Recently I wrote the following:

Today we always think of air as the initial point at which the commitment is first made and the payment is first taken, but is it too wild a thought to imagine this model being flipped on its head? If the airline websites do not adapt from their current transactional focus, then for a reasonable percentage of the leisure market, could air actually be the ancillary product sold in future? It happens today with cruise, so maybe this idea is not so crazy after all.

I’ve just returned from the Amadeus Airline e-Commerce Conference in Cannes, and almost the entire afternoon of the first day was spent covering the topic of airline websites moving more into the inspiration space and targeting the undecided traveler. I’ve written my extensive hypothesis on that topic recently, so today I want to take it from a slightly different angle.

I was reading an article on cool hotels around the world and clicked on the link to the ME Barcelona Hotel. What I found most interesting was nothing to do with the hotel itself, but the search panel on the homepage. I’ve marked in red the section on this page relevant to my opening quote.

The hotel is actually seeing itself as the primary reason for going to Barcelona, and the air segment as ancillary to the room! Is this is trend we will see more of? I’m not convinced the answer is yes, but the truth is I really don’t know. One thing I do know is that this threat is something airline websites at least need to have somewhere on their radar when planning the evolution of their own sites.

It is very early days in this possible trend, and as my experience with ME Barcelona shows there are still a few bugs to iron out, but the idea behind the way they are thinking is without doubt quite impressive. The hotel plus flight option is powered by Ezrez technology, although unfortunately my first search looking at a flight from Madrid to Barcelona came up with text reading “There are no flights available for the time/date you chose. Please select a different time, date or airline” as can be seen on the below screen shot.

Luckily the next search from London to Barcelona yielded better results, but a few bugs do not detract from the potential longer term significance of this move. Even a subsequent search from MAD-BCN returned a proper result, so maybe the screen shot above was a random fluke and an unreproduceable error.

Before moving on, I do have to ask why the date is shown in US and not European format. I myself am trying to change spelling to US format given I am now working there, and I’m even trying to change some of the words I use that have little significance to Americans; I used the word luddite recently to refer to late adopters of technology and got nothing but blank stares, so clearly this is one piece of vocabulary I need to drop. But back to Ezrez, I notice they have used a non US date format for AirAsiaGo, so one assumes it is just a site setup oversight from whoever was working on the ME Barcelona implementation, and not some hard coded technical limitation.

Back to the original theme behind this post: some airlines may choose to remain transactional websites, and maybe there are some good reasons for certain airline brands or geographic markets to react this way, but at least the analysis needs to be done first so that such a decision can be made in an informed manner.

I don’t normally keep a close eye on the hotel industry, so maybe other hotels are doing likewise, but this is a trend that I am interested to watch more closely in future to see if it catches on. If it does, this will not be positive for the customers I spent last week with in Cannes.