The advent of the Internet in the tourism sector has quickly transformed the balance between operators and the ways in which consumers buy.
Airlines were the first to invest considerable resources on the web, with the aim of transforming their website into their main selling tool for the consumer, excluding the traditional system of intermediation in hand so far to tour operators and travel agents. Airlines, and generally the major transport operators have thus created a channel of direct negotiation with the client. The hotel industry has instead found more difficulties in detaching themselves from traditional intermediation channels due to high fragmentation and therefore strong weakness of single structures in respect to the market. These structures are difficult to reach directly, but can be reached by a multitude of more or less convincing intermediaries. In particular, consumers are often confused with the great number of websites that offer the same structure at different conditions.
Travel portals sell the same products at different prices. So, while for a structure site X can be more convenient, for another, site Y could more convenient. It follows that the consumer who wants to buy the most advantageous rate is forced to make long and complex research. On the web it often happens that who wins are websites that invest a lot in advertising rather than websites with the best prices.
In the UK, tariff comparison portals do not draw the same success they have in other countries (I speak from personal experience, because I am promoting a site that operates in several European countries), but they can certainly make life easier for all those people who are looking for savings on the Internet and are therefore willing to devote more time to the reservation of their vacation. This kind of site really does not sell travel, but collects all rates available on other websites. Therefore they are a starting point for the consumer, who will then be directed to web pages to complete the purchase, with the undeniable advantage of convenience, simplicity and speed.
But a question is still unanswered. Why if I go directly to an hotel to stay one night I pay more than If I would have booked a room on the Internet? This is due to the fact that the supplier grants lowest fares to companies who sell on the Internet (always speaking from personal experience, as a tourist). As we said before, in the hotel industry the direct channel with the customer fails to replace the intermediation one, and even if the supplier sells directly it will not do it below web fares. Clearly, the supplier cannot sell below web rates otherwise major contracts would be cancelled.