This week’s Update provides several updates on stories we featured previously, including details on Expedia’s recent settlement of false advertising claims that we first detailed back in 2016. Enjoy.
The Return of (Offline) Travel Agents
(“Make Way for the Travel Agents. Again.,”April 14, 2021 via New York Times - Global Business) (subscription may be required)
“Book me now. Book me anything.” Last week, The New York Times featured a story predicting the strong return of travel agents. According to Wendy Burke, Founder and CEO of Cadence, a Southern California travel agency, travelers are calling her agency asking her agents to book them travel to just about anywhere as the prospective travelers wait the mandatory 15 minutes following their COVID-19 vaccine. Other agencies report that business is up 35 percent over pre-pandemic (2019) levels. Does this mean a return to “normal” for traditional (offline) brick and mortar travel intermediaries? While travelers may communicate with their agents a bit differently now (texting, online interfaces, etc.), travelers trying to navigate the myriad of COVID travel restrictions are relying on their trusted travel advisors now more than ever.
While the debate around health care passports continues, our latest Update offers Booking Holdings’ CEO’s perspective on the growing controversy. We also take a look at two major distributors’ plans for public offerings – one via a SPAC (Traveloka) and the other through a new secondary listing (Trip.com). What each distributor does with the proceeds from the offerings will be interesting to watch. Enjoy.
Expedia Joins Other Platforms in Offering COVID-19 Advisory
(“Expedia Group Launches COVID-19 Advisor Tool to Track Global Travel Restrictions, April 8, 2021 via Hotel News Resource)
Recently, Expedia announced plans to launch the COVID-19 Travel Advisor, offering information that other platforms have made available to travelers for some time. The Travel Advisor will offer users of several of Expedia Holdings’ consumer sites real-time information on COVID-related travel restrictions in various destinations. According to Expedia, an initial pilot of the Travel Advisor resulted in 1.6 million travelers using the tool on Expedia Holdings’ sites since November 2020. Whether this new advisory will be enough to draw prospective travelers to Expedia Groups’ sites earlier in their search (before identifying or booking a flight or accommodation) – which is clearly the intent behind the new Travel Advisor – remains to be seen.
It was another relatively quiet week in the online travel world as evidenced by our stories below. Expedia Group’s introduction of its Fast Track program designed to recruit unhappy Airbnb hosts and its rollout of AI-enabled virtual travel agents received most of the attention. Enjoy.
Short-Term Rentals Hosts Becoming a Hot Commodity
(“Expedia’s Vrbo Looks to Poach Discouraged Airbnb Hosts With New Incentives, March 29, 2021 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
We have all read the many stories chronicling the successes of short-term rentals during the pandemic. Our team has done more work in the space over the last six months than the past two years combined. Now, as the travel industry prepares for the anticipated return of leisure travel (and continued strong demand for traditional lodging alternatives), distributors are getting creative in their efforts to add to their rental inventory – even going so far as to create a dedicated programs seeking to expedite the transition of disgruntled hosts wishing to leave their current distribution platform. Meet Fast Track. Recently, Expedia Group introduced its new host recruitment program (Fast Track), which Expedia acknowledges was created specifically to respond to the influx of disgruntled hosts seeking to leave Airbnb over its refund practices. Participants in the program will enjoy preferred placement on Vrbo and a “New to Vrbo” badge on its listing for up to 90 days. The new program is currently only available to hosts in the United States, but is expected to be rolled out globally over the next few months.
Last week was a relatively quiet one for the online travel industry. Hopper garnered most of the headlines with its recent funding round (and accompanying $1 billion valuation). Enjoy.
JetBlue Seeks To Diversify Its Online Offerings
(“JetBlue’s Travel Tech Ambitions Take Step Forward With New Broader Booking Site,” March 25, 2021 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
Meet Paisly, the new travel website recently developed by JetBlue, which allows holders of JetBlue airline reservations to search and book rental cars, accommodations and theme park tickets. The new website is in addition to JetBlue’s existing JetBlue Vacations, which offers comparable products and services, but exclusively on a package basis. The new website is further evidence of the airline’s announced ambitions of becoming a travel technology company. By the end of the year, JetBlue hopes to offer more accommodation and activity options on the new site.
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.