Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our second annual Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26. In just a few years,  Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

After last year's European tourism comeback, Skift Forum Europe 2018 will take place at Cafe Moskau in Berlin. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, AccorHotels, Marriott, Google, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.

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In the back and forth between hotels and online travel agencies, there’s a third party that often gets forgotten about: accommodation wholesalers (also known as bedbanks).

These business-to-business companies operate behind the scenes connecting up travel agencies and tour operators with hotels across the globe.

They are especially important for the long tail of travel agencies and hotels beyond the likes of Expedia, Booking.com, Marriott and Hilton.

In recent years, a series of mergers and acquisitions has brought a sleepy sector to life producing a new number one – albeit with only 15 percent market share – in Hotelbeds Group.

First, its previous owner TUI Group sold the company to private equity company Cinven Capital Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Then the newly independent Hotelbeds group bought up two of its biggest rivals: Tourico and GTA, creating a company with more than 7,000 clients and 170,000 unique hotels.

And just last week Hotelbeds sold its in-destination division to former owner TUI, so it can focus much more on its primary role as an accommodation wholesaler.

At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin April 26, the company’s Executive Chairman Joan Vilà will talk about the role of travel wholesalers and how he is building a market leader.

What follows is an edited version of a recent Skift interview with Vilà.

Skift: You’ve brought these two other businesses into Hotelbeds – GTA and Tourico – what was the thinking behind these acquisitions and what does it give you as a business-to-business player?

Joan Vilà: We operate in a market that is very fragmented, the bedbank market. We were leaders in this space and [with] these two acquisitions, in reality, we become a much clearer leader. We’ll be significantly bigger than the second in the market [Australia’s Webjet]. And also, these two companies… were very strong in North America and Asia so now we have a really balanced portfolio in terms of destination and source markets across the globe.

Skift: I see you’ve reorganized the management structure, what’s the plan now for 2018 and beyond?

Vilà: Last year when we announced the closure of the GTA deal we also announced the executive committee, the Level One in the company. We also in December announced the platform that we are going to operate. It will be mainly the Hotelbeds platform… even though we are going to use elements of the other platforms.

In the last few weeks we’ve announced 350 positions in Level Two and Level Three of the organization and in reality with a few ones that are going to be done in the next weeks, we will have completely integrated the first few levels one, two, and three in the company, which is very good news. In terms of having the platform integration we will have [it] at the end of this year — last of quarter of 2018 — so during this time we will be working on the integration.

Skift: When people talk about hotels and how they sell their product, a lot talk about direct then there’s online travel agencies but the bedbanks seems to be forgotten as a distributor. Do you see bedbanks being more useful in the future as travel evolves?

Vilà: In reality the bedbank market has grown in the past year but also in the future the forecast is that growth at similar levels to the accommodation market so it’s a business that is very directly linked with the massive number of hotels and intermediaries that exist.

Hotels are so fragmented that they can’t work with all of these intermediaries and intermediaries don’t have the capability to contract with the hotels, so we link these two ends. So while the market remains so fragmented and even though there are some concentration at the top there is no evidence or not any forecast from anybody that these two ends of the market they are going to markedly consolidate.

Skift: What’s your view in the big online travel agencies the Expedia’s, the Priceline’s and increasing Google. What’s Hotelbeds’ position on those companies?

Vilà: I think that these companies… they’re B2C companies and we’re B2B companies and we have different functions in the market, we cover different needs and I think there is room for both because we are doing different things.

Photo Credit: Joan Vilà, executive chairman of Hotelbeds Group. The company recently sold one of business units to TUI Group. Hotelbeds Group