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September 29, 2022 - 5 min read

Booking and Expedia’s dominance pervades year after year

Charlie Cowley

Co-founder and Head of Business Development

  • Impala’s co-founder and Head of Business Development Charlie Cowley reflects on this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York - and how travel’s two dominant players continue to rule the roost.

There’s nothing quite like going on a trip to remind you why you’re in the travel business. And there’s no place quite like New York to come together with the great and the good of the industry. After a turbulent few years, and despite a lot of lingering anxiety, it was heartwarming to see big numbers turn out for the Skift Global Forum.

The city that never sleeps brings people together from all over the world, and shows the tremendous opportunities that travel can open up. Not just opportunities for commerce, but also for personal growth, culture and societal enrichment. The mood in the room was optimistic: after all, we’ve overcome so much over the last few years, is there anything we can’t beat?

The Booking.com and Expedia dominance was on show in a big way this year

But as challenges come and go, there’s one thing that’s pervaded since long before I attended my first Skift Global Forum in 2019: the dominance of Booking.com and Expedia - and it was on show in a big way this year. We all know that between them, they command a lion’s share of the global travel market. But what is becoming increasingly visible is that they also dominate the infrastructure that underpins global travel, and therefore have significant control over its future. Will that be good for the industry?

Booking.com: using their might to corner B2C

It could end up costing hotels - and travellers - more

Booking.com’s CEO Glenn Fogel talked through their strategy. There’s a heavy focus on providing features that ease travel anxiety post-pandemic. Think free taxi rides, enhanced insurance - that sort of thing - to drive more bookings through their channels.

When making any one single booking, consumers will be rewarded with rates and products that can’t be found elsewhere. But in the long run, this will grow Booking.com’s data holding, increase their ability to charge hotels hefty commissions, and reduce competitiveness in the room seller marketplace. It could end up costing hotels - and travellers - more. After all, who’s really paying for that taxi ride?

Expedia: more technology, but at a cost?

There’s no doubt Expedia’s partners will be glad to hear that their technology will become more flexible and easier to integrate

Expedia’s chief Peter Kern is pursuing a different path, focusing on working with other companies. In his session, he described a world where Expedia’s technology powers a whole host of other travel businesses, and trumpeted their forthcoming “Open World” platform. There’s no doubt Expedia’s partners will be glad to hear that their technology will become more flexible and easier to integrate.

But how much will it cost? Well, there was no news on the commissions other travel businesses can expect to earn - but it’s unlikely to get close to the revenues Expedia collects on its own direct bookings. So while every booking their partners take will line Expedia’s pockets, those reliant on their technology will have to find a way to build a profitable product and marketing operation - using the same inventory available to everyone else.

Have one big kid take your whole lunch, or give another big kid half your lunch to protect you from the other big kid?

The two titans are pursuing different strategies: one aiming for as many direct “mass market” bookings as possible, the other powering every nook and cranny of the travel industry. But between them, they leave little wiggle room for any other travel business. Unless things change, it could be a tough question for other travel companies: have one big kid take your whole lunch, or give another big kid half your lunch to protect you from the other big kid?

The good news for hotels, room sellers and travellers is that new options are emerging - and Booking.com, Expedia and other big players are reacting through the moves they’re making. For example, Impala’s Open Distribution is just one approach that makes it easy for hotels and room sellers to work together. The most innovative travel businesses are already embracing a world where business is done openly, transparently, and on terms that work for those that make travel possible.


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