Hostile Hospitality: Airlines and Hotels Take On Travel Websites
Airlines and hotels are leaning on lobbyists, lawmakers, and regulators to regain control of the way travelers purchase flights and rooms by diminishing the standing of third-party travel bookers.
Both sides claim they have consumers’ best interests in mind. Travel providers want stricter consumer standards for third-party sites. Online agencies argue that their business model — comparison shopping — is itself a consumer benefit and that airlines’ efforts to withhold flight or room data hurts travelers.
Travel providers are treading carefully because sites such as Booking.com or Expedia can amplify consumer awareness of available flights or rooms that providers haven’t sold directly. About 60% of reservations made online are directly through hotel and airline websites, according to travel market research firm Phocuswright—though that figure is falling.
“There are seemingly so many online travel websites, but in reality almost all of them are controlled by two companies and I don’t necessarily think consumers always recognize that,” Maura Morton, the senior director of communications for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said in a statement. The two companies are Booking Holdings Inc. — which runs Booking.com, Kayak and Priceline, among others — and Expedia Group Inc., whose subsidiaries include Orbitz, Travelocity and Hotwire.com.
The AHLA, the trade group for the country’s largest hotel chains, and airline industry group Airlines for America (A4A) are pushing against what they view as a lack of transparency by online travel agency websites, according to prepared statements from both groups.
“It’s definitely a priority for us,” Morton said. She hesitated to prescribe specific transparency fixes. “We are very sensitive in how we talk about this.”
Travel sites, meanwhile, say hotels and airlines want to withhold information to keep customers for themselves. The relationship between travel providers and online booking sites are based on contracts that detail how much information an airline or hotel will share with those sites, and providers pay online travel agencies, or OTAs, a commission on those bookings.