The unspoken reality of the online travel agency sector (hello, frenemies)
Should Booking.com and Expedia be worried about the formation of what is being touted as a “shift in the hierarchy” of the online travel agency world in Europe?
The short answer: no.
The merger this week of Airticket and Tripsta, two online travel agencies from southern Europe, will supposedly see the new company become the largest ecommerce company in Greece.
The combined companies forecast they will command sales of Euro 500 million a year.
In March this year they claim to have attract 4.8 million visits across their respective websites with 207,000 tickets sold.
The newly formed company will retain both brands under the stewardship of CEO Philipp Brinkman (CEO of Tripsta) and president of the board, Dimitris Kontogeorgos (CEO of Airtickets).
“We are both hugely excited about this new chapter for our businesses, and the opportunity to perform on a larger global stage.”
The company says it will now look to extend its business into new European markets, with Kontogeorgos adding:
“The commercial synergies between both our businesses made a clear argument for a merger. We will be far stronger together and it will mean we can make wider and deeper investments in important technologies for customers.”
There is a lot of talk in this week’s announcement about “increasingly fragmented European OTA market”, leading casual observers to think that the consolidation that has happened in the US in recent months in isolation.
But in reality, behind the scenes there is very little sign of fragmentation at all.
In fact, one could argue that the same powerful players in the US are battling it out in Europe, too, but in different ways.
Eighteen months ago it emerged that Odigeo, the umbrella organisation overseeing the likes of Opodo and the French and Spanish OTA brands GoVoyages and eDreams, was now just an affiliate of Booking.com for the trio’s respective hotel channels.
The company didn’t want to discuss this when we asked at the time why it was throwing its lot in with the Priceline-owned Booking.com.
In fact, there appears to be a bit of a taboo surrounding these typos of partnerships.
Travelocity (and its former owner, Sabre) did not at all like being called an Expedia affiliate when the “marketing agreement” was struck between the pair in the summer of 2013 (16 months before Expedia bought Travelocity outright for $280 million).
Fast forward to this week’s deal and, again, behind the scenes there are some very familiar faces.
Not disclosed in the merger announcement, but Booking.com is powering the hotel channel on Airtickets and the packages part (flight and hotel deals) is hosted by Expedia Affiliate Network.
Flight fares and schedules are captured via the usual suspects from the GDSs, with low cost carrier content provided by Travelfusion.
Perhaps the point to make is that there is a lot (a LOT!) of talk about online travel agencies needing to differentiate themselves in order to, well, make a difference to consumers, especially in the hotel sector where the margins are higher than in air.
But in Southern Europe the hotel and packages content amongst the independent (and supposedly power playing) OTAs shows little sign of differentiation at all, given that the content comes from the same source.
Thus the arrival of newly merged OTAs such as Airticket-Tripsta and the continued efforts of Odigeo eDreams probably do not give the execs at Expedia and Booking.com any sleepless nights at all.
In fact, they probably welcome the “competition”.
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