The Priceline Group has been looking at adding flights to its largest site, Booking.com, for years, but has hesitated for fear of detracting from its core hotels product. But in this case, taking a "stronger together" approach and leveraging the group's other in-house brands could ultimately pay off.
Booking.com is renowned for its hotel-only focus but its homepage now features tabs for flights from Kayak, car rentals from RentalCars.com, and restaurant reservations from OpenTable, all sister companies owned by parent company Priceline Group.
The new tabs on the Booking.com homepage on desktop may not be visible to all users and they are a test to see how they perform, according to a spokesperson for Priceline Group.
Booking.com’s push to become more well-rounded in terms of the services offered on its platform is taking place at a particularly pivotal time, and it’s a sign that online travel agencies need to capture as much of the traveler journey as possible to compete in the online travel space. The online travel agency’s rival, Expedia Inc., touts itself as the globe’s largest full-service travel agency, Ctrip offers nearly every travel service imaginable, and TripAdvisor, likewise, is heavily invested in hotels, restaurants, flights, vacation rentals, tours, and more.
Users who click on Booking.com’s new flights tab on desktop land on a Booking.com-branded flights page at Booking.Kayak.com. The test wasn’t visible to us on mobile.
The flights search results page, which is branded as being powered by Kayak, features flights from various airlines. If users click on a flight, they can navigate metasearch-style to an airline website for booking. In a quick search, Skift didn’t see any online travel agencies, including Kayak sister site Priceline.com, handling any bookings.
Offering flights could be advantageous to Booking.com since many people start their trip-planning by booking an airline ticket before even considering a hotel. Ceding all of the flight, car rental, and restaurant reservations work to Booking.com’s sister companies within the Priceline Group portfolio also means that Booking.com wouldn’t have to divert too much focus away from its core hotel product for now, either.
The implementation of a Booking.com flights tab comes at a time when Kayak has changed the default on Kayak.com to flights; formerly, the site automatically defaulted to searching for hotels. That new default to flight search, which appears to be on most, if not all, of Kayak’s global sites, comes as the hotel metasearch space is becoming increasingly competitive, especially with Trivago making marketshare gains at the expense of profits. TripAdvisor, which is also hoping to build up its hotel booking business, has recently devoted some $70 million in its return to TV advertising for the first time in a couple of years.
Kayak co-founder and CEO Steve Hafner denied that Kayak is shifting from an emphasis on hotels toward flights. “There’s no pivot,” Hafner said. “Hotels is still our first tab [from the left on the Kayak homepage] but flights is now the default. Periodically, we change that around.”
An executive at one of Kayak’s competitors said Kayak would benefit from all of the Booking.com traffic that would be heading its way as consumers look for flights and get redirected from Booking.com to Kayak.
“I’m not sure of the click rate of this placement but, given the massive traffic volumes of Booking.com, I am sure it is nice incremental traffic,” the metasearch official told Skift.
“And one thing I am pretty sure: they must have A/B tested this change to death and the revenue per homepage visitor must have been positive for flights,” the source said. “So I wouldn’t see this as a major strategic shift for Kayak, but more of an ongoing effort to optimize revenue.”
Still, Kayak’s decision to place additional emphasis on flights could potentially mesh well with its parent company’s still pending of acquisition of the Momondo Group, including Momondo and Cheapflights, both of which are stronger in flights than hotels.
When users select the restaurants tab at the top of the Booking.com homepage on desktop, they are automatically directed to OpenTable, where they can research restaurants and make dining reservations. Selecting rental cars on the Booking.com homepage directs users to its RentalCars.com sister site.
The Priceline Group has been looking at adding flights to its largest site, Booking.com, for years. Currently, within the group, only Priceline.com and Kayak deal with flights. Adding cars and restaurant reservations would be an added step in Booking.com’s efforts to become more of a full-service travel booking site such as its biggest rival, Expedia.
Photo credit: Hotel-site Booking.com recently added flights, car rentals, and dining reservations to its homepage in an effort to capture more business across all of its parent company's various brands. Booking.com