Travel was the first engine of the e-commerce revolution. For many people, searching and buying travel online for great value fares was their first experience of e-commerce.

But online travel shopping has not kept pace with the expectations of Web-savvy consumers. Online retailers in other sectors have re-engineered the shopping experience to reflect how people want to shop. Amazon and Apple’s iTunes store are leaders: using their knowledge of individual customers and insights into shopping behaviour to deliver ‘human-shaped’ shopping.
 
The contrast with traditional online travel shopping is striking. Picture Christine. She wants to book a long weekend with her boyfriend. The couple wants to escape winter – and they don’t really mind where they go. The Maldives, Corfu, the Canaries… As long as there’s sun! They live near London so they have a choice of airports to fly from. They are not that tied to any particular date – but they know how much they can spend.
 
Christine and her boyfriend fit the pattern of many travellers. Research tells us that around 50% of leisure shoppers have no specific destination in mind when they go online, and 40% are flexible about when they go (The Future of Travel Search, 2012, PhoCusWright and Amadeus). They face a bewildering range of travel choices from thousands of online travel sellers.
 
Christine is looking for inspiration. But instead traditional air search gives her forms to fill, based on specific city pairs and dates. The majority of travellers visit anything from six to 20 websites to find the right flights (WAYN, Frommer’s Budget Travel Survey). This just doesn’t make sense: shopping should be part of the fun of finding a holiday. Instead, it is often hard work.
 
At Vayant, we saw an opportunity to re-invent air search to help our customers –OTAs, airlines and meta-search engines – deliver a more human-shaped shopping experience. Something that matches the expectations of an Apple/Amazon generation, but also recognises the complexity of buying travel.
 
The key was to optimise data, and make it faster, easier and cheaper for travel sellers to push the right travel offers and choices to their customers.
 
We asked: “What would air search look like if you designed it around shoppers, and not computers?” Starting with this insight, we built a suite of inspirational air-search tools, designed around the way people actually shop. We created tools that allowed people to search using theme and price affinity, calendar, map and distance-based radius. We tackled the frustration that shoppers experience from searches that return out-of-date fare options by pioneering sub-second search. And we did this in a way that would make economic sense for our travel seller customers. Our analysis told us that 80% of searches are carried out on 20% of available destinations. So we built a search environment that only pushed the products our customers actually sell. By enabling travel sellers to fine-tune search around their customers, we eliminated unproductive (and costly) hits on the GDS or airline host.
 
This is what we mean by ‘human-shaped’ shopping, and already our customers see the benefit in lower look-to-book ratios. Across the industry we’re seeing the ‘human-shaped’ shopping concept gain momentum, as travel sellers strive to inspire their customers with search offers designed around them. One example is easyJet: their InspireMe offering turns a transactional web shop into an engaging environment, designed to entice customers with travel options that match their interests and budget.
 
But this is just the beginning. At Vayant, we believe we are entering a new era for travel e-commerce, where the customer and inspiration are at the heart of everything. Mobility offers exciting opportunities to deliver even more personalized and compelling retail offerings. Paradoxically, as travel shopping becomes more high-tech, the travel shopping experience will become more human.

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