Travelers looking for experience-based itineraries and peer reviews to determine their holidays are impacting how online travel sites evolve, and creating more room for small, niche service providers to emerge alongside bigger, established players such as TripAdvisor.
Bruno des Fontaines, business solutions vice president at Amadeus Asia-Pacific, noted the control of power in today's market has shifted from service providers and retailers to the consumers, as more people become "experts" in planning for their travels.
Citing a study by research firm PhoCusWright and commissioned by Amadeus, des Fontaines pointed out the power shift can be attributed to consumers' mindsets. People today want to know that they are getting the best deals, and feel compelled to search around and compare different sets of information from multiple sources before deciding on their travel plans, he added.
Many will also feel they have made a hasty and potentially regrettable purchase if they do not shop around online, the executive noted.
Additionally, a growing breed of travelers are relying on smaller, lesser-known Web sites to cater to their niche preferences as people move away from visiting the usual tourist sites, he said.
This point was echoed by Turochas Fuad, CEO and co-founder of Travelmob, which offers affordable local accommodation in Asia-Pacific.
"We see a growing trend where travelers are seeking authentic experiences that are truly local and unique, and not just doing the usual 'touristy' thing," Fuad noted.
Quotient TravelPlanner is another service provider that is capitalizing on consumers' demand for customized travel experiences that veer away from the conventional itineraries. Rufus Tan, the company's director of product development, said its value proposition lies in how it curates travel options.
"We do not [blindly] offer components such as hotels, airfares or tours, but curate these items before offering them as options in our packages," Tan explained.
With more entrants to the online travel scene, though, newer players will have to differentiate and offer relevance to travelers in order to achieve market success, des Fontaines said.
Peer reviews remain important
Beyond offering bespoke, experience-driven itineraries, travel sites should continue offering a platform to facilitate peer reviews. Consumers hunger for fellow travelers' perspectives and even anonymous reviews and suggestions are well received, he noted.
Fuad agreed, saying a traveler's decision-making process is always influenced by recommendations from friends and other travelers. This was why Travelmob built a review system which integrated with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, so visitors can share their recent travel experiences with their social circles, he stated.
Consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to expressed similar sentiments regarding the importance of shared experiences among travelers.
Marketing executive Olivia Chu was one who enjoys visiting sites such as Agoda.com as it crowdsources reviews from past travelers. Such information feels "more authentic" than a description of the hotel by the company, she said.
Similarly, Rebecca Cheang said she likes to visit online travel magazine and community site Hejorama as it attracts like-minded people and organized events and initiatives that encourage site visitors to participate.
Travel blogs are another good source of information, more so than a guidebook, Cheang added.