Kayak’s move into publishing packages
(Published in TTG 12.06.13)
As industry leaders hail the return of the package holiday, Matthew Parsons finds out how Kayak has linked up with UK operators to publish package deals
Jan Valentin, Kayak
At the end of last month, travel comparison website Kayak launched “Kayak Holidays”. As a meta search engine, Kayak compares prices from individual airlines and hotels, and other online travel sites such as lastminute.com, but now it has teamed up with operators to return package holiday results, as well as introduce a new “intelligent” search tool (see box).
The new section took 12 months to develop, with six developers based in Lithuania working on the project, and after a successful testing period in Germany it is now live in the UK. “It’s a new release, and we feel it is very usable,” says Jan Valentin, vice-president of package holidays at Kayak. “There’s a healthy clickshare for the operators.”
New to Kayak are Thomas Cook, Tui (differentiated product), On Holiday Group, and lowcostholidays, with Broadway Travel and Mercury Direct joining soon. “No one has said to us they don’t want to feature on our site – apart from Tui in Italy,” adds Valentin. With Kayak’s emphasis on helping people find holidays “as quickly and simply as possible”, Valentin says it will only work with operators that offer an XML API, which is regularly updated: “We need fast data, otherwise we shut them down.” Kayak works on a cost per acquisition model, so will get paid when someone books a holiday. Commission levels vary, and with its chat-line feature (similar to Teletext), a cost per call model is used.
The launch comes at the same time that Priceline.com (which also owns Booking.com) completed its acquisition of Kayak for $1.8 billion. Is the timing a coincidence, with Priceline keen to break into the UK market, which industry experts say is seeing a revival in package sales?
The Atol question
With the recent Atol overhaul, has Kayak found itself in need of acquiring an Atol? Not yet, replies Valentin. When the search engine provides its own package, for example returning an airline result and a hotel result, it brands them under “Kayak Mix”. However, Kayak then directs the would-be holidaymaker to two different websites.
“This exists so we don’t need an Atol,” Valentin says, but admits the system “isn’t perfect”. “We work on the user interface. It has lots of potential, and the conversion is not worse.” But then creating its own “mix” of packages could also be seen as stepping on agents’ shoes. “People are doing this anyway. We’re making it easier. [Kayak] is very much a city-break product, and operators don’t do this well. But for the beach product, operators are often better, and our operator partners say what we’re doing is good.”
While a high street presence is not on the cards, Valentin says it’s working on a location-based app that could send people to call into the nearest store. “This is a job that never ends, we always try to optimise,” he says, adding that 30% of Kayak’s traffic will soon come from mobile devices.
Looking for euphoria
Kayak claims it has added a unique feature, called Intelligent Travel Object Admin. Customers will be able to search using generic terms, such as “best pool in Spain”, with Kayak trawling through review sites such as TripAdvisor and Holiday Check. “We read all of the reviews using an algorithm,” says Jan Valentin. “For example, it tells us if a hotel appears to have the best pool in Spain. It’s a crawling mechanism, it sees and reacts to how people feel about things; it looks at euphoria. A resort needs to have at least 200 comments though.” About 13,000 terms are about to be rolled out, covering everything from food and activities to health and spa. Another new and unique aspect is the ability to search up to four destinations at one time, adds Valentin.