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Happy New Year. Our inaugural 2021 Online Travel Update is below. In addition to sharing a new story about Expedia Group, we are once again providing a roundup of some of the major developments and trends that impacted the online travel industry in 2020, including how hotels and other industry members have responded and adapted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enjoy.

Largest OTAs Withdraw Forecasts for 2020 | March 2020 
(“Expedia Withdraws Full-Year Forecast Amid Coronavirus Spread,” Bloomberg Quint - Stories on Mar 13, 2020)
On Friday, Expedia Group joined its cross-pond rival Booking Holdings in withdrawing its full-year earnings forecast. At the same time, Expedia updated its first quarter guidance stating that the negative impact of the coronavirus outbreak on its adjusted EBITDA would exceed the previously predicted $30-$40 million. Expedia’s rival, Booking Holdings, withdrew its two-week old full-year earnings forecast on Monday.

We end 2020 with a heavy dose of antitrust/competition stories (which is a theme likely to continue into 2021), including updates from Russia, Croatia and the European Union. Those of you with properties in those markets may soon find new opportunities and methods to compete.

Agoda Adds Installment Payments Agoda logo
(Agoda launches regional instalment payment option with Atome, December 20, 2020 via Markets Businessinsider.com)
Not to be outdone by its competitors (see our prior story here), last week, Agoda announced that it is partnering with “fintech” provider Atome to offer installment payment options for travelers booking accommodations in select Asia-Pacific countries on the online platform. The new payment options will first be made available for bookings of accommodations in Singapore and Malaysia, but are expected to expand to accommodations in eight additional APAC markets in 2021. It will be interesting to see what effect these no or low interest installment payment options will have on the return of leisure travel in 2021.

This week’s Update features a variety of stories – short-term rental, airlines, resort fees and antitrust developments in both the United States and the EU. Enjoy.

vresortsSay Hello to the First VR Booking Platform
(VResorts Launches Virtual Reality Booking Platform, December 15, 2020 via Hotel Business)
Gimmick? Maybe. I’ve been quite skeptical of the many purported uses for virtual reality in the travel industry. Singapore-based, VResorts wants us all to think differently. VResorts announced last week the launch of its virtual reality-enabled booking platform that allows users to browse and book hotels using only their VR devices. Hotels participating on the platform will be given the choice of providing VR videos and 360 degree photography or traditional static photography. No information was given on the source of the platform’s inventory or the costs associated with participating, though VResorts CEO and founder, Vladimir Varnavskii, claims that the platform will offer the same competitive pricing found on traditional online booking platforms, Expedia and Booking.com. 

Last week’s news headlines were dominated with a major milestone in the short-term rental industry as Airbnb’s long-awaited IPO finally arrived. While many will continue to debate Airbnb’s initial valuation, one thing is clear: Having just raised $3.5 billion in the public markets, Airbnb has formally arrived. It presents formidable competition to the two current online travel behemoths, Expedia Group and Booking Holdings.

Airbnb’s IPO Was Really, Really Big Airbnb
(Airbnb valued at $100 billion following blockbuster IPO — equivalent of more than five Expedias, December 10, 2020 via GeekWire)
Airbnb priced its IPO at $68 per share. Shares closed on the opening day at $144.71. The closing share price translated to a $100.7 billion market valuation – five times Expedia’s market valuation (closed at $18.4 billion) and greater than the combined value market values of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. Founded in 2008, Airbnb now features four million hosts offering accommodations around the world. For the first nine months of 2020, Airbnb posted revenues of $2.5 billion (compared to Expedia’s $4.2 billion) and losses of $696 million (compared to Expedia’s $2.2 billion loss). Let the debate begin.

This week’s Update features a heavy dose of short-term rentals as the long-awaited Airbnb IPO finally arrives and many hoteliers seek to capitalize on growing (COVID-induced) traveler demand in this segment. Enjoy.

Accor and Marriott’s Interest in Short-Term Rentals GrowsMarriottAccor
(“Did Accor Just Tiptoe Into Short-Term Rentals? December 3, 2020 via Skift Travel News; “Short-Term Rentals at Marriott Grow Beyond Just Being an Experiment,” December 3, 2020 via Skift Travel News; “Accor Launches Website Dedicated to Private Rentals and Extended-Stay Hotels,” December 3, 2020 via Lodging Magazine) (subscription may be required)
In separate stories recently, industry reporter, Skift, featured efforts by both Marriott and Accor to advance their short-term rentals offerings. While the number of short-term/vacation rentals available through Marriott’s Homes & Villas remains relatively low (particularly when compared to Marriott’s one million-plus traditional guest room offerings), the inventory continues to grow rapidly. Since October, Marriott has added 4,000 new listings. As of late, the Marriott platform was offering nearly 16,000 listings in 250 global destinations. Recently, Accor made industry headlines with the launch of its Apartments & Villas website, which features Accor’s existing extended stay hotel offerings (15-hotel portfolio), branded residences (Raffles and Fairmont residences) and private rental offerings (primarily through its existing One Fine Stay platform). Unlike Marriott’s offering, which features newly added rental inventory (unaffiliated with any existing Marriott property), Accor’s offering represents a new way of marketing its existing short-term rental portfolio (roughly 50,000 properties in 350 global destinations). Whether the launch of this new platform by Accor signals a renewed focus on adding new – never before affiliated – private rentals (like Marriott’s approach) remains to be seen. The long-term success of either of these offerings will in large part be determined by travelers’ continuing interest in the segment long after COVID subsides.

This week’s Update features our next PhocusWire Hot 2021 Startup, Volara. For those of you who have implemented (or considered implementing) voice-activated guest solutions, Volara is likely a familiar name. Enjoy.

Increased Interest in Contactless Engagement May Fuel Volara Growth in 2021 Volara
(“VIDEO: Volara - Summit pitch at Phocuswright Conference 2020,” November 25, 2020 via phocuswire.com)
U.S.-based startup, Volara, is no stranger to the hospitality industry. Founded in 2016, Volara was one of the first developers of hospitality industry applications for voice-activated devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest. For Volara, 2021 will be the year to leverage the industry’s growing (pandemic-induced) demand for contactless engagement and touchless controls solutions. We’ve linked the headline above to the recent 2020 Phocuswright Conference Innovation Summit pitch presented by Volara President, David Berger.

Beginning with this edition, we’ve rebranded the name of our weekly Update from “OTA & Travel Distribution Update” to “Online Travel Update.” Why, you ask, did we change the name that has served us so well these past five years (yes, it has been more than five years since we launched our weekly Update)? Well, the new name reflects both the fact that our client mix continues to grow, with several high-end bespoke tour operators and cruise industry members added to our online travel portfolio, and that the work we do for these diverse clients has evolved well beyond traditional B2C online travel agent (OTA) contracts. Wholesale (B2B) distribution, search, metasearch, payment methods, privacy, tax, connectivity, e-commerce and website, and application development and operation have all become an important part of our travel practice. While we will continue to focus on stories involving the OTAs, you should also expect to see updates on these other critical substantive areas. We hope you enjoy, and always welcome your thoughts and feedback.

PhocusWire 2021 Hot Startups: Meet Kyte Kyte logo
(“Hot 25 Startups 2021: Kyte,” November 9, 2020 via Phocus Wire)
Our second story featuring the PhocusWire 2021 Hot Startups highlights airline (B2B) distribution solution, Kyte. U.K.-based Kyte is one of several recent startups seeking to leverage the new distribution capability (NDC) to provide airlines the ability to offer flights and other ancillary products and services to consumers or third-party distributors. Current users of Kyte’s solution include British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and American Airlines. 

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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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