The days of an either/or choice of Direct versus 3rd Party distribution in aviation have come to an end. 

The lines are blurring, and with the advent of emerging platforms like voice and bots coupled with evolving modern online marketplaces, the point at which intermediaries’ relationships with the traveller end and the airlines’ begins is becoming less clear.

With this renewed environment, the time has come to offer a fresh form of direct booking in metasearch. Here, we set out Skyscanner’s vision to offer the ultimate solution to airlines: the best of both worlds, with all the benefits of ancillary up-sell and branding control, paired with access to a growing and engaged audience of travellers across new platforms.

 

After the turn of the century the picture in airline distribution looked relatively simple.  Direct distribution meant the customer coming straight to an airline site to make their booking.  Everything outside of that in terms of internet sales was considered 3rd party.  And that 3rd party distribution came with a cost attached to it. The choice for airlines therefore looked fairly simple: Bring traffic to airline.com direct in order to generate bookings, which in turn can be effectively upsold at a far lower cost of acquisition.

 

 

In the last decade a number of significant shifts have taken place both in the way travellers search and discover their trips and the ways that the aviation industry has, in turn, made their flight products discoverable.

Airlines have traditionally viewed direct bookings as only those that take place on their own site or app.  The current landscape disrupts the old world of direct or third party. 

How did this landscape shift? First apps came along, offering an even more direct solution than a website, and a route to customers that cut out the more complex world of navigating the major search engines. Since then, technology has moved at pace and more recently messaging, chat bots, and voice platforms have landed – bringing with them the possibility for brands to meet the user on the very services they are interacting with on a daily basis.

This has ushered in the end of the "sorted-by-price" era as we are witnessing a new generation of distribution which offers fundamentally different ways to purchase. While the amount of information available increased in recent years, screen sizes decreased (these will eventually disappear) and only a very limited number of flight options can be presented. Most importantly, these new services are creating even fewer steps on the path to purchase. They also offer opportunities to replace traditional support centres with novel support mechanisms on these new platforms. Facebook and Twitter have also become entrenched customer interaction tools as well as providing environments for air ticket deals to be pushed.

At the same time as travellers have experimented with new ways to discover trips, airlines and the aviation industry have begun experimenting with more direct forms of surfacing products to travellers. Most airlines now sell offers for airline tickets through social media, and bots (such as KLM’s). Concurrently industry wide initiatives like IATA’s NDC are pushing the industry to transform the way air tickets are sold to travellers, by allowing for integrations with more product differentiation and access to fuller, more dynamic air content, independent of the traditional GDS. Along with this, many other platforms have been built offering deeper connected APIs which make transactions and ticketing simpler .

 

Skyscanner's Bot on Facebook Messenger

 

In this context, where does “metasearch” sit? What if a travel search engine could offer the same booking experience as airline.com?  This includes, to all intents and purposes, giving sufficient information and dynamic ticketing options so that the traveller can make a selection based on more than price alone, with the opportunity to purchase upsell options and consume content controlled by the airline brand itself.

Travel metasearch engines have sought to streamline the process of searching and booking by moving to facilitate the booking stage of the process, giving travellers a more seamless experience through various forms of connectivity and APIs, including NDC.

 
...people can’t buy what they can’t see.
— Gareth Williams

The future, and what Skyscanner will aim to pioneer is more than the simple facilitation of the booking. It will offer airlines the opportunity to brand their experience more fully within the search and booking funnel, allowing for strong ancillary upsell and control over brand messaging – a storefront of sorts.

At Skyscanner we believe the future lies in this, and that in doing so our aim is to offer a booking that is as close to the direct experience as possible. Not only do we believe embracing this approach will reap benefits to airlines but also to travellers.

Airlines should take this option seriously and must plan for their products to stand out in the next generation of distribution because people can’t buy what they can’t see.

 

The facilitated booking model is becoming commonly adopted within the metasearch space. Its implementation, and the degree to which it can offer a positive direct solution to airlines, is dependent on the airline brand being given the space to thrive in this marketplace. Many online sales scenarios create a form of two-sided marketplace involving both travellers and suppliers, and this is certainly the case for metasearch.

The two-sided marketplace is common across the internet economy.  The reason they exist is the same reason the offline marketplaces exist:  a place where buyers and sellers congregate, interact and transact. 

The degree to which the facilitated booking model will be a positive direct solution to airlines is dependent on the airline brand being given the space to thrive in this marketplace.
— Gareth Williams

Skyscanner is already leading the field for connectivity to airline inventory. The only global metasearch to offer IATA Tier 3 implementation of NDC and supporting a wide variety of direct booking platforms such as Navitaire and Amadeus, Skyscanner offers carriers the ability to sell their fares to an audience of over 50 million unique monthly visitors

But our vision for the future is to work with airlines to provide our version of the supplier managed marketplace to travellers worldwide. We want to bring airline products on our site as close to the direct experience as possible, with carriers controlling their products and brand while benefitting from our traffic and audience. For travellers, this would mean the experience on skyscanner is virtually indistinguishable from the experience on airline.com.

Booking page on VirginAustralia.com

Virgin Australia booking page on Skyscanner


Key milestones, features and benefits of Skyscanner's Direct Booking solution:

Find out more about our Direct solutions today.