The world of online search is one driven by the ever-increasing expectations of consumers, the need to keep on top of industry trends and the pressure to stay ahead of the competition. For small and medium-sized travel businesses, online search can feel like a constant battle. Although we are all on a quest to bring the maximum volume of traffic to our websites, can we really say we are creating the perfect travel search experience for travellers in the process?

The travel industry (like all industries) needs to emulate the key features of generic search engines, namely an instantaneous, intuitive, predictive and personal experience for users. However, this is a challenge that can leave businesses scratching their heads and wondering whether instant search is better than personalised search, or vice versa.

Firstly, let's take a look at instant search. This is a trend that consumers are starting to take for granted, unwilling to wait for websites to respond. The busy lives of today's travellers mean they simply do not have the time to waste on 'buffer-face' moments. When an individual clicks the search button, they want a results page – and they want it now. Waiting is no longer acceptable, whether on a generic search engine or a travel-specific search.

So, with the case for instant search looking pretty solid, that takes us onto personalised search. This style of search is central to the online strategy of any retailer worth his or her salt. Read anything about Online Retail 3.0 and the word 'personalisation' is sure to make an appearance – more than once. Still in its relative infancy, the potential of personalised search is immense, especially as it won't be long before consumers expect offers that are even more targeted to their personal needs and in tune with their purchase history.

All of which means that on the question of which is better we end up asking: 'Erm, can I use both?' To answer this, we need to look behind the scenes of both types of search and get a bit more technical. To deliver results that are jaw-droppingly instantaneous you need to implement caching technology. This means vast quantities of data can be stored and returned to the user, quick smart. Personalised content, by contrast, is something that needs to be put together with more immediacy so that it reflects the customer's profile and online activity.

The answer is, no surprise, a combination of the two. When a traveller is in the early stages of their search, the results need to be instant and inspirational. Smart use of filters and fields within this search can create more tailored results. Then, as the traveller moves through the search process, more personalisation can take the place of instantaneous, offering options that are more specific to the individual's requirements. At which point a transactional approach should also be in place so the deal gets done.