The Online Travel Industry: Investing EssentialsBy Asit Sharma | More Articles August 25, 2014 | Comments 0Barajas Airport, Madrid. Source: Jean-Pierre Dalbera under Creative Commons license.The speed at which the Internet evolves can make milestones from 10 or 15 years ago seem worthy of encasement in a glass museum display. Take this quote from Priceline Group’s first annual report after its 1999 IPO:
Expedia Inc NASDAQ:EXPE has released its second quarter results for the fiscal year 2014, beating analysts’ expectations which helped the stock to advance by 5% in the aftermath. In a segment on CNBC, Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia’s CEO has commented on the company’s strong second quarter results, saying travel market is expanding and “online” takes an ever increasing chunk of it.
The travel company has seen its gross bookings number rise to $13 billion in the second quarter and its revenue increase by 24% year-on-year. Room nights grew at a pace of 20%, hitting a record, and adjusted earnings per share jumped 60% year-on-year. Such positive results give the company an opportunity to spend more on marketing and investment, which in turn brings more customers and revenue, according to Khosrowshahi.
“Right now we are in a pretty good spot within a competitive marketplace. […] We are seeing our marketing spending going up faster than revenue but these are big scale businesses when you’re talking about $13 billion of gross bookings in one quarter, so we are able to scale off of our fixed expenses. So I think it is a great situation when you can spend aggressively into marketing but still increase profits […],” he added.
Last week, Expedia Inc NASDAQ:EXPE’s competitor Priceline Group Inc NASDAQ:PCLN announced the acquisition of OpenTable Inc NASDAQ:OPEN for $2.6 billion in cash, in a deal that marked its expansion into the restaurant business. Asked if Expedia Inc NASDAQ:EXPE has similar plans, Dara Khosrowshahi said that such a move is not in the cards at the moment, as there are still plenty of opportunities in the travel market, which is a $1 trillion dollar-industry and growing. He has disclosed instead that the company plans to look for growth in Europe and Asia.
Expedia is now accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment. The move gives the company cost savings and also allows it to market itself as a high-tech, customer-focused e-business.
Online travel site Expedia.coms announcement that it is accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for hotel purchases is not only a sign of the decentralized peer-to-peer payment network inevitably going mainstream, but it also gives Expedia, like other early adopters, some distinct marketing advantages.
As of last week, customers can shop from Expedias inventory of hotels and pay for accommodations using Bitcoin. Expedia partnered with third-party Bitcoin payment processor Coinbase to integrate payment support into the hotel booking experience on its website. An Expedia rep says its “basically just a matter of time” until the brand rolls out the functionality to other product lines like flights and car rentals and notes the speed will depend on the demand the brand initially sees with hotels. According to the Bitcoin Press Center, Bitcoin is in use by a growing number of businesses and individuals, including restaurants, apartments, and law firms, as well as online services such as Namecheap, WordPress, Reddit, and Flattr.
In 1996, when Microsoft was still ahead of the big technology trends, it launched a small brand called Expedia Travel Services. It hoped to persuade customers to book holidays online. It was not an immediate success. Few households had an internet connection then and, just as importantly, most people thought the idea of buying a holiday through the ether not to mention typing their credit-card details into a web browser plain foolish.
Few think the idea crazy now. Expedia, which Microsoft sold in 2001, has become the world’s biggest travel agent see chart. Last year, through brands such as Trivago, Hotels.com and Hotwire, as well as its eponymous operation, its gross bookings were $39.4 billion. The third-largest travel agent is also an online firm: Priceline, whose brands include Booking.com, made reservations worth $39.2 billion in 2013. Last year online travel agents OTAs had combined bookings of $278 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market-research firm.
Indeed, when it comes to reserving flights, hotel rooms and rented cars for holidaymakers, the online-travel market looks quite mature in many rich countries. PhoCusWright, another research firm, reckons that online booking now accounts for 43% of total travel sales in America and 45% in Europe. Since much of the rest is accounted for by business trips handled by specialist corporate-travel agents such as Carlson Wagonlit, scope for the OTAs’ market to grow seems limited. That explains Priceline’s purchase, announced on June 13th, of OpenTable, a restaurant-reservation website, for $2.6 billion: it sees this as a way to earn commission on another chunk of tourists’ spending. There are some big markets where online bookings have yet to take off. Germans still typically arrange their holidays through traditional travel agents. Although the Chinese now spend more on travel in aggregate than any other country’s population, in 2012 they booked only 15% of their trips by value online, says PhoCusWright. It thinks this will rise to 24% by 2015, making the Chinese online-travel market worth around $30 billion. Much of the expansion will be driven by ambitious local firms. Ctrip, the biggest, makes most of its money from air tickets and package tours to Greater China. But as Chinese tourists become more intrepid—ranging farther afield and no longer shuffling around in big tour groups—online hotel bookings are becoming more important. Ctrip’s hotels division has grown at an average of 25% a year for the past five years, according to Trefis, a stockmarket-analysis firm, and had revenues of $366m in 2013. It will not be long before it eyes Western markets more keenly.
To stay ahead, the big OTAs are having to follow their customers as they switch from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets. By 2017 over 30% of online travel bookings by value will be made on mobile devices, thinks Euromonitor. In part this will be the result of OTAs making their apps more appealing by, for example, adding location services that help travellers find the nearest rooms and restaurants. But it is also because the way people plan trips is changing. It generally takes a family more than three weeks to book a holiday, from deciding to travel to clicking the “pay now” button, in which time they may visit seven websites, says Faisal Galaria of Alvarez & Marsal, a consultant. In future, travellers are likely to become more impetuous, he says, and smartphones appeal to those making last-minute bookings.
For those still surfing for holidays on their PCs, other technological advances are on the horizon. Amadeus, which supplies the software behind many OTAs’ booking systems, is developing new ways to entice customers to the agents’ websites. One is to use browser-tracking technology to aim personalised ads at consumers, showing them the latest prices for trips in which they had previously shown an interest. Such targeted advertising has been common among non-travel retailers for some time. However, until now it has proved trickier for the travel business as it involves collating frequently changing data from many airlines and hotels.
Even with help from such marketing tricks, the smaller OTAs will find it increasingly hard to compete with the big two. Online travel is an industry in which size counts. The scale of Expedia and Priceline means they can sign up more hotels, and negotiate better prices, than their smaller rivals. This is a business that requires heavy spending on marketing, which hands another advantage to the big two. OTAs will spend more than $4 billion this year on digital advertising, according to eMarketer, also a research firm; and Priceline and Expedia will account for over half of this. Some smaller rivals may find profitable niches, but in general it will be hard for them to grow. Whenever they open a door, “there are already two 800lb gorillas fighting it out in the room,” says Mr Galaria.
Not only gorillas. The observant may also spot an elephant in the room. In 2010 Google bought ITA, a maker of flight-search software, and the next year it launched a flight-comparison website. The giant search company has also improved its hotel listings by including photographs and virtual tours, as well as price information. It has the clout to disrupt Expedia and Priceline if it so wishes. It has not done so yet. Google, many believe, would be loth to cannibalise such a large chunk of its main business: analysts think the big two will account for as much as 5% of its advertising revenue this year.
So besides Ctrip, perhaps the biggest threat to the big two OTAs is TripAdvisor, a popular travel-reviews site spun off by Expedia in 2011. This month it said travellers would be able to book hotels directly through its smartphone app. Weeks before Priceline’s deal with OpenTable, TripAdvisor announced it was buying La Fourchette, another online restaurant-booking service. The online-travel market is consolidating fast, but so far holidaymakers need not worry about a lack of options
Jun 2, 2014
As the travel industry starts to mature and new disruptive forces enter the fray, are you – and your business partners – ready to pivot?
In a world where many travel brands want to drive more direct business, how do you choose the right partners? Whether it’s Google, Expedia, Skyscanner or Groupon, one pressing question is this: how are they going to assist or hinder your efforts in the fight to win the next billion Asian customers? By 2030, tourists from Asia will lead all regions of the world in total departures and travel expenditures. So yes, it’s a booming market and there are huge opportunities – as well as some significant challenges.
Over the past month, we’ve been talking to some of the speakers who presented at EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Asia last week. They helped us to identify some emerging trends in the region. Let’s now take a closer look.
1. Ready to pivot? Are peer-to-peer and villa rentals the next big thing? Is this a tipping point in online travel?
Sean Seah, MD of Groupon Travel thinks so. “I think we’re at a pivot point. What I call travel 1.0 – the OTAs, search engines and pretty much metasearch too, which has been around for ages, have matured,” he says.
In APAC, specifically, this is a whole new segment, which could seriously shake up and disrupt the distribution model.“
In 2014 and 2015, the whole peer-to-peer model, like Airbnb and vacation rental space, like HomeAway, will be huge and that is going to make it even harder for travel suppliers like hotels to play the game, as these other guys are going to be just as good,” says Seah.
In Asia, there are still huge opportunities to run villas – especially for groups and families – in, say, Phuket and Bali
“The OTAs have brought transparency to the hotel space, but there is absolutely no transparency in the market for villas,” explains Seah.In other words, they are hard to find, very few are doing it and nobody has – as yet – gained critical mass. While, things are changing though this represents one of the greatest opportunities in APAC.
2. Mobile: it’s massive and it’s mainstream
For Skyscanner’s Andy Sleigh, General Manager, APAC you simply can’t succeed in APAC unless you understand mobile and are prepared to take advantage of mobile growth in a region, where around a third of the 4-billion strong population have access to the mobile internet.
“We take a mobile first approach – it’s a no-brainer when your mobile traffic more than tripled as ours did last year,” he says.
Says Traci Mercer, Vice President, Market Management – Asia Pacific at Expedia Lodging Partner Services: “Mobile is massive, mainstream and the marketplace for travel is – Now!”
With mobile as the mainstream medium, Mercer says Expedia will be considering what the next ‘well’ is for new customer acquisitions. Watch this space.
3. Where next for wearables…and the smart TV?
For Mercer the big question is: “As we play this forward [the fact that mobile is now mainstream], what do wearables and smart TVs do to commerce online?”
In APAC, Mercer points toa leapfrogging of the PC in favour of smartphones and tablets or ‘phablets’ and this, along with the emergence of low cost carriers, is creating a larger middle class and creating an abundance of new travel consumers. Of course, when it comes to wearables, we aren’t just talking Google Glass, and there is plenty of room for innovation on this front.
4. Keep it clean, simple and transparent
What KAYAK has seen through continued growth in 2013 is that there are similar user preferences across its various regions, and if we are speaking of integrity, it’s important to be transparent too.
“Consumers across all regions prefer a simple, intuitive and clean user interface, comprehensive search results, a fast response time, transparency in pricing, and a seamless multi-platform experience,” says Debby Soo Vice President – APAC.
KAYAK believes it is able to take its widespread and deep experience with consumer preferences in the US and apply those lessons to markets like Europe and Asia.
By Smita Nair • Apr 29, 2014 9:00 am EDT
Priceline and its peers such as Expedia (EXPE) and Orbitz Worldwide (OWW) have been investing in marketing and promotion, technology, and personnel in an attempt to improve long-term operating results, but these expenses have pressured operating margins. Priceline’s management said on the earnings call that “operating margins were impacted by 146 bps of deleverage and offline advertising mainly related to our Booking.com TV campaigns in the U.S. and Australia and the inclusion of KAYAK offline advertising.” Although Priceline has managed to efficiently improve its margins, its peers have struggled.
In 2013, Priceline’s total online advertising expense was approximately $1.8 billion, up 41.2% year-over-year. A substantial portion of this was spent internationally through Internet search engines, meta-search and travel research services, and affiliate marketing. The company has worked on building brand awareness for Booking.com, Priceline.com, Agoda.com, KAYAK, and Rentalcars.com via aggressive marketing and promotion campaigns. It said it uses online search engines (primarily Google), meta-search and travel research services, and affiliate marketing as primary means of generating traffic to its websites. It also invested approximately $127.5 million in offline advertising via television, print and radio.
Priceline said its online advertising ROIs were down year-over-year for 2013. Its online advertising as a percentage of gross profit has increased due to lower returns on investment (ROIs) from online advertising, brand mix within the group, and channel mix within certain of its brands. Plus, its international brands are generally growing faster than U.S. brands, and usually spend a higher percentage of gross profit on online advertising.
Priceline CEO Darren Huston said in a Bloomberg interview that the company spends more on search ads on Google, and that results from Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) haven’t worked out for the company. Huston said in the article that the ad spending would be modified to include TripAdvisor Inc. (TRIP), the KAYAK travel search engine, and Expedia’s (EXPE) search site Trivago. When asked about the emergence of Google as a potential competitor, Hudson said he was not worried, adding “Google of course respects us as an advertiser.”
Expedia mentioned in its annual filing that its marketing channels include social media sites such as Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR). The marketing initiatives also include promotional offers and traveler loyalty programs such as Welcome Rewards and Expedia Rewards that are recorded under its expenses. Orbitz (OWW) said in its annual filing that its marketing expense increased 16% or $39.5 million to $292 million, due largely to the growth of its private label distribution channel, which increased affiliate commissions by $23.5 million, and search engine and other online marketing of $32.7 million.
By Chelsea Varney, Published April 27, 2014
Controlling your own customer experience has never been more important.
Walking into a supermarket you will often see consumers choosing to scan their own groceries or even ordering produce directly to their door.
It’s all about being independent and the extensive array of online tools has made it exceedingly easy.
Customers are now more aware of what they want and are able to cut out the seemingly now trivial ‘middle man’ of the sales advisor.
The travel industry has been shaken up pretty roughly by this transition.
No longer needing to rely upon professionals to book their holidays, travelers are purchasing their own getaways by using comparison and customization platforms.
Indeed, a One Poll survey found that 62% of those questioned believed that Travel Agents was a dying business.
Price (75%) was the highest ranking factor that affected their decision making process, meaning travel agents are having to work much harder to generate business.
But, how can travel brands stop themselves slipping into the industry abyss?
There has been a steady rise in the amount of people choosing to travel, with over one billion people (globally) vacationing each year.
This increase in global travelers has been in part facilitated with changDing ways that people arrange their travel, and many businesses have had to adapt fast.
Building on customer relationships and identifying a sense of brand reputation has meant that some companies have continued to survive against independent booking websites.
In fact, a great knowledge of target audience partnered with swift action and marketing nous has lead to a few travel agencies flourishing.
Being able to listen to customers and adapt strategy can bring you popularity and cult status, as demonstrated by Expedia Canada.
In 2013 Expedia launched a television advertisement campaign urging Canadians to escape winter by traveling.
The advert featured a rather annoying violin solo, which after repeated showings increasingly grated on the viewing public.
People took to Twitter to vent their hatred of the infernal racket. Expedia were soon confronted with a barrage of complaints.
Greeted with negative sentiment throughout the social media sphere, Expedia’s creative agency, Grip Limited, devised a plan.
The brand responded quickly, and put out a replacement video which depicted the violin being flung out of the house, a direct response to the complaints made online.
This let consumers know that Expedia was listening to their feelings in a physical and daring way.
This clip directly addressed the preferences and desires of the audience as the violin is smashed up by one of those tweeters complaining about the ad.
This direct, agile approach let the audience know that every single comment is being examined and acted upon, even a solo tweet from a small user.
When you analyse the social data surrounding the campaign the brand was successfully able to eliminate the negative conversation.
Moreover, they managed to maintain buzz and even experienced an increase in chatter on release of new videos.
What this demonstrates is not only the power of listening, but also of an agile marketing strategy.
Good marketers don’t stick to the original plan like glue, they react to trends and opportunities.
In fact, one of the most popular campaigns of 2013 – dunk in the dark by Oreo, was a reaction to listening to public conversation on the live blackout at the Superbowl.
Using emerging technologies allows marketers to weather the storm of reactions and also adapt their strategies.
Putting the customer at the forefront of your campaign and listening to their conversations means that a greater connections can be formed.
This is especially important for those within the travel industry who need to maintain loyalty and build on brand reputation.
This case study was taken from our latest report on Travel and Hospitality.
Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston’s lament that Facebook and Twitter can’t do what Google advertising can when it comes to driving travel transactions is not news to TripAdvisor, which complained of the same shortcomings five months ago.
At the time, TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer said using Facebook to promote its Cities I’ve Visited Ap leads to better monetization, but Facebook falls short in driving transactions in the way that Google Adwords does.
“We weren’t able to get the same traveler in shopping mode to come over to TripAdvisor in any scale that matched Google,” Kaufer said, referring to advertising on Facebook, when speaking at an investor conference in November 2013.
Unlike Huston, Kaufer didn’t address the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of advertising on Twitter at the time.
The independent statements of Kaufer and Huston are a blow to Facebook advertising as a travel-transaction-booster. Both TripAdvisor and the Priceline Group were previously rooting hard for Facebook advertising to succeed as both companies look for other ways to advertise in addition to Google’s platform.
TripAdvisor, in particular, has engaged in lots of disputes with Google when it felt Google was pilfering TripAdvisor reviews and artificially limiting traffic to TripAdvisor in favor of Google promoting its own travel products.
In addition, TripAdvisor was once considered Facebook’s best friend in travel because of TripAdvisor’s Cities I’ve Visited Facebook app, with Facebook even citing TripAdvisor’s promotions on Facebook in its IPO registration papers.
Read MoreBrand USA’s 47-to-1 Return on Investment Claim Attracts Doubts Even Among Supporters
Travel companies do have an alternative to Google, though, in one growing channel — travel metasearch through companies such as Kayak, Trivago, Skyscanner, and TripAdvisor, among others.
You only have to look at the Priceline Group’s acquisition of Kayak for $1.8 billion, and Expedia’s acquisition of Germany’s Trivago for $564 million in cash and 875,200 shares to see how Priceline and Expedia were looking for an advertising hedge against Google’s dominance.
Many travel industry companies hoped that alternative would be Facebook, but so far Facebook hasn’t delivered in the view of some major players, at least.
Facebook declined to comment on the issue.
2014-04-09 BY PHILLIP BUTLER
Will mobile technology negate travel service providers’ direct revenue streams? An insightful post by Skift’s Dennis Schaal points to the big OTAs and the coming leverage game of travel bookings via mobile.
Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, a plethora of booking channels now clutter the hospitality booking lobby, and these carry varying degrees of effectiveness and economy.
While Schaal’s report does allude to hoteliers suffering ever increasing pains at the hands of OTAs, there is another side to the story. Schaal quotes Macquarie Equities Research’s Tom White on the operational disruption TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Priceline can cause. Furthermore, it’s no big secrete TripAdvisor would like to rule the entire hospitality revenue roost. Schaal elaborates using the equity research expert’s intuition, accentuates by TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer’s proclamation over owning the “entire cycle.”
Certainly there’s ample concern on the hotelier end of things here. Clients of our own Pamil Visions travel PR, associates across the spectrum of travel marketing, and even some players in the app building arena have expressed virulently the pluses and minuses of this new “mobile travel ” game. What Shaal and the others mentioned have not shed light on is the flip side of such revenue disruptive technologies.
How the Hotel Will Always Be Right
Somehow the hospitality cart managed to get far out ahead of the hotelier horses, first via the WWW, and now (ostensibly) via the power of an ever growing mobile constituency. Let’s face it, prophesying huge corporate online travel agencies monopolizing guest bookings, that’s a bit like watching a man with a chainsaw standing in front of a redwood, and predicting he’s intent on chopping it down. Excuse the metaphors, but Expedia and the like have made a living providing far reaching reach, with a minimum of effort I might add, to tap into the coffers of every hotelier on the planet. However effective these businesses may be however, unless they plan on hiring bell hops and desk clerks, hotels are still their customers. And the customer is always right, right?
This article on BigHospitality speaks for the hotelier fed up with battling their own service providers (OTAs) over who owns the business of serving guests. In this piece the balance of equity is the needed shift in favor of the real guest services providers. Nial Kelly Vice President Acquisitions and Development at Starwood Hotels talks suggests leveraging OTAs by only working with those that are for balance. In essence, big and small hotel groups can put the proverbial “squeeze” on Expedia and others. This is what is about to happen if our information here is accurate. All the independent or major chain hotels need is the right catalyst, the right app developer, or an existent player willing to think outside the box.
The “Who” of Direct Mobile Bookings
A couple of months ago I was speaking with Stefan Weitz, head of Microsoft’s Bing about forward movement on Bing’s Travel App. Like other major corporations in the game, Microsoft and Bing came up with an imminently useful app for travelers here. Not unlike
our friend’s at Stay.com, Bing put a lot of quality in, features users get the most out of, and ultimately the ability find and reserve the best hotels in the world. Also like Stay.com, “depth” and a lack of appropriate marketing left conversions in a shortfall situation. You see there’s no lack of expertise in creating such tools (even for individual hotels), the cost of such development has been driven down dramatically. The real rub for hotels or corporations like Microsoft is “commitment” – to put it bluntly some companies have more money and resources than drive, when it comes to breaking out into mobile. It’s as if those that should most believe have become too conventional in their thinking.
Therein resides the biggest hurdle for Dennis Schaal’s omnipotent OTA rulers too. TripAdvisor and the rest are super slow on the uptake historically. In fact, in my view, TA and the rest have been lucky somebody like Microsoft has not already snapped up their market share. While Google was the heir apparent to digital travel mastery, today the original OTAs retain their places among marketing channels for hospitality. I am fairly amazed at this, to be honest. Looking at Bing’s app, like everything else at Microsoft it’s Microsoft-centric. These companies act as if they’re the only game in town, like gigantic ostriches. (Sorry Stefan, you know it’s true)
Finally, to give you a few “for instances” on how hotels can rescue themselves from lobby takeovers, here’s a list of apps that could be used to snatch a bigger share of the mobile pie. This says nothing for us working to create regional apps to help hoteliers ourselves :)
by Daniel Stone — April 9, 2014
New York – On Tuesday, Bloomberg released a report that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has reached an agreement with Room 77 to license that company’s hotel booking software. Room 77 is a start-up that has been funded by Expedia (Nasdaq:EXPE). The licensing deal marks Google’s intention to re-enter the online travel market after a stop-start attempts in the past, including the introduction of Hotel Price Ads (HPA) in 2010, the acquisition of ITA Software in 2011, and the launch of Hotel Finder the same year.
Along with Expedia, the online travel market is currently dominated by Priceline (NASDAQ:PCLN), Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE:WWW), and TripAdvisor (NASDAQ:TRIP). According to the ITB World Travel Trends report published last December, online travel booking now accounts for almost 70 percent of all booking and mobile bookings is one to the fastest growing segments overall. In the United States alone, the industry is worth more than $ 300 billion and given the recent performance of many of the companies in the sector there is still room for growth.
According to analysts the licensing deal by Google is most likely an attempt to upgrade their HPA, which essentially operates as the equivalent of ITA, a proprietary airline booking software. Whilst HPA is aimed at hotel marketers, the software would essentially allow Google to complete the loop, by facilitating the customer booking. If this is the case, Google would be positioning itself to cut the middlemen, such as Priceline and Expedia, while providing hotels with a better return on investment when compared to typical paid search campaigns.
Furthermore, industry analysts believe the move was driven by the Department of Justice’s ruling that allowed Google to acquire ITA Software on several conditions, including Google must allow licensed competitors to continue using the software, Google must take measures to prevent snooping, and the company must continue to maintain the software for licensees.
Through the licensing deal, it could be expected that Google might make more forays into the industry as their ‘competitors’ have little if any choice but to continue advertising through Google. While there is little direct evidence to suggest that such a move would hurt Priceline, Expedia, and TripAdvisor, almost 90 percent of what they spend on marketing goes to Google. As such, the increased emphasis on travel could dramatically alter the online travel market in the long-run. Shares in Google were up $ 4.10 in pre-market trading on Wednesday morning.