A war of words is developing amongst online travel agencies in Asia-Pacific after Expedia announced a joint venture with low cost carrier AirAsia earlier this week.
Rival agency Webjet issued a thinly veiled attack on the duo after Expedia chairman Barry Diller and AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes unveiled the partnership in Singapore on Tuesday (29 March), questioning whether Expedia will now only sell the LCC's flights at the exclusion of other carriers.
Webjet managing director John Guscic, wondering if says:
"And if the announcement regarding Expedia's plan in Asia wasn‟t confusing enough, in Australia and New Zealand, Expedia appears to be pulling out of the sale of air tickets to sell pastrami sandwiches in New York. Maybe bagels will follow?"
He went on to mock Expedia's recent New York-driven online promos where users are told they do not have to pay a booking fee and should spend the money on other things.
"It appears that they have missed the fact that customers are not interested in only one aspect of the booking process but rather the total experience and the total price. And in both instances, Webjet delivers that value."
Guscic's counterpart at Expedia, Dan Lynn (MD Asia-Pacific), responded overnight to Webjet's comments about the deal, although preferred to clarify the situation rather than mention its rival.
"Expedia will not be biased towards the AirAsia product. Instead by promoting this product among our existing range, including hundreds of airlines and more than 130,000 hotels, we offer better choice for customers who will be able to buy AirAsia flights from AirAsiaGo and Expedia without paying flight booking fees of up to $50.
"At Expedia we’re all about putting the customer first and in recent research Australians told us they resent paying flight-booking fees on other travel websites. We invite our customers and other global travellers to visit Expedia.com.au to view our ‘no flight booking fee’-commercial and decide for themselves."
Early days for the Expedia-AirAsia partnership, but to those on the outside it might appear Webjet's defensive stance is part of a wider strategy to protect its position in the region, especially its homeland of Australia.
Guscic has rightly pointed out that it is the most popular agency in Australia, and has been for the past three years. But it's lead has been slowly eroded, not least by Expedia.
In October 2009, for example, Webjet had a 10%-lead in market share over Expedia Australia (15% over 5%). This shifted to 14% over 7% in August 2010, but in March 2011 the gap has narrowed further to 13% over 10%, with FlightCentre pushed back into third position overall.