Booking.com and Expedia do battle for hotel share around the globe, and they and about 10 other aggregators are upping the competition as they compete for travel agency bookings in the new Travelport Rooms and More.
Rooms and More, which eventually will be integrated into Travelport's Universal Desktop, is a travel agency site which looks in some ways like a typical metasearch site, although the agents don't get shuffled off to the aggregator sites to complete their bookings. Travelport acquired hotel metasearch engine Sprice in May 2010, and it provides much of the foundation for Rooms and More.
Some 6,400 travel agents in 70 markets are currently using Rooms and More so it hardly is a major booking channel for Booking.com, Agoda and the Expedia Affiliate Network so far.
But, it is interesting to see how these hotel aggregators, along with the likes of Miki Travel, Hotels.com, Grupo TransHotel, Medhotels, Hostelworld and others are competing for travel agency bookings. Travelport has a dozen aggregators in Rooms and More, with about 18 others signed up for implementation.
Niklas Andreen, Travelport GDS' group vice president, hospitality and partner marketing, estimates that Rooms and More has 200,000 to 300,000 of an estimated half a million hotels around the world in the system.
It is difficult to give a precise count of how many hotels are represented because the providers often have overlapping inventory, he says.
The hotel providers compete for travel agency bookings based on whether they offer pre-pay or post-pay models etc. and their varying commissions.
Travel agents search for hotels and then see an array of offers from the providers with divergent commission specified.
For example, today in the US market on Rooms and More, Miki Travel was offering 12% commission, TransHotel (12%), Expedia Affiliate Network (10%), Hotels.com (10%), Booking.com (5.5%), and Agoda (4.5%).
It is likely that a company such as Expedia, which deals in so much merchant hotel inventory, could afford to pay a higher commission than Booking.com, for instance, which largely deals in the retail or agency model.
Travelport negotiates the commissions, which are subject to change by market, timeframe, availability and other factors, with each provider.
All of this inventory is accessed through the Travelport Universal API, but the aggregators also compete against chain hotels offered through the Travelport GDS, which lists commissions ranging from 0% to 12%.
Agents select an inventory provider, which is the merchant of record, and then Travelport sends the credit card details to the aggregator, which confirms the bookings and sends a voucher to the agency or traveler. Travelport collects all the commissions for the agencies.
The user experience for the travel agent is similar to traditional metasearch, although all of the bookings take place within Rooms and More instead of on sites such as Expedia or Booking.com.
Andreen refers to the experience as "meta-book."
Also along the lines of a consumer experience, travel agents using Rooms and More get access to consumer-written hotel reviews about each property from sites such as TripAdvisor, Yahoo Travel, AOL and others.
With some travel agents disparaging what they consider to be amateurish user-generated content, it is interesting to see many of them are accessing consumer reviews in Rooms and More.
Keith Harrison, global head of hospitality sales for Travelport, says agents often access the user reviews when the property or destination is unfamiliar.
And, Andreen says Travelport is in discussions with professional review providers to add them to Rooms and More, as well.
Note: The author took part in a Travelport-sponsored press event in Atlanta.