The Great Website Waffle
"Clever" travel tech websites are not about helping the customer. They are about who can raise the most money to purchase the maximum amount of TV advertising time not to mention, of course other channels in line with today's trends.
Every evening we are exposed to the likes of Trivago and Tripadvisor telling us that they search "over 200" sources to get "you" the best hotel deal. Well, do they? These sites may well trawl the internet, looking for hotel prices but you know and I know that any given hotel does not have a possible 200 different rates for any given room on any given night. So, I decided to have a look.
My random example, in this case, was to look for a hotel in Madrid, Spain for the 11th to the 14th September this year, for 2 people. Trivago offered me a range of hotels and so I chose "Vincci The Mint". This was offered on Trivago on a range of prices from £350.00 on Booking.com (a very useful site which I refer to for smaller hotels that may not be on my Sabre GDS) through £337 on Amoma.com (Nope, I have never heard of that one, either) and £409 on Bedfinder. The best offer was with Hotels.com at £319.00. So, off we go to the Hotels.com website. Looking through the offers, I find that I can have "Free Cancellation, Free internet and Breakfast included" for £1,016 apparently reduced from £1125.00. This is for a standard double room.
The most important thing, to my mind, is: "What am I getting for my money?" - True, Hotels.com list what you get; but you have to know that you must click on the marketing line ("Free Cancellation") to find out the detail. Up comes a 6 line paragraph which is written in a very non-techy style which you have to read at least twice, right to the end to discover the real situation: cancellation is free - up to 14 days before arrival. And where does the "discount" come from, I wonder.
Lets compare all this laborious point and click and having to know where to point and click stuff to what Sabre shows me for the same hotel: ( Note that the same applies to any GDS system - I happen to use Sabre.... but you will get the same results using Amadeus or Galileo or other GDS)
Clearly, what Hotels.com are offering is the "Early booking" tariff. No big deal there - it is open to anyone. The more observant amongst you will also note that Hotels.com want £1016. whereas Sabre translates to £1014. Only £2.00, I grant you but it just goes to show how money thrown at marketing and advertising detracts wholly from reality - tech being about quantity not quality. Or should I say "gaining traction".
The most important issue, here is transparency and clarity. Sabre shows that the rate changes through the stay - so one could adjust the stay to match the better rates - that is not possible on any hotel-selling website without a lot of guesswork and date checking. Sabre is clear about what the rate includes up front - some websites you have to look very carefully to see if that great rate includes, for example, taxes and any surcharges. The Sabre display is much easier to read and compare room types. GDS systems tend to call a digging object a digging object, it is only websites that resort to rather flowery marketing-speak to clarify what you may receive.
Of course, all the above flies in the face of what hotels and airlines suggest people want - rather, what hotels and airlines want people to want. The GDS does not, indeed, show you a nice pretty picture of a room and if booking a flight, does not show how wonderful the seat back video system may be. That, however, is not really relevant. A room in a hotel is a room in a hotel - more importantly (which a stock picture cannot show) is how clean that room will be when you arrive, if the sheets are properly washed, if the room smells and if the staff are friendly and welcoming... and so on. In like manner, an airline may have a great on-board entertainment system but if that flight arrives 3 hours after your meeting starts, it is no good at all.
So are the CEO's and upper management of these hotel trawling websites travel experts? No, they are not. They are experts in securing as much money as they can to advertise as much as they can to gain as much traction as they can as quickly as they can to sell up as fast as they can. Respect to them for being able to do that - but it is something you could do with travel as a product as much as with wim-wams, used for grinding smoke.
These websites damage hotels in the long run for anyone booking may think that there exists a wide range of rates, which means anything and everything is up for negotiation.
Above all, these website CEO's do not command any respect within the travel industry proper for they undermine those many young travel agents who wish to dedicate themselves to making their clients' dreams a reality.
The whole issue of comparison website saga may be summarised in the words of one notorious 20th Century person:
"Wenn man eine große Lüge erzählt und sie oft genug wiederholt, dann werden die Leute sie am Ende glauben...."