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Much has been said about how online travel agency Booking.com in the past two years has played an aggressive game of catch-up in alternative accommodations.
For a while, Airbnb and Expedia Group-owned HomeAway had been the segment leaders. By July 2018, Booking.com claimed to have become the leader in supply, with more than 5 million listings of homes, apartments, and other non-hotel lodgings.
What has been less appreciated is that Booking Holdings has been taking a multi-brand approach. A little-noticed flank in the battle is its Thailand-based online travel agency Agoda, which has ramped up its effort this year, too.
Agoda Homes — Agoda’s non-hotel accommodation inventory that includes a wide range of properties, such as holiday homes or serviced apartments — has existed as a product for years.
In the last few months, the company updated the Agoda Homes branding and logo to make it more prominent on the web and its mobile app.
It has been offering additional discounts “to celebrate the launch of Agoda Homes” — according to promotional messages. In random searches, the temporary discounts appeared ranged between 5 and 20 percent.
Demand has grown. Customers booking non-hotel accommodation are growing about 30 percent to 40 percent faster than people booking hotels, according to the company.
Agoda doesn’t say how much of the 1.8 million properties it lists are alternative accommodations. But it has been closing deals to add more supply. For example, since July, Rakuten, an e-commerce giant in Japan, has begun sharing its vacation rental inventory with Agoda, helping to bolster its listings.
Both Booking.com and Agoda Homes apply their best-price guarantee for hotels to alternative lodging. If a consumer has reserved alternative lodging through either Booking.com or Agoda and then shows it that the person could have booked the same place for the same dates at a lower rate that is viewable and bookable on another platform, the company promises to either match that rate or beat it.
This policy has the effect of preventing hosts and owners from adding Booking’s or Agoda’s commission into their prices. But the brands allow owners to set “service fees” for guests, and owners could pad those fees.
Will a best-price guarantee help Booking.com and Agoda take share from Airbnb and other brands?
“In a world with metasearch and Google, I doubt it,” said Andrew McConnell, CEO of Rented.com, which provides guaranteed rental income to owners. “Everyone is comparing sites as is. The price difference will be marginal at best — almost impossible to prove. I definitely could be wrong, but don’t see [a best-price guarantee] being an important differentiator at all.”
Airbnb declined to comment. It doesn’t offer price guarantees, but it has long touted that that much of its supply is exclusive and unique, which would make price guarantees irrelevant. In the past, Airbnb has said approximately 3.5 million of its roughly 5 million listings, as of June, were exclusive to its platform, though claims by any brand like that are impossible to substantiate.
Airbnb has responded to the broader competitive moves, though, partly by encroaching a bit on the online travel agency traditional turf of hotel bookings. For example, it is attempting to sign up boutique and independent hoteliers to its platform by charging effectively lower commissions than the online travel giants require.
Within the Booking Holdings family of brands, experimentation continues. For example, while Booking.com mixes all its types of accommodation into its main search, Agoda offers a tab for a separate rentals-only search as an option without having to click any filters.
Agoda’s brand was built on a single product, hotels. But like Booking.com it has in recent years added flights, ground transportation, and rental cars. Agoda has begun work on adding ground transportation offers in many markets via its partnership with Didi Chuxing, the Chinese version of Uber.
More changes could be in the works. During a call with investors for 2018 second-quarter earnings, CEO Glenn Fogel noted that “Agoda and Priceline are doing a lot of back-end work together.”
Agoda named a new CEO in April as it pushed further on becoming a globally recognized brand.