News here from ZDNet that some of the largest online travel agencies in the U.S. may shift their focus abroad in order to keep growing their business. Chief execs at Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia all said at a summit this week that they would be focusing on emerging markets in an aim to capture as much of those markets as possible.

Asia-Pacific seems to be the particular focus but there is still work to be done in Europe by some of these large players. Orbitz, Priceline and others such as Travelocity do not have the profile in Europe that Expedia have built up. I’d expect to see some more aggressive tactics over here from companies like them.

This could make it an even tougher year from domestic players especially with the economic climate in the U.S If the Americans stop spending I’d expect them to put their efforts into regions which are not so economically challenged.

According to the latest J D Power survey anyway…

The industry as a whole has slipped in their rankings from a score of 810 out of 1000 down to 802. Not a massive slip but in these days of advanced internet applications we should be trying to raise that figure significantly.

Hotwire, Travelocity and Expedia have all done very well. Other findings include:

  • The accuracy of reservations made on independent travel websites has improved slightly since 2006. In 2007, 95% of reservations were reported as error-free, compared with 94% in the previous year.
  • The study also finds that nearly one-half (49%) of all travel-related reservations in 2007 were booked on the web, an increase from 46% in 2005.
  • Across the industry, independent travel websites overall receive their lowest marks for appearance/design of website.
  • Generation X and Y travelers are more likely to book a reservation on price-focused websites, such as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, compared with Baby Boomers and Pre-Boomers.

Here’s the list of results:

What this says to me is that:

  1. Consumers expect a much better experience than travel sites can provide currently. Their expectations are advancing quicker than we can develop new online experiences for them.
  2. OTA’s are spending so much on advertising and product that they are not advancing technically at the rates they used to be. OTA’s used to be some of the most advanced websites around, no more I’m afraid.
  3. Usability is not being embraced by the travel industry. This needs to happen and fast!

I would love to see if satisfaction has improved with other types of online travel players such as hotel brands and tour operators. My gut feel is that this result is another sign of the consumer shift to doing it themselves and away from online travel agents. Also a sign of the increasing sophistication of the historically lacking tour operators.

I seem to be blogging about Travelocity quite a lot lately. They’re at the forefront of technology in the online travel arena at the moment and seem to be one of the few who are trying to do something different for their customers online.

The latest announcement is the launch of a mobile service which allows users to view their itineraries, book transfers and hotels, get flight info, use a currency converter, check the weather and even check the security wait times at airports.

A great example of doing something useful for the customer instead of just gratuitous additional functionality for the sake of it. The service comes from Usablenet who offer services to get your website content onto the small screens.