than usual available.

Of course this is all conjecture, at the moment we have no idea how bad an economic downturn could get (wait for the commercial property market to show it’s weakness) or how long it could last.

My tip for this year is price comparison websites. They are positioned well as far as price goes for a year of weaker demand and this has to be the year that they finally improve their user experience to a point where they are so easy to find deals that they start to erode market share of slower moving websites (remember, a lot of price comparison sites are technology companies rather than travel). Looking forward to seeing how Kayak, Mobissimo, Travel Supermarket etc get on in this economic climate!

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