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Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

HomeExchange Buys Another Home Swap Company

11 months ago

Just weeks after buying Love Home Swap from Travel + Leisure Co., Paris-based HomeExchange acquired French competitor My weekend for you.

My weekend for you was founded in 2017 in southeast France. Its network of 1,200 hosts welcome travellers to their homes for free over a weekend to discover a particular region. The site claims to have over 20,000 members across 21 countries. The companies did not disclose any details of the deal.
The service is for those hosting. And for travelers to be able to contact other members and have their profiles verified, they must pay a fee.

HomeExchange claims it’s the first global home exchange community — facilitating one exchange every two minutes. The company stated that in 2022, guests booked 3.7 million exchange nights on its platform — 32 percent more than in the pre-Covid period. 

A Berlin flat listed on HomeExchange. Source: HomeExchange

Earlier this month, the Paris-based company bought British rival Love Home Swap from Travel+Leisure Group, formerly known as Wyndham Destinations.

The deal marked HomeExchange’s ambitions for market expansion into the UK, Australia, and the U.S.

HomeExchange CEO Emmanuel Arnaud and President Charles-Edouard Girard  founded GuesttoGuest, a Paris-based vacation exchange platform, in 2011. It  acquired Cambridge,Massachusetts-based HomeExchange in 2017 for $35 million — the combined entity then came to be called HomeExchange. 

Online Travel

Booking.com Became Major League Baseball’s Official Online Travel Partner

11 months ago

Booking.com, which has marketing relationships with the International Cricket Council and the Union of European Football Associations, is playing ball with Major League Baseball.

Pictured is a Spring Airlines A320 bedecked as Booking.com as seen on July 7, 2018. Source: Flickr.com/ Kwok Ho Eddie Wong https://tinyurl.com/4m6a58jf

The company will officially announce today that it has become Major League Baseball’s official online travel partner. Among travel-related services, the league also counts MGM Resorts and Capital One, which offers Capital One Travel, as official sponsors. Marriott has also been a partner.

Booking.com declined to release financial details of the marketing partnership, but said fans will begin to see Booking.com branding in baseball stadiums across the U.S., and there will be a new media campaign getting under way in several weeks.

With the launch, the official schedule pages of Major League Baseball teams will feature Booking.com icons that direct people to search and book accommodations near stadiums.

A recent Booking.com survey found that 49 percent of U.S. baseball fans plan to travel to at least one game in 2023, and 61 percent would be open to traveling as far as 500 miles to see teams play.

Booking.com, based in Amsterdam, has been making significant inroads in the U.S. market, trying to challenge Washington-based Expedia as the market leader.

Tourism

Hawaii Is Close to Shutting Down Tourism Marketing Agency

11 months ago

The Hawaii Tourism Authority may not be around for long. Last week, the state legislature’s House committee approved a Senate bill that would repeal the Hawaii Tourism Authority and create a government office dedicated solely to destination management, leaving the island without a tourism marketing agency. The bill now has to face two hearings before leaving the House, bringing it closer to passage.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has had a strained relationship with the legislature. Lawmakers have questioned its necessity, slashed its budget, removed its state procurement exemption and took away its transient accommodation tax fund source. 

Hawaiian residents have been frustrated with overtourism. Feeling their quality of life and environment has suffered, they have asserted themselves and are no longer spectators in how tourism is managed. “What I’m cognizant of now is that communities are intently watching the visitor industry,” Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO De Fries told Skift

Photo credit: Braden Jarvis

The agency’s recent failure to award a two-year destination marketing and management contract was the last straw for the legislature. It repeatedly redid the procurement process and endured legal troubles and delays. It mostly recently had to split the contract between marketing and destination marketing and put both out to bid after a senior government official canceled minutes before his departure.

For the last few years, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has tried to pursue a sustainable approach. This has involved listening to residents, taking on more destination management responsibilities and pivoting away from mass tourism marketing.

Travel Technology

Testing ChatGPT Vs. Google Bard Using Travel Industry Buzzwords

12 months ago

“Can you write me lyrics of a new song about the travel industry buzzwords such as local, REVPAR, experiences, NDC, duty of care, AI, transformative travel, regenerative travel, overtourism, bleisure and revenge travel?”

Skift, always battle-testing the future of travel…

That was the prompt I gave to both ChatGPT (now about four months into its public life) and Google Bard (only one day into its public release), as a way to test the capabilities of the two AI chat agents that have captured the imagination of the globe. And the travel industry and various applications to come.

Not really the most scientific of tests but if any of them can navigate the travel industry buzzwords and put them into context and rhyme, that would be a win in itself. So here, the results of the test:

ChatGPT:

Verse 1: I’m packing up my bags, got a thirst for something new
The world’s a playground, there’s so much to pursue
I’m chasing down the buzzwords, the trends of the day
Got a checklist of experiences that I wanna play

Chorus: Local, REVPAR, transformative travel too
NDC, duty of care, AI, and regenerative views
Overtourism, bleisure, revenge travel’s on my mind
I’m a traveler on a mission, gotta leave it all behind

Verse 2:
I wanna be where the locals go, not the tourist traps
I wanna try the street food and feel the city’s pulse
I’m looking for that perfect balance, between work and play
Bleisure is the name of the game, gotta find my way

Chorus:
Local, REVPAR, transformative travel too
NDC, duty of care, AI, and regenerative views
Overtourism, bleisure, revenge travel’s on my mind
I’m a traveler on a mission, gotta leave it all behind

Verse 3:
I’m mindful of the impact, that my travels have
Regenerative travel’s what I’m looking for, gotta give back
I’m learning about the culture, the history and the art
Transformative travel’s my goal, gotta open up my heart

Chorus:
Local, REVPAR, transformative travel too
NDC, duty of care, AI, and regenerative views
Overtourism, bleisure, revenge travel’s on my mind
I’m a traveler on a mission, gotta leave it all behind

Verse 4:
But sometimes I just wanna let loose, let my hair down
Revenge travel’s what I need, gotta paint the town
I’ll party like it’s 2019, forget about my woes
Overtourism’s not my problem, gotta strike a pose

Chorus:
Local, REVPAR, transformative travel too
NDC, duty of care, AI, and regenerative views
Overtourism, bleisure, revenge travel’s on my mind
I’m a traveler on a mission, gotta leave it all behind

Outro:
I’m a traveler on a mission, gotta leave it all behind
Gotta chase those buzzwords, gotta see what I can find.

And now, Google Bard’s attempt:

(Verse 1)
I’m in the travel industry,
And I’m here to tell you about the buzzwords
That are all the rage these days.

Local is the new black,
REVPAR is the name of the game,
And experiences are what it’s all about.

NDC is the future of travel,
Duty of care is our responsibility,
And transformative travel is the way to go.

Regenerative travel is the way to heal the planet,
And overtourism is a real problem,
But AI can help us solve it.

Bleisure is the new way to work,
And revenge travel is the way to get back at the pandemic.

(Chorus)
So come on, let’s travel the world,
And experience all that it has to offer.

Let’s make a difference in the world,
And leave it a better place than we found it.

Let’s travel responsibly,
And make sure that we’re not contributing to the problem.

Let’s travel with a purpose,
And make sure that we’re making a difference.

(Verse 2)
The travel industry is a powerful force,
And we can use it to make a difference in the world.

So let’s get out there and explore,
And let’s make the most of this amazing planet.

(Chorus) So come on, let’s travel the world,
And experience all that it has to offer.

Let’s make a difference in the world,
And leave it a better place than we found it.

Let’s travel responsibly,
And make sure that we’re not contributing to the problem.

Let’s travel with a purpose,
And make sure that we’re making a difference.

My verdict: ChatGPT wins hands down, for rhyming, for being more playful AND putting the buzzwords into right context, in other words, more Skifty. Bard was more literal, boring and didn’t rhyme at all, in other words, like the other boring travel trades.

There it is, never accuse us of not worrying about the future of travel, you can now go about your day.

Travel Technology

Google Releases Bard, the Generative AI Rival to ChatGPT

12 months ago

Google is starting to release the chatbot Bard, its rival to ChatGPT.

Google made the announcement Tuesday morning in a blog post. Users in the U.S. and the U.K. can join a waitlist for access. The platform will be expanded to other countries and languages later. 

Both platforms are powered by generative AI, a model that enables the technology to provide new, original answers in response to a prompt. The technology has big implications for the travel industry, starting with travel planning and marketing. Booking platforms, like Booking.com and Expedia, are among other travel companies exploring how the technology can be used to power the future of travel planning and booking. 

The blog described Bard as “an experiment,” and the next step in the process is to gather user feedback. 

According to the post, the chatbot appears to operate similarly to ChatGPT, except that it responds to prompts with more than one answer. Bard is connected to Google search, so users can search for items suggested by Bard if they choose. Google also said that Bard gathers current data from the internet to power its answers, while ChatGPT is limited to data from 2021. 

The post said the company will be integrating the tech into the search platform in a deeper way in the future. 

Google last week said that it was opening access to its generative AI tech to developers so they may integrate it into their own platforms. 

The underlying technology of ChatGPT has been open to developers since the chatbot was released in November.

Short-Term Rentals

Sonder’s New Top Financial Exec Has Skin in the Game — 2.7 Million Stock Options

12 months ago

Sonder, the property management company that went public through a blank check merger, or SPAC, found someone to replace its outgoing chief financial officer with the help of 2.7 million stock options as an incentive.

sonder europa washington dc
The Sonder Europa in Washington, D.C. Source: Sonder

It is challenging to recruit a chief financial officer when your stock was trading at $0.90 per share, the exercise price on the date of the grant, March 16. SOND closed Monday at $0.81 with a paltry $179 million valuation.

Bourgault most recently served as chief financial officer at online diamond retailer and privately held Blue Nile for a year-and-a-half until October 2022. Before Blue Nile, he served in various financial positions at Expedia Group for 17 years, including departing as chief financial officer of Expedia Portfolio and Retail in March 2020.

Some 25 percent of the new chief financial officer’s stock option grant will vest on the first anniversary of his hiring. His annual salary is $495,000.

Bourgault can earn a fortune if he can help steer Sonder into share price territory that is well above flirting with a delisting edict.

He replaced Sanjay Banker, who served as Sonder’s chief financial officer and president until December 2022. Bourgault does not have the title of president.

In 2021, Banker earned a $465,000 salary and had nearly 46,000 option awards — compared with Bourgault’s roughly 2.7 million.

Cruises

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio to Step Down

12 months ago

Frank J. Del Rio will step down as president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, effective June 30, the cruise company announced Monday. Harry J. Sommer, president and CEO of the company’s Norwegian Cruise Line brand, will officially succeed him on July 31. The transition process starts on April 1.

Del Rio has been president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings since 2015. He led the company through the Covid pandemic, which devastated it and the global cruise industry, and its ongoing recovery. He’ll be heading into retirement and serve as a senior advisor to the board of directors through 2025. Del Rio has been in the cruise industry for over 30 years.

Norwegian Cruise Line ship at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Source: Alonso Reyes

Sommer, Del Rio’s successor, has more than 30 years of experience in the industry and rose through the ranks of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings over eight years. His prior roles include president international, executive vice president of president international business development and chief integration officer. Sommer will be succeeded by David J. Herrera, who currently serves a chief consumer sales and marketing officer of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Travel Technology

Via Acquires Citymapper to Enhance Navigation of Transit Systems

12 months ago

Via, a pioneer in transit technology, announced Thursday that it has acquired Citymapper, a UK-based premier journey planning app and transit technology company. Terms of the transactions are not disclosed.

Citymapper, which has over 50 million users in over 100 cities, provides technology for local transportation planning using a combination of walking, cycling, public transit, taxis and other available options. The platform selects the best navigation route for users based on preferred transit modes, arrival time, trip duration and cost.

Via optimizes public mobility systems by leveraging technology to build efficient, equitable, and sustainable transportation networks in over 35 countries. The company raised $110 million in February 2023 with the goal of expanding its digital infrastructure. The acquisition of Citymapper follows the company’s acquisitions of Fleetonomy in 2020 and Remix in 2021.

Citymapper will become integrated with Via’s platform to build an end-to-end technology solution for transit systems. The Citymapper app will continue to be available for its users worldwide. As part of the acquisition, transit agencies and cities will benefit from a full mobility-as-a-service (“MaaS”) solution that enables transit agency riders to plan and book journeys across multiple modes of transit informed by delays, service disruptions, and route closures. 

“We have the utmost respect for the world-class product and user experience that Azmat and his team have built,” said Daniel Ramot, Via co-founder and CEO. “By bringing our teams together, we see an exciting opportunity to deliver Citymapper’s capabilities to cities and transit agencies all over the world, so that they can create the most user-friendly and relevant transit experience for their communities.”

Luxury

CitizenM Secures $500 Million Loan Contingent on Sustainability Goals

12 months ago

CitizenM raised $500 million (€480 million) from HSBC UK, HSBC Continental Europe, ABN AMRO Bank N.V., and Aareal Bank with a sustainability-linked loan, becoming one of the first European hospitality companies to adopt such financing arrangements.

The new funding incorporates specific environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals as part of the push for greener travel. For CitizenM, this will target reducing operating carbon emissions and improving green building certifications for its European-owned hotel assets.

“We’re very proud to have completed this deal with citizenM,” said Elizabeth Davies, head of hotels at HSBC UK. “With its high profile in the hospitality sector, we expect that CitizenM’s relatively early adoption of the sustainability linked loan will help to drive further market adoption, as hospitality groups seek to demonstrate a serious commitment to creating positive impacts on the environment.”

Accor announced a similar refinancing arrangement in November 2021 with a bond issue indexed to the group’s sustainable development goals.

Many large hotel companies have set or submitted plans for improving sustainability by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Hotel investors are increasingly turning their attention to climate risks and carbon-reduction efforts in their portfolios.

Online Travel

Booking CEO Glenn Fogel Cites Generative AI’s Promise and Hurdles

12 months ago

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel cited the “explosion of interest” in generative AI (artificial intelligence), but counseled that it would be prudent to be patient about delivering on its promises.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel
Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, pictured here speaking at Skift Global Forum in September 2022 in New York, is keen on more tech investment. Source: Skift

“But it’s important to remember that disruption has never been built in a day, and lasting innovation is iterative,” Fogel wrote on LinkedIn. “At Booking Holdings we have been using various types of AI across our brands for over a decade to remove friction from the travel process and our teams continue to explore what the best uses of this new transformative technology might be.”

Fogel cited the challenges, including reliable data sources, in turning artificial intelligence and related technologies into a better travel experience.

“I believe that generative AI and other technologies will play a key role in this new travel world, and many of us in the travel industry are investing right now to build the foundations,” he said. “However, there are going to be significant challenges. The problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, this is just one area, among many, where we are going, and travel will be better when we arrive.”

Fogel’s LinkedIn post was a tad more diplomatic than his comments last month when he discussed generative AI during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.

“Obviously, a lot of hype about AI right now, about generative AI,” Fogel said February 23.

Citing a “hype cycle,” and Booking’s long-time work in artificial intelligence, he said: “I’m not sure — I don’t think we’re into that froth of dissolution yet.”