In Brazil, metasearch heats up, as Mundi, Voopter, Skyscanner, and Kayak expand
In the US and Britain, metasearch sites like Kayak and Skyscanner are well known brands, used by millions to scour multiple, independent online travel agencies and supplier sites for airfares, hotels, and car rentals.
But only in the past year has metasearch become a motivating force in online travel in Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy.
Skyscanner and Kayak join the fight
Skyscanner’s general manager for the Americas Jenny Stephens said the company had a Portuguese version for a few years. Yet it only began to work in earnest on Brazil about 15 months ago–when it opened its Americas office in Miami, where its country teams are based.
Meanwhile Kayak officially entered Brazil in May 2014, after a beta-testing period. It has since been bringing regional airlines and other local suppliers into its inventory, said managing director for Latin America, Nicolas Scafuro.
Last May, few of its suppliers were providing total price information that includes base fare and fees. But Kayak now has about 90% of its suppliers supplying total price information, something Skyscanner and Mundi also provide.
Today another Brazilian startup, Voopter, has received a Series B investment round from Munich-based Global Founders Capital, which has invested in the startup before. The investment amount was not revealed, but it was at least $350,000.
In January, Voopter claimed to have drawn one million unique visitors. This year, it plans to expand its staff from 12 to 15 and to fully redesign its mobile apps.
Local brands like Mundi and Voopter say that the task of explaining metasearch to Brazilians is becoming easier as international brands like Skyscanner and Kayak invest in marketing the concept.
To that end, Skyscanner has relied heavily on public relations and social media rather than offline advertising. For instance, its series of reports last year on the Future of Travel got a cover story in Folha de Saõ Paulo, a national newspaper.
Kayak has charted a similar course, though it has drawn less traffic to its sites than Skyscanner has, according to the best guesses of third-party web analytics.
What makes Brazil different
There are many characteristics of the Brazilian market that may surprise foreigners.
It is common practice in Brazil to pay for travel in installments, such as over 12 months.
Today metasearch sites hand users off to agencies and suppliers. Some of these suppliers offer the installment plan, and some don’t. You have to click through each option to find out.
In short, there might be a way to assure customers earlier in the search process that financing will be available.
Skyscanner is tight-lipped about its plans. But Stephens said Skyscanner is aware of this reality and is working toward deciding if it needs to adapt its product in some way in response.
Kayak said it is also considering if and how it might address this practicality.
A related issue is that some of Brazil’s suppliers can’t support payment by international credit card.
So Skyscanner and Kayak restrict the display of those suppliers’ inventory to Brazilians, rather than making the hotels available across its international platforms.
Another trait of Brazil is that some regulations force mandatory fees for some of the online travel agencies. Kayak’s Scafuro said:
“Oftentimes OTAs don’t have the best price, and that makes a meta’s job more difficult.
When we don’t have access to all of the information, it is harder for us to rank and compare what’s out there, though our current offering is superior to what others have.”
One issue in Brazil, as in many other parts of the world, is that it’s easier for metasearch companies to sign commercial agreements than it is to receive data and content from companies in an acceptable format.
All of the metasearch companies we spoke with noted they had to sometimes help the region’s travel providers with technical issues.
Another idiosyncracy of Brazil is that men disproportionately do the booking of travel via the Internet, according to online travel agency Malapronta, owned by TUI Travel. Elsewhere in the world, it’s more evenly split or tilted toward women.
In an additional twist, more than 77% of Brazilian tourists who book travel online book to travel alone. Couples correspond to only 14% of searches for trips made on the website, said a Kayak report.
Brazil is second only to the US in social media usage. So company have attempted to engage consumers with relevant marketing messages on Facebook and Twitter. Said Stephens:
“Social media is massively important for Skyscanner in Brazil, and we see high engagement.”
Mundi CEO Ana Araujo said social media was vital for her company, which tries to capitalize on national conversations to inspire people to book travel.
Having local cultural fluency matters, said Araujo. For instance, telenovelas, or soap operas, are important. In late 2013, “Amor à Vida” attracted nearly 40 million viewers, and it aired with a plot that saw characters visiting Cuzco, Peru, among other Latin American places.(CORRECTION: 27 February: I got the dates and destination wrong in the original version of this story. Sorry.)
The day after the first chapter of the soap opera aired, the number of travel searches on Mundi was 9.7 times bigger than the day before.
Since then, destinations in Latin America have risen up in the search rankings. For instance, Santiago has been a more popular destination than New York City among Brazilians searching on Mundi, something that’s never happened before.
As you would expect, the metasearch site adjusted its marketing messages and its promotions to capture extra business.
Embrace or reject hotel search?
In the next quarter, Mundi will double the number of hotels it offers.
In sharp contrast, Voopter will this year go the opposite direction, removing hotel search from its site and apps. It plans to morph from a traditional metasearch interface to a lead generation service for airfares.
The list, with perhaps a dozen properties on it, will have been targeted at the traveler based on what the company has learned about the nature of the trip, such as if the theme is business, romance, or family time.
Voopter’s market research suggests that Brazilians like receiving transactional emails after making a flight purchase. Its theory is that conversions will be higher if the list of hotels is short (meaning, not overwhelming), following the theory of “the paradox of choice“.
Voopter is rebranding as a cross-platform travel site, rather than pushing the metasearch concept. Cross-platform is important because more than one in three tablet users in Latin America live in Brazil, according to research firm eMarketer.
The sun shines on Brazil’s home teams
In November, Mundi added a way to sort airfares that’s an alternative to the typical choices of cheapest and fastest. It can now sort the “best” flights, using a “cost-benefit analysis” that accounts for the relation between flight length, stops, and cost.
Skyscanner and Kayak are the international names that come up most in conversation about Brazil, but there are additional challengers.
Google Flights comes in a Portuguese version. Momondo has a Brazilian website and localized mobile apps, too. But third-party data analytics, while admittedly imperfect, suggest those two brands are lagging in Brazil.
Overall in Brazil, e-commerce is marching on, despite recent governmental turmoil. In 2015, Brazil’s online travel market will reach $21.2 billion, compared to $14.1 billion in 2012, said Phocuswright, the travel market research firm.
Despite economic hiccups, Brazilians are expected to spend $8 billion (online and offline) on international travel between January and April of this year alone.
“All the macro trends for growth are aligned, and I think in a few years we’ll see Brazill have a huge impact numbers for all of the global metasearch players….
In the meantime, there’s a lot of work for everyone to do, and we’re not fighting each other yet.”
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.