It has had UK rail booking capability integrated into its search results for around a year, powered by SilverRail, the rail distribution platform in which Expedia Inc took a majority stake last week.
Rod Cuthbert, Rome2rio’s executive chairman, said that the noted this deal “demonstrates how important the ground transportation sector is going to be over the coming years.”
For Rome2rio, the integrations announced today are the biggest indication that the business is looking at a hybrid search/OTA model, moving away from its established click-through affiliate model.
“The first five to six years of our growth has come from having a unique and global search engine which found the all the ways to get from A to B, and then we passed you over to the partner, ” he said. “The clickthrough model delivers consistent but modest revenues and we can earn more money by completing the booking ourselves.”
But he also noted other benefits. “If the customer books on our site, we can cross-sell them a hotel, and we can continue the dialogue over time. We can own the customer. If they click off to a partner site, we lose them.”
The integrations of National Express, Renfe (which includes the high speed AVE intercity network) and Trenitalia (which goes live later this week) have been prioritised in order of customer preference. “We followed the data”, he explained. “We started with UK rail because that was where the most clickthroughs were heading”. The new partners were the next most popular with users.
The move to a more transactional platform begs the question about custom acquisition costs. Cuthbert is confident on two fronts. “It’s very much the case that if you build it, they will come,” he said. “Having the ability to book Italian trains, National Express, and the others to come, means you just do get the traffic, get the loyal customers. It’s a virtuous circle.”
He also said that the site gets 10 million unique users a month, and that 85% of that business comes via organic search. “We’ve indexed 70 million city pairs on Google,” he said.
Rome2rio also believes that its global perspective is a differentiator, all backed by its proprietary and scalable platform. “So as well as the three direct integrations this week, we’re already working on half a dozen more rail and bus operators in Europe and Asia, and there are so many operators out there we can partner with.”
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