Lines of Service Continue to Blur on Online Sites

NATIONAL REPORT—Did someone shout, “Everybody into the pool?” Recently, there’s been a shift in paradigm as new alliances are being forged and travel brands such as TripAdvisor and Expedia vie for a bigger piece of the hotel booking action.

In a strategic partnership launched in fall 2015, Priceline Group’s online travel brands will participate in TripAdvisor’s instant-booking platform. Priceline’s Booking.com is one of the first to implement the partnership among its network, with plans for Priceline.com and Agoda.com to be added in the future. 

“The Priceline Group has been a longtime partner of TripAdvisor and we have worked closely with them for years through our traditional media product. Our instant-booking partnership is part of the ongoing evolution of our relationship and it’s a big win for users of our traveler community. It demonstrates growing adoption of the product by some of the biggest and respected brands in the travel industry,” said Kevin Carter, TripAdvisor spokesman.

As part of the agreement, visitors coming to TripAdvisor.com to plan, compare prices and book a trip will now be able to instantly book options from Priceline’s global inventory of hotels. According to Carter, the deal is a boon for consumers seeking a more fluid transaction.

“With instant booking, travelers will be able to see Booking.com-branded listings and can simply click on the ‘Book Now’ button to book on TripAdvisor to initiate a reservation. TripAdvisor will let consumers know that their hotel booking is being powered by Booking.com, and Booking.com representatives will handle all the customer care related to the transaction,” he said. “We see our partnership with Priceline Group as an important milestone in the continued growth and expansion of our instant booking marketplace.”

Priceline’s Liz Cafferty concurs, adding that the alliance is focused on meeting tech-savvy consumers where they are, whether it’s a mobile device or computer, and delivering the value of the brand.

“We live in a hyper-connected age and the boundaries between the functions of different platforms and apps are already starting to blur based on the expectations and behavior of customers. [They] already access and reference many different resources and channels on multiple devices to plan and book their travel,” said Cafferty. “Engaging with our customers in a meaningful way at every stage of their travel journey to help them experience the world in whatever way they choose is at the core of our mission at The Priceline Group. So, for us, it’s not about shaping the way they search and talk about travel. It’s about becoming a more natural and valuable part of the ongoing conversations consumers are already having. We want to make sure that our brands are enhancing our customers’ lives at each and every step in their journey.”

Not be outdone, Expedia created its own direct-booking collaboration with Trivago, the travel metasearch engine focused on hotels, in which Expedia invested in some three years ago. Currently, the hotel booking mechanism is available in Germany, with plans to expand to English-speaking countries. On the convergence of metasearch and online bookings, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sees increased competition as well as increased opportunities.

“Certainly, the lines between classes of service are blurring. You even have companies like Accor, which had previously been viewed as a traditional hotel chain, acting anything but traditionally and introducing independent hotels into the marketplace,” said Khosrowshahi. “For the companies that are solving for the customer experience and who are reducing distribution costs over a long period of time—because with Internet-scale offerings has to come efficiency—they will have great opportunity going forward. Companies that are slower, that are trying to defend, so to speak, are the companies that over a period of time are going to lose share, and obviously we’re planning to be the former versus the latter.”

Khosrowshahi shared interest in the Book on Google feature, noting that Google has been consistently good from a partnership and branding perspective. “What’s important to us in any of these booking experiences is that our brands and services are fairly represented. We are happy to use any and all channels and we do very aggressively, but we do want to make sure the customer understands the booking is with Expedia or Hotels.com, so if they need help, they know who to go to,” he said. “The early iterations of Book on Google have shown good strong branding, and for mobile, where people don’t want to take out credit cards, it’s an improved experience. Google is a channel in general that we lean into and we will test our way into Book on Google to make sure it’s the kind of experience we want to build for our customers.” 

—Corris Little