Travel agents won’t have as much credibility as they want with their customers unless they have a complete view of lodging markets in terms of rates and accommodation types.

That’s one of the reasons that Sabre, a global distribution system provider, is testing with 10 to 20 travel agencies implementation of its recent agreement with Booking.com to bring millions of hotel and apartment listings onto its distribution platform. A global rollout would likely come during the first quarter of 2019.

Sabre rival Travelport has offered Booking.com listings to travel agencies since at least 2012, said Bill Florence, a company spokesman.

Sabre doubled down this summer in announcing an agreement with Booking.com to add more than 28 million listings of its hotels, homes, and apartments to the Sabre platform. The announcement came less than five months after Sabre penned agreements with three other hotel aggregators, namely the Expedia Affiliate Network, Bedsonline, and TravelBound.

What does this mean for travel agents?

If all goes according to plan, hotel and other lodging listings, and live price quotes from all four platforms would be available on Sabre early next year, and would show side-by-side pricing of the competing competing rates. The goal is to save travel agents time and the effort of clicking around the Web in hopes of securing the best deal possible.

“We didn’t have the most competitive prices all of the time,” said Traci Mercer, Sabre’s senior vice president for lodging, ground, and sea.

Need To Know

Travel agents need to know they are getting the best prices to gain credibility with their customers, Mercer said.

“We weren’t able to supply that with the guarantees they needed,” she added.

To accomplish that Sabre has been scooping up lodging listings and has plans to continue to add more in the future if agents want it, Mercer said.

Travel agents agreed that the current system is not optimal.

“Sabre is really hard to deal with when it comes to hotel and car rentals,” said Girayhan Yilmaz, a corporate accounts manager with Chicago-based Artun Travel Services. “If it’s going to be easier for us to book a hotel or lodging option on our end with a couple of commands rather than going through those website booking pages, sure we will take it and start using it and utilizing it.”

For some agents, their business prioity has and likely will remain to provide personalized customer service. The upcoming lodging options aren’t something they want.

The concept of an agent, said Bonnie Salt, who runs her own agency, Planet Travel in Newburyport, Massachusetts, is to provide that human link.

“I can’t imagine that Booking.com listings are going to compete with me customer service-wise any better than any other service has,” Salt said.

Nearly all her clients are corporate.

The Sharing Economy

One of the most interesting aspects of the new partnership with Booking.com is the inclusion of the company’s alternative-lodging options, such as apartments, entire homes, family run bed-and-breakfasts and, as the company points out, even igloos.

More than 5.4 million of the new listings fall into this category, according to Sabre.

“We are seeing an increase and desire to understand that area in the business space,” Mercer said, acknowledging the changing marketplace.

Travel agents are trying to decipher this new marketplace of private homes and apartments that has boomed with the popularity of Airbnb.

At leisure-focused agencies, some clients have been inquiring about these types of listings, said Bill Bassham, a manager at Texas-based All World Travel Inc.

The possibility offering these alternative options is something he said is appealing.

Booking Holdings spokeswoman Leslie Cafferty declined to disclose how much Booking.com pays in agency commissions for bookings through Sabre. She would only say that Booking’s commissions average about 15 percent globally.

Travel agents who book the new listings will be registered with each individual aggregator to receive commissions on bookings, said Mercer of Sabre. Those rates will be set by the aggregators.
“Most of these players, whether it’s Expedia or Booking, they are already playing in this space and are already providing commission levels,” Mercer said.

New Terrain for Some Travel Agencies

With that also comes a bit of a gray area that some agents have never faced before; doing business with hotels is more regulated and time-tested.

“I like the variety of it, but my biggest flag or concern there is liability issues on those types of things,” Bassham said. “I’m a little nervous. If I hadn’t had boots on the ground and seen that property, it would give me some sort of hesitation. I don’t know what the legality is for me if something goes wrong, especially in the private homes-type situation.”

Sabre’s forthcoming changes aim to create more of a one-stop-shop for agents.

Sabre is considering adding even more listings in the near future, Mercer said.
The company is currently in talks with two additional lodging-listings companies.

But Sabre is still deciding if the need is there for more options.

“We will pause, evaluate, and speak with our beta partners and find out where are the platform gaps,” Mercer said.

Photo Credit: Sabre has a deal with Booking.com to access its 28 million lodging listings. Pictured is the Hidden Ridge Resort, Banff, Canada, as shown in November 20, 2015. Booking.com