Oh, the chutzpah.
Since Expedia changed its name from Expedia Inc. to Expedia Group in March, it has been touting itself as “The World’s Travel Platform.” At the company’s partner conference in December, executives took the stage in Las Vegas and variously described the company as already being “The World’s Travel Platform” or aspiring to reach that status. They even made plenty of comparisons to Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
The boast might come as a shock to millions of people from China to India, and from France to Brazil who buy their flights, hotels and vacations on Ctrip, WeChat, MakeMyTrip, Despegar, Flight Centre, Booking.com, Google, their local travel agency, or through a membership club.
Far from being “The (our emphasis added) World’s Travel Platform,” Expedia Group noted in 2018 that it only had 12 percent of overall travel market share the previous year in the U.S. and Canada; 3 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; 5 percent in Asia Pacific; and 2 percent in Latin America.
To us, that hardly makes Expedia Group the platform of choice for the majority of the world’s travelers. But in an email, company spokeswoman Sarah Waffle Gavin stood by the claim.
“We are the only travel company that can credibly say that we can take virtually any person from any place to any place and give them a great experience while they’re there,” she said. “For us, it’s not necessarily about our size that makes us a platform; it’s about the breadth of offering and broad customer reach. Breadth of offering is a straightforward differentiator — air, car, cruise, hotel, vacation rentals, activities — no one else has that level of customer choice at the scale we do.”
“For us, this graphic represents that, while there are many marketplaces in travel, the way we marry the diversity of customer types with our broad, full trip product offering makes us uniquely positioned to be the world’s travel platform, helping a more, different types of people from 75+ countries go virtually anywhere by any means and have access to nearly all the core elements of travel that make for a great experience while they’re there,” Waffle Gavin said.
“This differentiation results in a travel platform for customers and partners that no one else can deliver.”
Never Is a Long Time, But …
Although never is a very long time, we’d wager there never will be a company that is “The World’s Travel Platform.” It’s a big world.
There are countless travel companies, and endless ways of booking, whether it is paying in the local convenience store, chatting with a bot, texting or phoning a travel manager, or pulling up a chair in a storefront travel agency.
Or walking into a hotel without a reservation. Yes, people still do that.
Neither Apple nor Samsung is the world’s mobile phone platform; Amazon and Alibaba, which sells travel, aren’t the world’s e-commerce platforms; and Facebook isn’t the world’s global social network.
Although Expedia Group likely doesn’t mean it in this way, it wreaks of good-old-fashioned Western arrogance to put oneself out there as “The World’s Travel Platform.” As if homegrown platforms and other ways of conducting travel business in other geographies don’t matter.
By some measures, Expedia Group isn’t even the largest travel company. On Wednesday afternoon, Booking Holdings’ market cap was $80.46 billion compared with $32.37 billion for Delta Air Lines, and Expedia’s $17.26 billion.
TripAdvisor claims to be the world’s largest travel site with 490 million monthly unique visitors on average, citing its own log files in the third quarter of 2018.
But Expedia Group takes a more holsitic view of what it means to be the world’s travel platform, Waffle Gavin said.
“Broad customer reach is about both geography (customers generally come from 75+ countries, we support 63 languages and accept 93 currencies) but also about the way customers can connect with us (classic consumer interaction, business travel, through other industry partners — anything from bank partners to airlines to hotels etc,” Waffle Gavin said. “While there are a ton of players in the travel space, to your point, no one offers all of these travel products on a global scale like we do.”
What About Booking Holdings?
While Expedia Group touts itself as “The World’s Travel Platform,” Booking Holdings characterizes itself as “The (our emphasis added) World Leader In Online Travel & Related Services.”
We can quibble with Booking Holdings’ self image, as well. It doesn’t offer flight bookings and cruises other than on its U.S.-oriented Priceline site, although sister company Kayak offers these products predominantly by referring travelers to other sites, for example. If you consider restaurants to be part of travel, then Expedia currently offers very few or none while Booking Holdings owns dining reservations platform OpenTable. TripAdvisor is a major player in dining reservations in Europe with its LaFourchette business.
When it comes to gross bookings, for 2017 (full-year 2018 results have not yet been released), Expedia topped Booking Holdings, $88.4 billion versus $81.2 billion, but in revenue Booking led over Expedia, $12.68 billion versus $10.06 billion.
Profits? It was no contest with Booking Holdings generating $2.34 billion in net income in 2017, and Expedia Group producing a fraction of that at $378 million.
So each company has some bragging rights, but you’d have to give the bottom-line leadership edge to Booking Holdings, even if it’s not currently a full-service platform.