kayak cruise ship

Kayak quietly cancels its cruise search

Metasearch giant Kayak has given in to the inevitable and discontinued its cruise search service, confirms the Priceline-owned company.

Robert Birge, chief marketing officer for Kayak, explained to Tnooz by e-mail:

We’ve decided to limit our product development to focus on larger verticals.

Launched in 2007, Kayak’s cruise search feature aimed at the US audience and was a first in metasearch, allowing shoppers to compare itineraries by price, style of cabin, and departure port.

A rare victory for suppliers in the digital era

Unlike the fragmented industries of air and hotel, the cruise industry has only a handful of players. The major lines have used their consolidated power to retain control over the distribution of their products.

Today, most cruises are still sold offline. A recent PhoCusWright survey found that merely 13% of cruise bookings were made online in 2011. Of those, nearly half were made through websites operated by the cruise lines themselves.

The typical cruise line has a “no-rebate” policy, which makes it difficult for any agency to attempt to undercut it on price as, say, a loss-leader. The agencies only allow offline cruise agencies to sell berths at wholesale rates.

That means that only 7% of online travel bookers booked a cruise component to their trip online in 2012, according to PhoCusWright’s Consumer Travel Report, Fifth Edition.

kayak cruise ship

Many cruise sites are mere bulletin boards. Vacations To Go, for instance, doesn’t offer direct online booking without engagement with an agent, at least by e-mail.

In short, the cruise lines starved agencies and third-party sites of the ability to present bookable content in an easy-to-compare, commoditizable format that metasearch sites could link to.

Mobissimo, for instance, offers “Cruises” as one of its content options–but the link re-directs to a single travel agency, Avoya Travel. Not exactly metasearch.

Meanwhile Skyscanner, DoHop, and Google are all avoiding cruises.

Industry winners and losers

The failure of metasearch is a gain for the largest online site for selling cruises direct, Cruises.com, which is owned by World Travel Holdings, and the second largest, CruiseOne–also owned by World Travel Holdings.

Despite 8 years of possible competition, these two sites have locked up much of the online direct bookings in cruises.

As for metasearch, that ship has sailed, as they say.

NB: Image courtesy of quinet Flickr/Creative Commons

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



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  1. Josh Adams

    And perhaps just as quietly, it’s back! I’m not able to ascertain exactly when it returned, but presuming the posting at https://www.kayak.com/news/10-reasons-why-you-may-actually-be-a-cruise-person was released around the same time Kayak brought the functionality back, that puts it somewhere around February 3, 2017.

    I’m really glad it’s back because in my experience no other site provides the same rich set of search and filter capabilities Kayak provides.

  2. Brianna Cook

    Other Cruise sites competing with larger sites such as Kayak, who have gained acclaim for their multi-fact travel industry approach, can breathe a sigh of relief.

    Cruises.com and CruiseOne.com are not new to the game. They have been around for some time, as noted. Though, they do not seem to update much as far as their usability and template online. If these companies would like to appeal to users of all age groups and make booking much easier, they should consider the user perspective and the changing online technologies.

    With Elizabeth’s comment, http://www.cruisevoyant.com, does a great job from a user-friendly stand point. All research can be conducted directly online leading directly into the booking process. Many steps are automatically eliminated in doing this. As well, the website has a great-looking template. I have noticed decent deals and promotions for the seasons and time of year. Everyone should check the website out and determine their own perspective of it. New websites with a savvy web design are emerging routinely. Challenging many of the front runners and existing competitors.

  3. Elizabeth Becker

    It’s not a big surprise that “13% of cruise bookings were made online” considering how difficult it is to find and book a good cruise (I don’t want to end up on a booze cruise and I trust a travel agent’s opinion)…

    Also, its getting harder and harder to find the perfect cruise because so many of the cruise websites have super outdated search features. I’ve tried Cruise.com and Cruises.com but they neither are really that user friendly – especially for my parents when they are trying to find the perfect cruise. So I usually book through a travel agent because I don’t want to waste my vacation on a bad cruise…I’ve been on enough of those lol!

    I recently came across Cruise Voyant, I guess its newer cruise website but it has a lot better search features and I really like the way they organize and categorize the cruises…I’m planning my next cruise and was wondering if anyone knew anything about it.

    Thanks for this article…I was hopeful that Kayaks cruise search would expand but instead they cancel it… 🙁 too bad!! At least I know…

  4. Mike Putman

    Can you further explain what you mean by this statement?

    “The typical cruise line has a “no-rebate” policy, which makes it difficult for any agency to attempt to undercut it on price as, say, a loss-leader. The agencies only allow offline cruise agencies to sell berths at wholesale rates.”

    This raises two questions:
    Whom are you referring as “agencies”?

    The cruise lines are pretty firm about not letting anyone publicly sell out of parity.

  5. Joe Buhler

    Cruises and complex, multi-destination trips offered by tour operators, seem to be the last two strongholds of the “off-line” travel world where after fifteen years of trying, or often lack of trying, the online players have not succeeded in displacing the travel agent based distribution model. Even after most of the low hanging fruit has been picked, it seems this likely will remain the scenario for some time to come.

    • Ian Champness

      Your comment that cruise and multi –destinations tours seem to be the last two off-line agent strongholds not to be displaced by the online players – despite 15 years of trying – is very apposite.
      If multi –destinations Tours have been one stronghold for the agent, perhaps it is partly because the nature of the ‘tours’ product is not one easily aggregated and compared and online booking is not how this sector works (at least in the UK).
      Small and usually multi destination itinerary based fully escorted tours do not lend themselves easily to real time GDS flight & tour itinerary online booking. Additionally, dialogue with an expert is almost a fundamental requirement for someone spending up to £5,000+ on a booking.

      Our approach to provide the specialist tour operators with wider distribution and the consumer with choice, comparison and convenience has been to develop a meta-search platform that aggregates the tour itinerary content rather than provides a booking interface.
      Two years and more of development has resulted in a technical solution via a deep-link referral to the tour operator, or via an expert agent, and our website now promoted to see which commercial model will work best.

  6. John Maguire

    I agree with Colin. Kayak didn’t have a Metasearch for cruises, they weren’t willing to make the investment. They only had results from World Travel Holdings – owner of Cruises.com, CruisesOnly.com, etc. So I expect WTH will lose, not gain, from this change.

  7. Colin

    Interesting that you see this as a “win” for WTH.

    Kayak only listed prices for WTH brands. They also provided a link (without prices) to two major OTAs – one of which was a WTH private-label brands.

    So at the end of the day, 5/6 links for each of Kayak’s cruise listings were going to WTH. 5/6 of those links also would result in the exact same price.

    We don’t know where that traffic is going now, but I’d guess that overall WTH lost a big lead-gen partner.

  8. Mark N

    Cruisewise now part of TripAdvisor. Good deal for Trip.
    Cruisewise had some great potential for selling online. Great UX and team that created it. I am sure they will be back as meta search is big data. More ships more cabins to fill. The industry will need to do something to fill these floating cities. Tech and the web won the customer, the cruise industry need to decommoditize it products by embracing the interactive age. Create new services that the new working middle can afford. Become Conscious Leaders and a leader in Conscious Business. Become something more then a big ship and calling it a vacation.

  9. Benoit Duverneuil

    Metasearch is not going away for the Cruise industry. However, it is clear that deploying metasearch the same way it has been done for other verticals doesn’t work.
    Because a cruise is a way more complicated product than a flight.
    While price points and incentives (on-board credits and other discounts) are important, there is so many other relevant way to compare cruises, and none of the previous experiments have embraced that.

  10. Raul Goncalves

    it seems the cruises area is a kind of a protected market. I just do not understand were the consumer stays with this perspective.


    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks, Raul

      Only 15 minutes after posting this item I received two messages disagreeing with the “ship has sailed for metasearch” remark. Both correspondents think that metasearch will return to the cruise industry, as the industry eventually will have to go digital (beyond the suppliers having oligopolistic control).

      Will be interesting to see!



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