Trend Watch – Does Flattening Travel Search Spell Opportunity?

travel agentAs the major online travel search engines begin to consolidate, could this be an opportunity for travel agents to scoop up a new generation of customers?

The New York Times reports that Priceline’s recent acquisition of airline and hotel search engine Kayak and Expedia’s acquisition of German hotel search site Trivago point to a maturing online travel market in the United States. As the travel industry continues to recover from the twin shocks of 9/11 and the economic recession of 2008, there is also less pressure to give travel search a favorable rate than there was in the heyday of online search.

“Online travel in the U.S. is mature,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt tells the New York Times. “Growth is flattening out. There isn’t double-digit growth like in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Online travel agencies are exploring new ways to reach more people — acquisition and investments. Kayak and Trivago will refer more business to the respective purchasers.”

The consolidation comes as online travel search is stagnating in the battle for customer satisfaction. Back in February our sister site Hotel Management reported that the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) had shown a 2.6 percent drop in consumer satisfaction with online travel. Online travel’s customer satisfaction scores had also remained virtually unchanged since 2002.

“There’s been a lack of innovation in the category,” Larry Freed, CEO at ForeSee, which helps produce the ASCI, told NBC News at the time. “Consumers are saying that the value they’re getting hasn’t kept up with how their expectations are evolving.”

That lack of innovation spells opportunity for travel agents. In a recent blog on the Huffington Post, luxury eco travel specialist Elevate Destinations published a series of reasons why young people should use travel agents. The reasons in the blog will probably sound familiar – travel agents can hack through the information overload on the Internet, acquire special deals for their clients and be in a client’s corner if things go wrong. But if online travel search is flattening out, it could mean a golden opportunity for agents to prove their value to a new set of young clients.

Have you had any success reaching out to younger clients? Please let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.