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For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving this week, happy holidays. This week’s Update features a wide variety of stories, including PhocusWire’s annual list of the 25 hot travel startups. Enjoy.

Expedia Partner Solutions Offers Carbon Neutral Hotel Stays
(“Expedia and Key Travel create ‘carbon neutral’ hotel stays,” November 18, 2021 via Travel Weekly (UK) – News)
Expedia Partner Solutions (EPS) and Key Travel are collaborating to offer travelers the opportunity to offset the carbon emissions associated with their stay through the purchase of carbon offsets. With each stay booked through EPS, EPS and Key Travel will pay the amount of the carbon offset to nonprofit, Cool Effects, which will then invest the funds in verified carbon reduction projects around the world.

We begin this week’s Update with the announced acquisition of Getaroom by Booking Holdings. Enjoy.

Booking Holdings to Acquire Getaroom
(“Booking Holdings to Acquire Getaroom for $1.2 Billion,” November 12, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
On Friday (November 12), Booking Holdings announced one of its largest acquisitions in some time – the $1.2 billion purchase of B2B platform, Getaroom. At closing, Getaroom will join Priceline’s strategic partnerships team, Priceline Partner Network, which, Priceline claims, will result in new and improved B2B distribution opportunities for its hotel suppliers.  

Last week was earnings week for many of the public online travel companies, and we’ve included stories summarizing those releases for several of the largest – Expedia Group, Airbnb, Booking Holdings and Sabre. We’ve also included copies of the transcripts of last week’s earnings calls for both Expedia and Booking. Enjoy.

Amazon Expands India Travel Offerings
(“Amazon to Offer Travel in India via MakeMy Trip,” November 3, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
Last week, Indian online travel agent, MakeMyTrip, and Amazon announced a new partnership through which MakeMyTrip’s travel services will be made available to customers in India through the online retailer’s website and mobile application. Customers purchasing travel services on the Amazon platforms will also be able to pay for their purchases via Amazon Pay. According to the press release, the travel services will be available for booking in the next few months. Readers of our Update will know that this isn’t Amazon’s first foray into travel services – virtual tours in September 2020 and domestic air tickets and bus passes in India in May and December 2019.

Our cruise industry friends make an appearance in this week’s Update, one of their first appearances in some time. Enjoy.

South Korean Regulators Re-Examine OTA Practices
(“Online hotel booking sites to come under heightened scrutiny from South Korean regulator,” October 28, 2021 via MLEX Insight) (subscription may be required)
By now, readers are well aware of South Korea’s previous investigation into the major online travel agencies (OTAs)’ contracting practices (specifically, rate parity requirements) and the resulting “corrections” announced by OTAs (Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia and Hotels.com) earlier this year. These corrections mirror the compromises reached in several other countries where OTAs agreed to remove availability and indirect channel rate parity, but retained direct channel parity requirements (e.g., hoteliers must continue to provide OTAs with rates equal to or better than the rates on the hoteliers’ own websites). With the travel industry expected to rebound quickly in Korea as the threat of COVID subsides, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) announced last week plans to re-examine the OTAs’ current contracting practices and their effect on the market. Separately, the KFTC announced that an investigation into OTAs’ advertising practices, specifically whether OTAs provide adequate notice regarding display advertising’s effects on sort order, was already underway.

This week’s Update features yet another story about Hopper as well as an important update on the future of keyword restrictions. Enjoy.

Marriott Goes to Trial
(“Marriott Loses Bid for More Time Ahead of TravelPass Trial,” October 20, 2021 via Law360 – Competition) (subscription may be required)
Marriott’s efforts to postpone the start of trial in the TravelPass matter were derailed last week. While the recent court ruling was entirely procedural in nature (Marriott sought to postpone the start of trial to allow the court additional time to review earlier decisions on the applicable anti-trust standards), the case and its ultimate outcome are something to watch. Among the many issues to be decided at trial is the question of whether agreements between hoteliers and their distribution partners prohibiting the distributors’ use of keywords is permitted under applicable U.S. antitrust law. Of the many initially named defendants (Choice, Wyndham, Hilton, Caesars, Red Roof, Hyatt and Six Continents), only Marriott has elected to proceed to trial. Expect additional updates in the near future as trial is set to begin on Monday, November 1st, and the court prepares to issue several key preliminary rulings regarding the applicable legal standards.

This week’s Update again features a number of stories on fintech and its emerging influence on the travel and lodging industries. Enjoy.

Hopper Continues Its Meteoric Rise
(“Hopper Notches First Fintech Deal With an Online Travel Agency,” October 14, 2021 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
Last week, Hopper (online travel app (B2C) and growing provider of AI-enabled fintech products (B2B) announced its first partnership with a rival online travel agency, India’s MakeMyTrip. When implemented, the partnership will allow MakeMyTrip to make use of Hopper’s predictive tools to better price its existing fare lock functionality. Should a fare ultimately exceed a traveler’s locked fare, MakeMyTrip (and not Hopper) will bear the financial risk. According to Hopper, 70 percent of its revenue now comes through these types of ancillary products and services (and not from its travel application). This latest deal comes only a few months after Hopper’s announced deal to provide its predictive and financial products to global distribution system, Amadeus.

The latest Update features a variety of news, including stories regarding Expedia’s planned roll up of its loyalty programs and Marriott’s recently announced loyalty program partnership with Japanese e-commerce platform, Rakuten. Whether COVID or data privacy induced, the travel industry’s renewed interest in loyalty programs – whether through traditional loyalty programs or now, subscription programs – is definitely something to watch. Enjoy.

Marriott and Rakuten Announce Partnership
(“In Marriage of Two Giants, Marriott and Rakuten Take Vow on Loyalty,” July 10, 2021 via WIT)
Marriott International and Japanese e-commerce platform (e-commerce, fintech, digital content and communications all linked through a rewards program) Rakuten Group announced a partnership recently that will provide members of the parties’ loyalty program with benefits under each program. Under the partnership, Marriott gains direct local access to Rakuten’s approximately 100 million members for promoting Marriott’s hotel brands and offering travel experience customized for Japanese travelers. In exchange, Rakuten members – once enrolled in Marriott Bonvoy – will enjoy discounted member rates, opportunities to earn and redeem program points, and other member-only opportunities. Enrollment in Marriott Bonvoy will be via a simplified one-click process on the Rakuten platform. According to John Toomey, Marriott’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing in the Asia-Pacific region, the partnership is part of Marriott’s ongoing efforts to focus on local markets via partnerships and other collaborations with in-country partners. The announced partnership is scheduled to launch in phases, with the first phase starting late next month.

Fall has definitely arrived in the Pacific Northwest. It was a relatively quiet week in the online travel world. This week’s Update features a story on one of the most widely used Global Distribution Systems – Amadeus – as the company announces its second (unnamed) major customer for its new reservation platform. Enjoy.

Airbnb Takes Steps to Accommodate Hotel Listings
(“Airbnb revives hotel strategy, moves closer to rival OTA model,” September 29, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
While the pandemic may have led Airbnb to pause its hotel distribution aspirations, it appears that the pause may have only been temporary. Airbnb is reportedly testing a new API that allows suppliers to provide and display multiple rate plans (similar to many of Airbnb’s OTA competitors). According to two of Airbnb’s beta partners – RoomCloud (an Italian channel manager and booking engine) and Cloudbeds (an US cloud-based PMS provider), the changes are designed to appeal to hoteliers. Airbnb is also apparently re-starting efforts with its mobile booking platform, HotelTonight, as it seeks to fill multiple open positions within the company, including market managers. Airbnb has refused to provide comment on either effort.

Skift’s annual Skift Global Forum, which was held this past week, produced a number of newsworthy items for this week’s Update. Enjoy.  

The Much Aligned Tripadvisor Plus Program Forced to Make Significant Changes
(“Sounding Off: Tripavisor Plus Changes Show the Complexity of Travel Plans,” September 24, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
While the Skift Global Forum received much of the attention this past week, the other major industry newsmaker was Tripadvisor and its decision to make significant changes to its subscription model, Tripadvisor Plus. For weeks now, we’ve detailed the challenges with the program, particularly those around Tripadvisor’s public display of its discounted member rates. For this reason, major brands were unwilling to commit to the program. This past week, Tripadvisor announced an abrupt change and will now feature retail commissionable rates (gone are the member discounted rates), but provide members a cash-back credit “roughly equal” to the former member discount (or new commission percentage). When or how travelers receive the credit is unclear. While the change may make it easier for the major brands to participate (but will they, given that the program now becomes yet another commissionable leisure distribution channel), it isn’t clear whether the change will increase travelers interest in the program (and increase badly needed subscription fees). What is clear is that Wall Street didn’t view the announced changes favorably, cutting the company’s share price by 8 percent (a loss of $374 million in market value) on the day after the news broke.

MCR Hotels Trial Runs Attribute Pricing
(“One of the US's largest hotel owners is charging guests $25 to use the swimming pool and $20 to check in early — but is cutting room prices in return,” August 18, 2021 via Business Insider)
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, hotel owner and operator, MCR Hotels CEO, Tyler Morse, shared the company’s plans to begin offering attribute pricing for 12 of its independent hotels. According to Morse, the company plans to reduce its hotels’ base room rates, while at the same time charging additional fees for guests’ use of certain of the hotels’ amenities (e.g., pool or fitness center) or other services (e.g., early arrival).  Whether MCR’s plans signal the beginning of the lodging industry’s long discussed transition to attribute pricing remains to be seen. With many hotels suspending traditional guest services (e.g. daily housekeeping) during the pandemic (and owners reaping the associated economic benefits), the post-pandemic return of the lodging industry may provide a unique opportunity to rethink guest room pricing. How these new practices might fit with legacy distribution systems, OTA fee structures, sales contracting practices, etc., remains to be seen. 

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Greg Duff
Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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