It would be prudent for the established leaders in online travel not to get over-confident. They are going to have to work extremely hard to maintain their positions, which will undoubtedly be altered
Last month we launched our first ever magazine, “Megatrends Defining Travel in 2015“, where we identify the global trends in travel in 2015 and beyond, and focus on three emerging key themes: Mobile. Seamless. Experiential. Below is an extract from the one of the trends in the magazine.
Priceline’s Booking.com and Expedia Inc. clearly dominate the global online hotel business, but it is easy to envision this changing. After all, at the start of this century Travelocity was the leading online travel agency, and after turning into a shell of its former self, Travelocity was acquired last month by Expedia, which overtook Travelocity more than a decade ago and in turn was left in the dust by Booking.com.
Can the Priceline Group keep up its torrid growth pace? FBR Capital Markets & Co., in a research note, forecasts that Priceline’s booking growth would fall from more than 32 percent in the 2012-2014 period to 16 to 17 percent in the 2014 to 2016 time period.
New players inevitably emerge and could nip at the heels of the duopoly.
TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website in traffic, according to comScore, is no slouch and is in the initial stages of building out its hotel-metasearch business.
As Skift exclusively reported in November, Amazon is upping its game in the hotel arena, and although it has light years to travel to catch up with Booking.com and Expedia, Amazon’s envisioned 15% or 20% commissions could put pressure on the current leaders’ margins.
All of this is great for the hotel industry, which could take advantage of the emerging alternatives to the duopoly.
Whether it’s Amazon, Google, TripAdvisor, Ctrip, Qunar, Alibaba, Apple or Facebook, new players will arrive on the scene and change the pecking order.
The Priceline Group has tremendous scale on its side, but could always get too cute with its strategy. For example, it remains to be seen whether the Priceline Group has increased its power or will see it diminished through two initiatives: Its move into the restaurant space with the acquisition of OpenTable and Booking.com’s drive to be a B2B tech provider to hotels through the acquisitions of Buuteeq and Hotel Ninjas.
Will hotels contract their back-end operations to Booking.com while relying on Booking.com to drive their bookings, or will they turn to up-and-coming players to diversify their partnerships?
Expedia, for one, so far isn’t taking the bait and hasn’t followed the Priceline Group’s lead into these new businesses, leaving open the possibility that if Priceline stumbles and loses its focus, Expedia and others can make gains.
Business model changes, too, could gum up the works for the Big Two.
Consider that rate parity provisions, which are the bedrock of online players’ relationships with hotel chains and limit hotels’ flexibility in offering different rates or products to specific distributors, are under pressure in the UK, and competition authorities in 10 other European countries and China have opened investigations into the power of the dynamic duo.
Television advertising can be a factor in the changing rankings of online travel leaders. Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston recently said the company had achieved a “breakthrough” in reducing its reliance on Google search, and that Google isn’t growing fast enough to handle Priceline’s needs. Many of the online players, including Booking.com, Kayak, Hotels.com, Trivago, Expedia, TripAdvisor and others have turned to TV as an equalizer to spread brand awareness and fuel growth.
The mobile revolution is also chipping away at rate parity as companies such as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Google offer special rate-parity-breaking deals to travelers using mobile devices. Amazon could potentially offer special hotel rates to its 20 million Amazon Prime members with ostensibly not violating rate parity provisions because Amazon Prime is a private group.
Digital-marketing specialists, from Buuteeq (now owned by the Priceline Group), to Duetto are now giving hotels new options for generating demand. More options mean less reliance on the Big Two, which is welcome news for both chains and independent hotels.
OK, the online travel kingmakers aren’t precisely a duopoly when you view things from a global perspective. In the massive and undoubtedly growing travel market that is China, for example, Ctrip, with a Priceline Group partnership and investment, is the online travel leader there. Qunar, which is controlled by the leading China search engine, Baidu, is growing at a torrid pace.
And then there’s Alibaba, which has played around in travel for nearly a decade and is cash-rich with its recent IPO. Alibaba has rebranded its travel service as Alipay, and is making big investments in hotel technology.
There are a lot of hungry players out there with plenty of cash that will take on the duopoly over the long term should Booking.com and Expedia stall in their huge ambitions. The seeds are already being sewn.