Agoda has been an online travel leader in Asia for more than a decade. CEO John Brown doesn't doubt that it will stay the same, but the new competition sure indicates winter is coming.
Agoda CEO John Brown was watching the Game of Thrones finale recently and it hit him. He leaned to his wife and told her that his chosen profession, online travel, is becoming very much like a bloody plot line from the HBO hit series.
Brown, speaking at the inaugural Skift Forum Asia in Singapore on Monday, said the constant barrage of insurgents, and never knowing who will live and who will die, is making online travel in Asia like “a Game of Thrones…China even has a wall,” he joked.
Online travel is “certainly more competitive,” said Brown, who did not hesitate to tout Agoda’s successes, particularly as online travel evolves into OTA 3.0. “There’s a lot of chaos out there,” said Brown, who was previously Agoda’s chief operating officer.
Agoda, unit of Booking Holdings, once exclusively a platform for hotels and apartment rentals, is looking to continue its expansion by accepting flights on a white label basis from Agoda sister company Kayak. It is also offering experiences from GetYourGuide. Brown said Agoda will be looking for ways to expand flights.
He said online travel agencies like Agoda having relationships with ridesharing services, Grab in Agoda’s case, makes perfect sense. “Our customers want something more,” Brown said. “We put as many providers out there as possible on our site and see what sticks.” Brown said he does’t worry about this strategy diluting or hurting its core business of hotels. “We are always testing on our platform.”
He downplayed rhetoric from Oyo founder Ritesh Agarwal that the discount hotel chain doesn’t need a ton of online travel agency distribution. Oyo “looks like an attractive brand,” said Brown. “But where will it get its demand from?” If it doesn’t have that demand on a large scale, Brown said, the hotels that Agarwal has rolled up will “de-flag” and drop the Oyo brand.
Online Travel 4.0
When asked what online travel 4.0 will look like, Brown candidly said he did not know. “One of my colleagues asked me this week that same question, I said there will be a business model out there, and we will be on it.”
CORRECTION: An earlier Skift Take on this story described it as being around for more for than two decades. It was founded in 2005.
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Photo credit: Agoda CEO John Brown speaking with Skift Executive Editor Dennis Schaal at Skift Forum Asia in Singapore on May 27, 2019. Brown likened online travel in Asia to Game of Thrones. Richard Lai / Skift