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    Greg is Chair of the firm's national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism practice, which is directed at the variety of matters faced by hospitality and travel industry members, including purchase and sales agreements, management ...

For the first time, our weekly Update delves into the world of artificial intelligence (AI).  We’ve tried for several months now to avoid joining the chorus of voices proselytizing about the likely effects of AI, but as the reality of AI starts to set in and its potential uses become more apparent, it is impossible to avoid.  Expect to see more stories in the future on AI (and its likely legal implications) as curated by my colleague and contributor Erin Snodgrass.  I hope you enjoy.

    • Priceline’s New Head of Accommodations Outlines Her Plans for the Future.  Priceline’s new Senior Vice President and Head of Accommodations, Traci Mercer, shared her thoughts about the future of the little sibling in a recent interview with PhocusWire.  Highlights from the recent interview include:
      • 2023 marks Priceline’s 25th year anniversary
      • North America, particularly, the United States is Priceline’s current top priority for growth
      • From a supplier perspective, both Priceline and Agoda will continue to work together – at least in North America
      • Priceline Partner Solutions (Priceline’s B2B offering) will remain a growth opportunity as Priceline seeks to leverage its recent acquisition of Getaroom
    • Expedia Calls Out Agoda’s Abusive Discounting Practices.  While we’ve grown accustomed to suppliers’ complaints over the years about the business practices of online distributors, it has been unusual to see online distributors questioning the practices of their competitors.  In a recent interview, Expedia’s CEO, Peter Kern, openly questioned Agoda’s discounting practices and characterized Agoda as “one of the worst when it comes to this sort of rate abuse.”  Historically, Agoda has acknowledged and even embraced these practices (in the name of the consumer) making clear that it will do everything it can to source any available discounted rates – including via wholesalers, whose practices, Agoda maintains, could always be better managed by their supplier partners.

    • Hotel Distribution Trends to Watch.  We’ve included in this week’s Update a recent report from IHG’s Andrea Daniels summarizing the recent thoughts and predictions of HSMAI’s Global Distribution Advisory Board regarding the future of hotel distribution. 

    • Add Hilton to the List of Hoteliers Targeted in Texas for Their Resort Fee Practices.  Just weeks ago, we detailed Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton’s newest resort fee disclosure claims against Hyatt (following quickly on the heels of his announced settlement with Marriott).  Now, we can add Hilton to the list of hoteliers targeted by the Attorney General.  Many questioned whether the Attorney General’s own political and legal troubles (including a possible impeachment) might slow his solitary campaign, but, at least for now, those troubles do not appear to have any real effect on his approach to resort fees. 

As evidenced by our list of stories, it was a relatively quiet week in online travel.  The Texas Attorney General’s Office and its pursuit of hotel companies over their resort fee practices garnered most of the industry’s headlines (exactly as the Texas AG wanted). Some highlights from this week:

    • Following Its Settlement with Marriott, Texas AG Targets Hyatt.  With a settlement in hand with Marriott, the Texas Attorney General is now targeting other national hotel brands and operators with claims that their rate and resort fee practices violate Texas consumer protection laws.  In announcing the settlement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated, “Marriott is now taking proactive steps to promote price transparency.  In contrast, other major hotel  chains have defended their deceptive practices, and they will be facing the full force of the law for their actions.”  Apparently, Hyatt is next on the Texas AG’s list as the AG’s office filed suit on Monday against Hyatt. 

    • Fact or Fiction:  Instant Booking for Meetings and Events.  For some time now, we’ve been working with clients to move their sales and contracting practices for small meetings and events to online platforms (both proprietary and third party) with the promise that small meetings and events can be booked instantly.  But do these tools really work?  Is that what meeting planners and groups really want?  Or do the many nuances of a successful meeting or event (as compared to a rooms only leisure booking) make them too difficult to book entirely online?  This past week, Skift, offered its perspective on these instant booking platforms. 

For those of you attending the upcoming week of events in Toronto (HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week), I would enjoy connecting.  I’ll be presenting on Monday at the Executive Roundtables and facilitating that afternoon the discussion at the Chief Distribution Officer roundtable.  I hope to see you there!

Welcome to our weekly Online Travel Update. Expedia’s many announcements at its Explore 23: Connect conference this past week garnered most of the industry headlines, while Uber moved closer to becoming a full online travel booking platform. Recent news highlights include:

    • CWT Partners with’s Booking for Business.  Want to participate in’s corporate booking platform, for Business?  You may have no choice now.  CWT and announced last week a new partnership under which CWT will provide the corporate booking platform discounted (and perhaps, loyalty program) rates and inventory for its suppliers’ hotels, flights and rental cars.

    • Uber to Offer Flights to UK Users.  Users of Uber’s transportation booking application in the UK will soon be able to search and book flights.  Powered by Hopper, the new functionality will include Hopper’s signature fintech products, including Prize Freeze and Cancel for Any Reason.  Uber plans to roll out the new offering across the UK this summer with no announced plans to introduce the offering outside the UK.

    • Expedia Announces Several New B2B Initiatives.  At Expedia’s Expedia 23:Connect conference held this past week in Seattle,  Expedia announced several new B2B initiatives, including a new partnership with Mastercard that allows issuers of the cards to allow users to redeem credit card loyalty program points for travel products and services offered through Expedia.  Other announcements at the event include the launch of Expedia’s travel operating system (Travel OS), whose first commercial “micro-service” will help users protect against fraud, the launch of Expedia’s guest experience score, the launch of new rate management capabilities for those suppliers using Expedia’s optimized distribution (OD) platform and the launch of new capabilities for travel agencies using Expedia’s Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP).  For those of you wanting a more intimate view of last week’s Connect event, we’ve included a story about the event from Seattle’s own technology newsletter, Geekwire.

This week’s Update features a variety of stories, including updates on Ryanair’s attempts to stop platforms’ scraping of fares and other content from its website.  We will continue to keep monitor Ryanair’s claims against in the weeks ahead.  Enjoy.

    • European Commission Resumes Review of Booking Holdings’ Proposed Purchase of ETraveli.  It’s been some time since our last story on Booking’s planned purchase of online flight booking platform, ETraveli.  The Commission suspended its review of the purchase approximately four months ago, but announced this past week that it was resuming its work.  The Commission has until August 30 to complete the review. 

    • Fintech, Tips, Support Service Fees and More:  Hopper Has It All.  Much has been written in the industry (including our own Update) about Hopper.  Hopper was one of the first platforms to fully leverage “fintech” tools as part of its B2B and B2C offerings.  With the renewed attention on resort fees and other mandatory charges, Skift’s recent article about “tips” on Hopper’s booking platform caught our attention.  Although Hopper’s “tip” is not mandatory, users of the platform (assuming they even see the charge) must affirmatively opt-out of payment the flat-fee or percentage charge.  Hopper takes a similar approach with support service fees, which also require an unsuspecting user to opt-out of paying the additional charge.  Does the ability to opt-out of these charges allow Hopper to avoid current efforts to reign in so-called “junk fees,” possibly, depending on the conspicuousness of the fees and their disclosures.  If the tips are simply a mechanism for offsetting operating costs (as opposed to actual “tips” paid to individuals who assist in making the booking), however, Hopper could garner the attention of regulators or an enterprising class action firm. 

    • Expedia Launches Platform to Make Entertainment Tourism Bookable.  Expedia Media Solutions announced last week the launch of a new media platform that allows users to shop and book travel while watching travel content.  If successful, the platform will allow Expedia to capitalize on the growing influence of television and movies (think “White Lotus”) on travelers’ decisions.  Brand USA has partnered with Expedia in the launch of this latest new offering by working together to create a dedicated channel (GoUSA) that features inspirational travel content and interactive maps, while at the same time allowing viewers the opportunity to book featured destination (hotels, air and experiences) in real time.  The channel is now live in Canada and will be rolled out to other international markets over the course of the year. 

As evidenced by the stories in this week’s Update, this past week was a relatively quiet week in online travel.  Not surprisingly, many of this past week’s headlines featured the recent report by Phocuswright suggesting that the online booking channel pendulum has once again swung back in the OTAs’ favor.   Enjoy.

    • How Do You Attract and Convert More Online Bookings?  Act Like a Retailer, Not a Hotelier.  A recent survey conducted by Travelport revealed that travelers, particularly younger travelers, want the same “simple, easy and supportive experience” they receive from every other online sector (other than travel).   So how do hoteliers address these issues?  Provide simplified and intuitive shopping experiences, easy support and transparency.  Other key takeaways from the 2000 consumer survey include (a) 59% of consumers report that getting exactly what they want is more important than price, (b) 84% of younger (18-41) consumers want human led customer support (so much for ChatGBT) and (c) 49% of consumers would pay more for travel to save on carbon emissions. 
    • TripAdvisor Releases Biennial Review Transparency Report.  TripAdvisor has released its biennial Review Transparency Report.  According to the Report, of the nearly 30 million reviews received by the online review platform, 4% of the reviews were determined to be fake or fraudulent in 2022.   TripAdvisor’s fraud detection process identified 72% of the fraudulent submissions before they were posted online.  TripAdvisor also reported that it removed more than 24,000 reviews as originating from paid review companies and imposed ranking penalties on more than 33,000 businesses for fraud.
    • OTAs Once Again Receive the Majority of Online Bookings.  According to a recent report by Phocuswright, OTAs are again enjoying the majority of online hotel bookings.  Prior to the pandemic (largely driven by hoteliers’ much-publicized direct booking efforts and robust loyalty programs and then favorable public perceptions during the pandemic), hoteliers were able to reduce their reliance on OTAs.  Now, during this post pandemic period, OTAs have taken back some of their lost share.  Prior to the pandemic, OTAs’ share had dropped as low as 49% of online gross bookings, but that number has now rebounded to 52%.  For reference, each percentage point can represent $1B in business (or $100M - $200M in commissions).  So why the shift?  Experts point to OTAs’ advantage in marketing (marketing investments have again ramped up post pandemic) and improving technology.  How a possible 2023 recession might again affect the two sides’ relative market share remains to be seen.

This week’s Update features the obligatory Expedia / ChatGPT story as Expedia garnered most of this past week’s industry headlines with its announced integration of ChatGPT into its iOS application.  For those of you following the evolving competition landscape in the EU, you might find our lead story regarding the EU Commission’s recent release of its 2022 overview of some interest.  For those of you interested, links to the EU Commission’s report and accompanying staff working document (detailing, among other things, ongoing efforts in the travel industry) are available in the featured story. 

    • European Commission Releases Report Summarizing Its 2022 Policy Initiatives.  While the Commission’s report provides a good high-level review of the Commission’s 2022 initiatives, the accompanying Commission Staff Working Document provides much greater detail about many of the Commission’s initiatives broken down by both “competition instruments” and industry specific enforcement efforts.  Of particular interest is the Working Document’s discussion of the lodging industry (found on page 92 of the Working Document), highlighting the Commission’s 2017-2021 study of hotels’ distribution practices following several member states’ adoption of so-called narrow parity requirements and suggesting that the study and possibly the DMA (hello would continue to play a role in the Commissions’ future monitoring and enforcement in the industry.  For those of you wanting more information about the 2017-2021 study, we included the study in an earlier Update and a copy of the study’s results is available here.

    • Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub Launches Meetings Booking Platform - Cloopio.  In an effort to better leverage the WFH and hybrid work models, Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub (LIH) has launched a new booking platform designed to promote “curated team off-site packages.”  Cloopio’s offerings (initially around Berlin) include transfers, accommodations, meeting rooms, catering and team building activities.  Cloopio is the second small group booking platform launched by LIH. 

    • Kayak Abandons Plans to Become Lifestyle Hotel Operator.  Anyone surprised by this announcement?  We’ve featured several stories over the past year or two about Kayak’s robust ambitions to launch a lifestyle hotel business.  Kayak CEO and co-founder, Steve Hafner, recently confirmed the news first reported by Skift, that Kayak late last year shuttered its lifestyle hotels business (laying off its development team in the process).  Hotels currently operating under the “Kayak” brand will drop the name as leases for those hotels expire.  Notwithstanding the change in direction, Kayak still plans to build out a hotel technology business, leveraging its ongoing relationship with hotel operator, Life House. 

This week’s Update features two anti-trust / competition law updates from the EU (the Netherlands) and South America (Chile).  Enjoy.

    • Google Offers Price Guarantee.  Late last week, Google announced it was re-launching a pilot program to guarantee the prices of select U.S. flights; if travelers find a lower airfare prior departure, Google will refund them the difference.  Google piloted a similar limited guarantee in 2019, but ultimately terminated the pilot with the arrival of COVID.  For those flights that benefit from the guarantee, Google monitors the price of the flight until the scheduled departure.  If the price does drop, Google refunds the traveler the difference in Google Pay that can be used for other online purchases or ultimately refunded.  Refunds are capped annually at $500 for up to three guaranteed bookings. 

    • Chilean Authorities to Examine Online Platforms in Travel Industry.  The Chilean competition authority announced last week its plan to launch a detailed study of the hospitality industry, including  online digital platforms that advertise and facilitate the booking of accommodations.  According to the authority, a preliminary survey of the market found it necessary to examine whether the existing regulatory structure was adequate to ensure competition.  The study is expected to be complete in December, with a final report issued in March 2024. 

    • Dutch Court Releases Decision Referring’s Contract Clauses to Full EU Court.  Readers will recall the significance of this case and the Dutch’s court’s decision to refer the case to the higher EU Court.  At stake are not only’s contractual parity provisions, but more importantly, the correct methodology to be used when defining the online travel market.  If the market is narrowly defined (i.e., online sellers of travel products and services only), then most certainly will be determined to have a large share of the market and likely subject to greater anti-trust scrutiny (including the Digital Markets Act (DMA)).  Although the linked decision is entirely in Dutch, it contains English commentaries throughout.

    • Yet Another Story on the Growing Influence of Social Media in Travel Marketing.  Ten thousand dollars ($10,000) a month and a $7500 travel allowance to travel the world and stay at Blueground’s U.S. and European properties, sign me up.  I think I’d make a great travel influencer.  This story follows up on a recent story we featured emphasizing the growing importance of social media platforms in travel marketing.

This week’s Update features a heavy dose of online group booking platforms and an interesting report on the growing importance of social media and in particular, travel influencers. Enjoy.

    • Wyndham Adopts Groups360’s Online Booking Platform. Wyndham is the latest large hotelier to announce its adoption of GroupSync, Groups360’s booking platform that allows users to view, select and book blocks of guest rooms and meeting space online or via Groups360’s so-called “Smart RFP.” Wyndham properties will soon be available via Smart RFP and later this year via GroupSync’s online platform. Marriott made a similar announcement earlier this year.

    • CVENT Set to Go Private – Again. Well, its official, the rumored purchase of group booking lead generator and booking platform, CVENT, by Blackstone is happening. Blackstone announced last week that an affiliate (along with minority investor, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) is acquiring CVENT for approximately $4.6 billion. The purchase price represents roughly a 52% premium for existing shareholders. According to Blackstone, the purchase provides another example of Blackstone’s continued belief in (and investment focus on) the recovery of the events and travel industries. From my perspective, it will be interesting to see whether this change in ownership results in any meaningful improvements in CVENT’s sometimes strained relationships with its largest hotel operator customers, particularly as Groups360 (partially owned by many of these same customers) continues to announce corporate-wide partnerships with the industry’s largest players. Stay tuned.

Finally, we’re thrilled to announce the arrival of our newest hospitality team member, Erin Snodgrass. Details about Erin and her practice can be found here, but in short, Erin rejoins our hospitality team after a 20+ year hiatus forming and leading her own women-owned law firm. While at her firm, Erin represented a number of hospitality and travel industry clients (Starwood, Expedia, Egencia, Amex GBT and others) and technology clients (Microsoft and Amazon). Erin’s addition will add much needed capacity to our team in the areas of privacy, sales and marketing, distribution and procurement. Please join me in welcoming Erin.

This week’s Update features another heavy dose of earnings-related stories, including details from last week’s Booking Holdings release.  If you are interested, we’ve linked below a copy of the transcript from’s earnings release call.  Enjoy. 

    • Highlights from Booking Holdings’ Latest Earnings Release.  While Booking posted strong financial results in its latest quarterly (and year-end) earnings release (quarterly and annual revenue, room nights and gross bookings were up considerably against 2021 numbers and showed solid increases over 2019), these were my takeaways from the recent release:
      • Payment processed 42% of its gross bookings in the fourth quarter on a merchant model basis through’s payment platform.  This number is consistent with the third quarter numbers.  I expect to see this number climb considerably over the course of 2023 as more hoteliers consider moving to the platform.
      • U.S. Market.  Both Priceline and continue to do well in the U.S. market (room night growth and gross bookings now exceed 2019 levels), with growth believed by Booking to be outpacing the market’s recovery overall and resulting in increased market share (look out Expedia).
      • Mobile Application.  45% of rooms nights were booked through Booking Holdings’ mobile applications (a 13% increase over 2019).  As we have reported in previous Updates,’s app was the most downloaded OTA app globally in 2022 and reached the number one spot in the United States in 2022 for the first time (look out Expedia).
      • Merchandising (a/k/a discounting).  According to Fogel, offering “attractive” prices to travelers is critical to providing value to Booking’s customers.  These attractive prices are the result of obtaining competitive rates directly from Booking’s supplier partners and “building up” the ability to offer discounts and other incentives (i.e., merchandising).  Booking reports that it has been pleased with the results achieved from merchandising in 2022 (in fact, the cost of these merchandising efforts in 2022 were much higher than in 2019 and offset any take rate increases seen from increasing revenue from payments) and has plans to continue its use (“selectively”) going forward.  Question whether these merchandising opportunities are the result of Booking’s contracting efforts or leveraging ongoing changes in EU competition law.
      • Year Ahead.  If Booking’s January results are a harbinger of what is to come for Booking in 2023, it looks to be a good year.  In January, Booking booked 95 million room nights, a new monthly record by approximately 10 million.  The increase in bookings reflects a 60% year-on-year increase and a 26% increase over the same period in 2019. 
    • IHG Seeing Benefits of Technology Strategy.  Last week we featured a story that highlighted Marriott’s recent successes with its digital platform.  This week we include a similar story on IHG.  In its recent earnings release call, CEO Keith Barr highlighted IHG’s many digital efforts, which began back in 2015 when IHG partnered with Amadeus to develop an entirely new global reservation system.  According to Barr, the new GRS has been critical to IHG’s more recent efforts (and successes) with loyalty, IHG’s mobile app and IHG’s updated web presence.  In its most recent earning release, IHG reported that 58% of all digital bookings at IHG come through mobile devices, which makes it IHG’s fastest growing revenue channel.  IHG also reported that mobile app revenue for the year increased 30% over 2019 levels. 

Our weekly Online Travel Update for the week ending February 17, 2023, is below.  This week’s Update features a number of stories coming out of last week’s quarterly earnings releases by several of the largest online travel platforms.  We’ve also attached transcripts from the recent earnings calls for both TripAdvisor and Airbnb.  Enjoy.

    • Intermediaries Regain Ground in Latest Hotel Booking Trends Report.  SiteMinder has released its latest annual Hotel Booking Trends report detailing 2022 online booking trends.  Highlights from the latest report include:   
      • OTAs were ranked in the top two positions in 79% of SiteMinder’s Top Twelve Lists (versus 37% in 2021)
      • was the most popular booking channel across SiteMinder’s Lists (Expedia Group websites were second)
      • Direct bookings were down against 2021 numbers in 42% of the markets surveyed (though on par with 2019 numbers)
      • GDS bookings were up in 47% of the markets surveyed as corporate travel began its rebound
      • Airbnb continued to gain strength and made 89% of the Lists (compared to 28% in 2019)
    • Airbnb’s Chesky Rejects Need for Traditional Loyalty Program and Seeks to Expand Traditional Hotel Inventory.  During last week’s earnings call, Airbnb Brian Chesky rejected the need for Airbnb to offer guests a traditional points-based program like its distribution competitors.  According to Chesky, “the best loyalty program is building a product people love so much that they want to come back.  We don’t have to pay them to come back.”  Although Chesky may not be interested in emulating his competitors’ loyalty program offerings, he is interested in adding more of their traditional product types, specifically hotels.  Adding more traditional hotel inventory, Chesky noted, would allow Airbnb to better position itself as a traditional booking platform.  Chesky’s apparent re-embrace of traditional hotels represents a thawing of Airbnb’s previous pandemic-induced “freeze” on traditional hotels.  Could we soon see corporate wide direct distribution agreements between hoteliers and Airbnb?   
    • Marriott Increasing Digital Investment in 2023.  Yes, hoteliers too can sometimes be featured in our weekly Update . . .  In its recent earnings call, Marriott shared that product innovation, particularly through Marriott’s Bonvoy mobile application and other digital products, remains a priority for Marriott entering 2023.  According to Marriott CFO, Leeny Oberg, the newly planned investments will “transform” users’ experience on Marriott’s mobile application – for both Bonvoy members and the Marriott employees who serve them.  Marriott’s investment in its digital channels appears to be producing positive results as Marriott mobile app usage grew by 32%, digital room nights grew by 27% and digital revenue grew by 41% (year over year) this past year. 

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Greg Duff
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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