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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. 

This week’s Update features a variety of stories, including the first of many upcoming profiles of PhocusWire's 2021 Hot Travel Startups focused on distribution and online travel. Enjoy.

JetBlue to Distribute Short-Term Rentals JetBlue logo
(“JetBlue to Debut Short-Term Rentals as Part of Its Growing Non-Air Offerings,” November 11, 2020 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
Short-term rentals – the apparent darling of leisure travel during the COVID-19 pandemic – continue their march to legitimacy. Last week, JetBlue announced plans to add short-term rentals to its existing non-air portfolio of products and services. The new inventory will be provided by a to-be-named partner, but customer service will be handled directly by JetBlue (and not the supplier partner.) Potential supplier partners identified by JetBlue include Airbnb and Expedia’s Vrbo.

It’s earning season, and this week’s Update features a number of stories detailing the quarterly earnings releases from several of the largest online travel agencies (OTA) and global distributions system (GDS) companies. We’ve also included copies of the quarterly releases for both Expedia and Booking.com. Enjoy.

Tripadvisor Explores a Consumer Subscription Program
(“Tripadvisor to Launch Its First Subscription Plan for Travelers,” November 6, 2020 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
Last week, Tripadvisor CEO Steve Kaufer announced during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that the review/metasearch/booking site is planning to introduce a paid consumer subscription program that would provide subscribers discounts on hotels and attractions, and other possible benefits (e.g., unique experiences). Although details of the program are still being finalized, Kaufer claimed that the program would be complimentary to suppliers’ existing loyalty plans. This new consumer-oriented program would supplement Tripadvisor’s existing subscription plans for hotels and restaurants, including the recently introduced reputation management program.

Last week was relatively quiet on the distribution front. Enjoy. 

Tensions Between Google and Booking.com Become Public
(“Booking.com and Google Clash in Europe as Regulators Target Both,” October 29, 2020 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Google’s growing interest in travel has garnered the attention of a few of its largest advertisers. Over the past year, representatives of the largest OTAs, namely Expedia and Booking, have been increasingly vocal with their “concerns” about Google and its practices. Rcently, Booking made its views about Google even clearer, when it declined to lend support to Google’s campaign to oppose EU regulatory action directed at online “platforms.” In the words of Booking, “Our interests are diametrically opposed.” While Booking’s recent comments may have been motivated primarily by its effort to avoid being viewed by EU regulators as an online “gatekeeper,” it is quite clear that Booking would like nothing more than to sit on the sidelines while its former “partner” faces the scrutiny of regulators alone.

What started out as a relatively quiet week in the distribution world ended with a flurry of activity and announcements (some were expected and some were not). I hope you enjoy.

Booking.com Expands Its Product Offerings for U.S. Travelers
(“Booking.com launches flight search and booking in the U.S.,” October 22, 2020 via Phocus Wire)
As of October 15, U.S. travelers can now search and book airline tickets on Booking.com. This latest news comes on the heels of several recent announcements by Booking.com and its parent company, Booking Holdings, including last week’s public announcement about Booking.com abandoning its core BookingSuite products. Many users in the United Kingdom and other countries in the EU have had access to the airline offerings for close to a year, though much of the transaction to purchase tickets was handled by a third party. In contrast, U.S. users will complete the transaction entirely on the Booking.com site. Facilitated payments, corporate and managed travel and now airline tickets…What’s next for Booking.com?

Travelers Seeking Increased Transparency
(“Skyscanner, Expedia, Hopper on need for transparency in travel retailing,” Oct 14, 2020 via Phocus Wire)
In a recent roundtable held at the Open Industry Summit: The New Reality of Flight Shopping hosted by APTCO, online platforms Expedia, Skyscanner and Hopper emphasized that today’s travelers are seeking more than ever critical information about destinations’ pandemic status and suppliers’ health and safety practices, and flexible booking terms. At times, these “new” factors can be equally or even more important than price. Recognizing the systems challenges associated with providing much of this “new” information, the intermediaries stressed the importance of suppliers making this information as simple as possible.

This week’s Update features two stories on the growing (temporary?) phenomenon of using hotel guest rooms and other public spaces for those seeking an alternative arrangement to working from home and how those new remote work locations are being distributed. If this trend continues, it won’t be long until distributors (either new or existing) begin featuring this new form of inventory. Enjoy.

Hotels and Co-Working Companies: An Inevitable Combination
(“Hotels Partnering With Co-Working Companies Signal a Pandemic Trend Could Be Here to Stay," Oct 6, 2020 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
As hotel owners and operators desperate for revenue have offered their rooms to first responders, the homeless, those quarantining and even prison inmates, it should be no surprise that these same owners and operators are now partnering with co-working companies to offer their otherwise unoccupied rooms and empty public spaces to far more tame work-from-home employees. In late September, Proper Hospitality partnered with co-working provider Industrious to bring “work-from-hotel” offerings to Proper’s hotels in Austin, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Next, Proper plans to expand those offerings to its additional Southern California properties. Proper is just one of several traditional lodging (or gaming) companies (e.g., MGM, Mandarin and CitizenM, which we covered in a prior post) exploring the space, though Proper is one of the first lodging brands to partner with an experienced and well-known co-working provider. Although the partnership is scheduled only to run through mid-December, many feel that this partnership is likely a sign of things to come.

With this week’s Update, we welcome Amazon back to the distribution discussion with its recent introduction of Amazon Explore. Enjoy.

OTA Insight Introduces Parity Certification Program for Distributors
(“OTA Insight launches Parity Certification Program for Distributors, Sep 29, 2020 via Hospitality Net - Latest Industry News)
Great idea in theory, but will the largest distributors actually use it? Recently, OTA Insight, the cloud-based distribution data platform, announced the launch of its Rate Parity Distribution certification program. With a focus on system controls, applicable contract requirements and legal requirements, the program assesses whether a distributor is in compliance with applicable rate parity protocols and best practices. Participation is open to all distributors. While certification may appeal to new or fledgling distributors (perhaps as a differentiator), I question whether the largest distributors will ever voluntarily open their parity practices to review by a third party. More to come.

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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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