If travel agents want to access Marriott’s wholesale rates, they now have to turn to Expedia to get them, Skift has learned.
Following through on a deal the two companies signed in September 2019, Expedia Partner Solutions quietly emailed existing and prospective members of the Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program in the United States that they would be able to obtain “exclusive access to higher margin B2B (business-to-business) rates” from Marriott.
These “high margin rates,” availability and content from Marriott, according to Expedia, may cover more than 7,400 properties.
Other than the email from Expedia Partner Solutions to travel agents, Expedia hadn’t officially announced that it had started distributing Marriott’s wholesale rates to third parties, but Expedia confirmed the move over the weekend when contacted by Skift.
Expedia last month announced that it would extend its move into policing and distributing wholesale hotel rates beyond Marriott, enabling other hotels to sign up. In that announcement, Expedia said it opened the program to “all medium to large-size lodging partners,” and that Highgate, with properties in North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America, as well as Club Quarters, which operates hotels in several big U.S. cities and London, had signed on.
Still, beyond Marriott, Expedia has yet to announce that it has attracted any major chains to the program.
Citing the 2019 agreement, Marriott International spokesman John Wolf said Friday that Expedia Group Partner Solutions has become the “exclusive global optimized distributor of Marriott’s wholesale rates,” changing the way the hotel brand had distributed its wholesale rates to third parties in the past.
Online Travel Agency-Hotel Relationships…Hmmm
Given the long-time rancor between online travel agencies and hotels, the Expedia-Marriott wholesale rate partnership would have been unthinkable five years ago. But the two brands having been warming up to one another through technology-oriented deals in the last few years.
In 2016, Marriott and Expedia agreed that Expedia would begin powering fights and hotel packages for Vacations by Marriott. Beyond Marriott International, Expedia partnered with Red Lion Hotels that year to auto-enroll consumers booking Red Lion properties on Expedia.com and Hotels.com into the hotel’s loyalty program.
In 2019, rather than an all-out conflagration, Expedia and Marriott signed a long-term and multiyear marketing and distribution contract that foretold increased technology cooperation, such as the pact on wholesale rate distribution.
Why Marriott Agreed
Marriott signed the Expedia partnership in part because the distribution landscape was tough to police, with these discounted wholesale rates often erroneously appearing on metasearch sites for consumers when they were meant for tour operators or bed banks behind the scenes. Another distribution complication for Marriott is that tour operators and other third-parties used a panoply of connectivity technologies.
For Marriott, Expedia was charged with using its own technology to distribute Marriott’s wholesale rates, and to ensure they are being used in an authorized manner.
“This solution eliminated the complexity and inefficiency of today’s redistribution wholesale model and created a consistent and reliable shopping experience for travelers by ensuring accurate display of hotel descriptions, room rates and fees through known and trusted third party travel providers,” Wolf said. “This solution gives Marriott incredible strength in controlled and efficient distribution to 100,000-plus mid-size and small leisure travel providers.”
With wholesale rates, which travel agents often obtain through bedbanks, tour operators or directly from hotels, the retailers can mark them up to take advantage of higher margins than they might through a global distribution system, for example.
Expedia and Marriott said in 2019 when discussing their new partnership that they would advise bedbanks, such as Hotelbeds, WebBeds, and MG Bedbank, to establish ties with Expedia if they wanted to access Marriott’s wholesale rates.
Expedia Trying to Sign Up More Travel Agencies
The Expedia Partner Solutions email to travel agents about getting exclusive access to wholesale rates from Marriott and other brands was part of what the Expedia affiliate program for travel agents described as its “biggest ever promotion in the United States.”
Among the offers, travel agencies that newly sign up for the affiliate program, or haven’t made a booking for 12 months, would be upgraded to its silver tier, and could earn 1 percent additional commission for “stayed lodging bookings made up to December 31, 2020, and consumed by March 31, 2022.”
That amounts to a revenue boost of 14-42 percent compared to agencies in the standard tier, Expedia stated. The company said 22,000 U.S. agencies belong to the affiliate program, and more than 100,000 globally.
Affiliates book travel through the affiliate program via APIs, which is a tech connection, or templates. Affiliate members, according to an Expedia Group Partner Solutions website, include agencies such as Travel Planners International, Travel Services Inc., and TA4Life.
Travel agencies affiliated with Expedia get automatic access to the wholesale rates from Marriott, Highgate, and Club Quarters, and other hotel brands if Expedia gets them to sign up. The travel agents can search for a brand on the Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program platform, and view the room rate options to search for the wholesale rates.
Some agencies value online travel agency affiliate programs such as Expedia and Booking.com’s because they bring the agencies higher volumes of customers, and access to global content. Many travel agencies, however, shun online travel agency affiliate programs because using them would be outside their normal agency workflow, and features such as commission-tracking can be cumbersome.
As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on in many parts of the world, both Expedia Group, through its affiliate program, and Tripadvisor, through a beta linking consumers to travel agents for trip-planning, are leaning into travel advisors to varying degrees.
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