11 May 2007

Maturing Markets - UK is now - EU is next?

We can safely assume that the internet travel market is now 11 years old. (Give or take a few months). In the last 2 years we have seen a strong maturing of the market in the US to the point where it is no longer about channel shift but more about market share. The go-go years are done and the game is over (t)here.

The UK market is closer to the US than any other. The maturity of that market is now self evident (at least to Expedia and Priceline). Both of whom have pointed to this in their latest quarterly earnings. With the sea change of the VTOs merging from 4 to 2 now assured the market dynamics are pretty much set.

This essentially gives us an interesting view that we can now say that the UK is about 2-3 years behind the USA. And here its time for me to confess a bad prediction I made 10 years ago. I claimed that the UK market would not be behind the US but rather would evolve differently and in some cases at a faster rate. Well i was partially right. The UK market did evolve differently and clearly the driver was not the OTAs but rather the the LCCs. Expedia (my alma mater) failed miserably in attracting the LCCs into its fold. That failure stunted the growth of the Onlien giant and will continue to do so for many years to come.

So what can we see for the future? Is there a model for the other Tier 1 markets? Germany and France are all on slower slope curves, which will result in both of them reaching maturity later. Adopting in Tier 2 and 3 markets are more constrained due to the physical limitations such as government regulation, expensive telecoms, lack of web accessible households etc. Thus the maturity of these markets will take longer and have less profit maximization capability as the global supply chain continues to aggregate.

We will make one prediction. with this maturity occuring, we believe that the battle for the second tier markets (such as Italy and Spain) will heat up with acquisitions being a preferable way to accelerate the market. Expedia recently launched expedia.es to compete with such local industry heavyweights as eDreams. Still they cannot seem to crack the LCC market, although the WTTC/Ryanair deal does give them a toe tip into the sector.

We can all be assured that next year the scouts for Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia will be out in force. The battle grounds will not just stop at the top and second tier. We already see massive competitive in 2 of the BRIC countries. What about Brazil and South Africa? Its still a wild ride folks. Come along



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