Norwegian Cruise Line vies for more OTA business


Norwegian Escape

Norwegian Cruise Line’s introduction of a bare-bones “Sailaway” fare in March was a bid to improve business with OTAs, company CEO Frank Del Rio said in a conference call.

The Sailaway fares do not come with the standard value-add options, such as the choice of a free beverage package, and cannot be combined with any such offers. They provide only a guarantee of a category, not a specific cabin, and are about $200 less than other Norwegian fares for a seven-day cruise.

Del Rio said prices for cruises that had bundled value-add features were showing up on OTAs as uncompetitive because of the extra value built into the fares.

He said OTAs are one of the main distribution channels for selling close-in inventory.

“One of the drawbacks of this channel is the difficulty of effectively communicating non price-dependent offers to consumers,” Del Rio said.

The Sailaway offers were intended to give OTAs a fare that would not be priced above offers from competitors for similar itineraries, he said.

“Sailaway rates are cruise-only rates, with no value-adds, that will allow us to capture business that we were temporarily not capturing,” Del Rio said. They represent less than 10% of Norwegian’s inventory, he said.

2015 Year in review

By Johanna Jainchill

Cuba. Terrorism. Mergers. Lufthansa’s GDS fee. Crystal Cruises. Fathom. The sharing economy. The open skies feud. The strong dollar.

For travelers, 2015 was bookended by news about borders. The year began with the nudging open of borders that had been closed to U.S. tourists for a half century but ended with calls to tighten borders worldwide.

In January, the historical thaw between the U.S. and Cuba began a process that makes travel to the long-forbidden island much easier, but by December, there was a very real possibility that the U.S. and Europe might tighten their borders in the face of terrorism, raising new barriers to travel.

The industry can only hope to reclaim the optimism that ushered in 2015. But given the recent terror attacks and the coming election campaign, that’s anyone’s guess.

Here, in no particular order, are the topics we think made the year most memorable:

Cuba

The extent to which Cuba managed to dominate travel talk for much of 2015 was dizzying.

It’s hard to believe that just one year ago this month, President Obama announced that the U.S. would restore diplomatic ties with the Caribbean’s largest island nation. Since then, every few months, Washington and Havana have taken steps that seemed to inch the two nations closer to normalized relations, from the U.S. removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism to both reopening embassies in each other’s capitals for the first time since 1961.

On the travel front, the pace of change was even more frenetic. The administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba in January so U.S. citizens no longer had to apply for individual licenses from the Treasury Department to travel there but could instead self-report that they were visiting under one of 12 categories of allowable travel, ranging from educational to humanitarian to religious reasons.

The industry pounced.

Several major tour operators have since debuted their first Cuba tours, including Apple Vacations, Abercrombie & Kent and Travel Impressions.

In February, CheapAir.com became the first OTA to enable U.S. travelers to book flights between the U.S. and Cuba, albeit through third countries, a capability it expanded to direct charter flights later in the year. Several commercial airlines began increasing charter flight schedules to Cuba, and the GDSs said they had readied or were in the process of readying their systems to accept regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island.

All of that took place well before the U.S. State Department said last week that the U.S. and Cuba had reached an agreement to resume direct commercial flights between the countries.

With hotel development in Cuba still decades behind, it seemed natural that a cruise line would be among the first suppliers to introduce products for the island. Carnival Corp.’s new social impact brand, Fathom, said it would become that line, obtaining a license from the U.S. government to sail to Cuba in the spring of 2016.

The only thing that could stand in Fathom’s way of marking that milestone is the pace at which Cuba has been opening to Americans; it’s very possible that by then, all travel restrictions will have been lifted, making Cuban ports regular stops on Caribbean itineraries.

Terrorism

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks 14 years ago, travelers in general have become more inured to threats of violence. But this year, their resilience has been tested by an increasing number of violent incidents.

It started in January with the Paris attacks on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Though tourists weren’t targeted, the attacks took place in the most visited city in the world.

Then in two separate incidents in Tunisia, cruise passengers visiting a Tunis museum were among the victims of a terrorist attack that left 23 dead, and 38 tourists, primarily from Britain, were gunned down at the seaside resort of Sousse.

Yet there were no serious ripples to the U.S. travel industry at large until November’s twin attacks by ISIS. The first brought down a Russian MetroJet airliner taking tourists home from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard. The second was the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people in Paris cafes, a concert hall and a soccer stadium.

The Paris attacks brought tourism in France to a near standstill, as did raids tied to the resulting investigation in nearby Brussels. The events sparked discussions about securing borders in both the U.S. and Europe.

For the tourism industry, the fallout could have serious implications. Talks of reintroducing border controls among Europe’s 26 open-border countries would significantly change how travelers move through the Continent.

In the U.S., the attacks prompted the White House to make immediate changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens of 38 member countries to enter the U.S. and stay of up to 90 days without a visa. The concern was that most of the Paris attackers were citizens of France or Belgium, both VWP countries. And shortly thereafter, lawmakers introduced legislation that would add even more restrictions to the program. Members of the travel industry worry that further restrictions could deter the many millions of international travelers who peacefully visit the U.S. every year and add billions to the economy.

Terrorism has damaged tourism industries in places like Egypt and Tunisia, where it represents a crucial part of the gross domestic spending. It remains to be seen if the U.S. and Europe can devise policies to protect their citizens while also enabling them to move freely around the world.

Merger mania

In recent years, travel industry merger and acquisition news has been dominated by airlines. But in 2015 our attention was grabbed by Marriott International’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, creating the biggest hotel company in the world by far, and before that by Expedia’s triple play: Travelocity, Orbitz and HomeAway.

Analysts quickly predicted that Marriott’s $12.2 billion acquisition would necessitate the shedding of some of the combined company’s 30 brands. Granted, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said shortly after the deal was announced that he expected Starwood’s 11 brands to “remain in place.” But he also noted that some of those brands compete — for example, Marriott’s Renaissance with Starwood’s Le Meridien — making the future unclear.

Travel advisers undoubtedly hope that Starwood’s trade relations approach is the one the company hangs on to. As ASTA CEO Zane Kerby told Travel Weekly last month, Starwood has a track record of being “supporters of the trade industry,” while Marriott has been “kind of on and off,” a not-so-opaque reference to the hotelier’s “Book Direct” campaign.

Top online news stories of 2015

We took a look at the articles on TravelWeekly.com this year and ranked them by page views. Here are the 10 most popular:

1.Celebrity Cruises to go mainly with bundle pricing (June 30)

2.Report: Baha Mar resort ‘unlikely’ to open this year (May 12)

3.The same old story: Baha Mar opening delayed (May 6)

4.Caribbean and Mexico resorts plagued by sargassum outbreak (Aug. 30)

5.Low water levels plague Europe river cruises (Sept. 2)

6.Dominican Republic tops in Caribbean tourism, and growing (May 21)

7.Margaritaville’s presence grows from song to eateries to resorts (Jan. 4)

8.Harmony of the Seas to sail from Barcelona in 2016 (March 13)

9.Drug violence occurs near Puerto Vallarta but not in tourist areas (May 4)

10.RCCL stops discounting close-in bookings for most cruises (April 20)

For OTAs, the Marriott/Starwood merger is not good news because the combined company will have more than 1.1 million rooms globally, giving it substantial distribution leverage.

But OTAs have been busy consolidating, as well. Expedia acquired Travelocity for $280 million in January, Orbitz Worldwide for $1.34 billion in September and HomeAway for $3.9 billion last month. HomeAway and its brands, including VRBO.com, accelerate Expedia’s efforts to gain share in the private-accommodations sector, while Orbitz and Travelocity help it compete against Priceline, which itself acquired a $60 million stake in Brazil-based OTA Hotel Urbano.

And just as OTAs can’t be thrilled about the Marriott/Starwood combo, the same goes for hotels being wary about Expedia’s buying spree. In an objection to the Orbitz deal filed with the U.S. Justice Department, the American Hotel & Lodging Association asserted the deal would raise consumer costs and hurt small hotel operators.

Lufthansa’s GDS fee

When the airlines of the Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines) in September added a fee of 16 euros to every booking made via a GDS, they were not the first airlines to attempt to circumvent the GDSs and persuade travel agents to book direct.

But considering the way Lufthansa has dug in its heels on the issue, it apparently plans to be the first carrier to make the strategy stick. Lufthansa Chief Commercial Officer Jens Bischof said shortly after implementing the surcharge that it was intended to “disrupt” the travel distribution landscape and was about much more than the fee itself.

“We are very aware that our new distribution strategy is disruptive, and it will change the future way of distribution,” Bischof told the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Bischof’s words only further inflamed travel sellers who had been steering business away from Lufthansa since the surcharge went into effect, attempting to send a message to the rest of the airline industry that it should not follow suit.

Rather than reverse direction under the pressure of what at least one GDS reported were depressed Lufthansa sales after the surcharge went into effect, Lufthansa inked an enhanced distribution agreement with Google Flights, signaling that the German carrier was resolute in its trajectory away from GDSs.

Crystal Cruises

In 2015, Crystal Cruises was the mouse that roared. For years, the luxury cruise line’s loyal clientele enjoyed a high-quality product on two beautiful but aging ships. Each year travel sellers would ask if the line planned to expand, but for more than a decade, it did not.

Then along came Edie.

Upon taking the helm as Crystal’s CEO two years ago, Edie Rodriguez famously said that her plan was to grow the line to “seven ships for seven seas.” What she didn’t say then was that the boast was just a start.

Rodriguez later said that she only took the job because she had been promised the line would find a buyer willing to grow it. Genting Hong Kong became that buyer, and last summer Crystal announced the most ambitious expansion plan in recent cruise history: three new 1,000-passenger ships, plus an expansion into river cruising, yacht sailings and luxury private-jet tours.

Crystal not only ordered the ships, but to avoid any delays in delivery, Genting bought Lloyd Werft, the European shipyard that had been contracted to build them. Last month, Crystal acquired a Boeing 777-200LR for its Crystal Luxury Air startup, and Crystal Yacht Cruises was scheduled to debut just before Christmas with the Crystal Esprit, an extensively refurbished, 62-passenger yacht.

While some industry watchers might be skeptical that Crystal can deliver all that it says it will, so far it has.

Baha Mar

Bahamas’ star-crossed mega-resort was also among the industry’s most talked-about projects this year, though for all the wrong reasons.

The $3.5 billion project, the most expensive development in Bahamas’ history, was originally slated to open in Nassau by the end of 2014 and fly the flags of luxury brands Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood in addition to an eponymous casino-hotel and the pre-existing Melia Nassau Beach.

Beset by delays, that date was pushed to spring, and by the time spring came and went, the question became not when but if the resort would ever open.

The Chinese-backed project filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June under the auspices of wanting to complete construction and open as soon as possible. But instead of moving the project along, bankruptcy only made things messier: Talks among the developer, lender, contractor and the Bahamian government became contentious; Rosewood begged out of its licensing agreement with the development; the U.S. Bankruptcy Court threw out the case in September; Baha Mar laid off thousands of workers in the fall; and Bahamas court officials prepared to start a potential liquidation process in November.

All this, even as Baha Mar officials declared the project 97% finished.

With no imminent resolution likely, it appears Baha Mar has very little chance to capture any of this year’s Caribbean high-season dollars, which it sorely needs. The question for 2016 is: Will it ever

The sharing economy

As peer-to-peer travel businesses become ever more mainstream and take a larger piece of the lodging pie, it would make sense for hotels to double down in opposition to home-rental services like Airbnb, which hoteliers insist depress their revenue.

Instead, a surprising trend that emerged in 2015 was of traditional hotel brands doing the exact opposite: cutting deals with the upstarts.

Both Hyatt Hotels and Wyndham Worldwide put their money in home-sharing websites; Hyatt invested an undisclosed sum in London-based Onefinestay, which rents out luxury homes in cities such as New York and Paris, and Wyndham entered into a partnership with London-based home-exchange operator Love Home Swap.

Beyond hoteliers, other traditional travel sellers also moved into the segment. Signature Travel Network entered into an agreement for its travel adviser members to sell Onefinestay’s upscale inventory, and Expedia bought HomeAway for $3.9 billion last month, along with its brands, including VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com.

Both deals offered strong indications that the travel distribution side recognizes the value of the home-rental model.

Fathom

Fathom, Carnival Corp.’s new for-profit, social-impact cruise brand, made waves this year for many reasons, one of which was that it was so unusual for Carnival.

Then again, the launch underscored how much Carnival has changed in the last few years under its new CEO, Arnold Donald. Last year, that change was manifested in the line’s renewed outreach to the trade. This year, it was the launch of the first do-good cruise line by any major brand.

Fathom will take guests to foreign countries to participate in cooperative social projects, starting in the Dominican Republic in April, followed by Cuba in May.

The launch also pointed to the power of the millennial generation, which seems to have firmly overtaken boomers as the go-to market in almost every business segment. When Carnival launched Fathom, it was clear that millennials were on its mind, primarily ones who would not have otherwise cruised, and even more specifically, the “purpose-driven millennial,” according to the brand’s founding director, Tara Russell.

Research supports this line of thinking. The results of a comprehensive survey by Tourism Cares on the philanthropic traveler, released in September, found that millennials are particularly tuned in to social-impact travel: On average, they volunteer more than double the hours and donate nearly three times the money that travelers 55 and older do. Further, 81% volunteered during their travels in the past two years, and 50% said they intended to plan more trips around giving back.

Open skies

Few areas of travel regulation seem to divide the industry more than airline policies, and this year, the open skies debate was the most divisive issue of all.

The fight over whether or not Persian Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar should be investigated by the U.S. government for violating open skies agreements has divided the airline industry itself as well as travel marketing organizations and politicians.

At issue is the assertion by the Big Three U.S. airlines — Delta, American and United — that the Gulf carriers have received $42 billion in subsidies from their governments since 2004, violating open skies agreements by giving them an unfair advantage in the international aviation market. The Gulf carriers deny this charge.

U.S. cargo carriers and smaller airlines like JetBlue as well as the U.S. Travel Association oppose any restrictions on the expansion of the Gulf carriers’ U.S. routes, arguing that open competition is best for all and promote travel.

The battles escalated this fall when Delta and United said they would suspend Dubai routes from Atlanta and Washington, respectively. Delta said it would redeploy resources to “where it can compete on a level playing field that’s not distorted by subsidized, state-owned airlines.”

While many city and state politicians have voiced support for the Big Three U.S. airlines, who warn the subsidies will mean fewer jobs in their cities and states, the Obama administration has made no move so far on the issue. And if the airlines continue to enjoy record profits in 2016, it is doubtful there would be any public support for changes that could lead to higher airfares and fewer consumer choices.

Strong dollar, weak yuan

For China and the U.S., 2015 has been a tale of two currencies. The dollar surged for most of 2015, while the yuan suffered a serious slump. The impact has been a mixed bag for the industry.

The yuan’s weakness threatens to erode outbound Chinese travel, which is the fastest-growing overseas source market for U.S. travel spending. The yuan’s downturn has already affected U.S.-based hotel-casino operators in Macau, the Hong Kong-area destination where travelers from mainland China account for about two-thirds of visitors.

The strong dollar, meanwhile, has helped what agents in the spring said had been a 20% jump in international travel, according to Travel Weekly’s annual Consumer Trends report. And some tour operators, including Tauck and Trafalgar, said the strong dollar enabled them to drop prices for 2016.

 

On the downside, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the tourism trade balance had dropped 17% for the first eight months of 2015, meaning that American were spending more money overseas than in-bound tourists were spending on U.S. soil.

Starwood’s CFO said in October that New York faced “pressure” from fewer international travelers “due to the strong dollar,” and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in April reported that with the majority of its onboard prices in U.S. dollars, international passengers were buying less while sailing.

The party may be over, or just beginning, depending on where you stand. After surging for most of the year against other world currencies, the dollar’s value began to drop in October.

Why Google’s designs on travel aren’t good news for the big OTAs

by David Stevenson
by David Stevenson

by David Stevenson, FT columnist and Travel Weekly’s City Insider

Is the travel industry going the way of publishing – unwillingly turned into a digital product which is under the effective control of a single dominant player, such as Amazon or Google?

Until fairly recently I’d have laughed out loud at this kind of techno babble suggestion.

Travel is quite clearly completely different from publishing and being honest I’d be a wealthy man worth many millions of pounds if I’d have pocketed a £1 from each and every person who said Google is coming after travel.

Well, truth be told Google hasn’t actually done very much in travel to date and to compare its baby steps with Amazon’s omnipotent control of the publishing sector has until now been frankly risible.

Yet over the last few weeks I’ve slowly started to change my mind.

Big changes are afoot in the world of digital travel and we may eventually end up in a market place where Google has indeed built a dangerously powerful position.

My damascene conversion to the threat from Google has been prompted by a number of varying encounters and observations over the long summer months.

The first epiphany came via a friend in publishing who is trying at a very senior level to fight off Amazon’s predatory pricing regime.

He observed – with a deep sigh – that all business battles are in essence a fight between brands and channels, all mediated by the customer’s experience of both researching and then consuming a product.

In the good old days before the internet we physically shopped for product of course, and welcomed the choice and variety on the high street. In the new digital age the reality is very different.

We welcome lots and lots of brands producing varying products but in reality we actually only want a few channels to market and distribution.

No-one really takes pleasure in shopping in the digital ‘mall’ unlike the real world ones where there are nice coffee shops and fun places to visit and spend your money.

So the internet has the net effect of drastically reducing the avenues of distribution.

Book publishers thought the internet would be revolutionary and promising whereas what they’ve actually discovered is that everyone bar Amazon has failed to make a profit (and even they struggle) distributing the elusive ‘content’.

So in simple language the internet eventually consumes its channels and produces one or two omnipotent distributors.

Amazon is quite clearly that channel in books, but what makes us think that Google could eventually offer up that role in travel?

Cue my next conversation with a major West Coast VC who is also a good friend and sadly for my first acquaintance a very happy investor in Amazon.

This  venture capitalists view is simple – Google wants to rip apart the existing model of digital travel (populated by all manner of OTAs) and create a new architecture with it and TripAdvisor at the top of the ecosystem.

And once it realises that its vision is slowly becoming reality it’ll simply buy TripAdvisor – “I give it three years before it decides to spend a tonne of money on buying Trip”.

But why on earth would Google want to own the world’s dominant review site – one simple word should suffice, search.
This elusive term – which means so many different things to different people – is being revolutionised by mobile which is turn opening up a land grab.

Google is determined to own lock, stock and barrel this mobile opportunity as  part of its strategy to own multiple channels to personalised data.

It’s intuition is based on something I’ve been aware of for many years – travel is disjointed and profoundly annoying as a consumer.

Every day I look at my inbox and see multiple emails from the likes of Tripit asking me to organise my trips,

Hotels.com telling me about yet another private members only sale, Groupon shouting about some amazing local offer and TripAdvisor educating me about some of my favourite places.

In sum its confusing and disjointed and for the most part these emails end up in the deleted folder. But rather like the journalists who  use Google Alerts to keep them posted of all news about a favourite subject, what if Google could control all those flows of offers, and then personalise them to my own interests ? At minimum I’d let the message  into my inbox and may even be tempted to buy off its list.

This aggregation of research and search requires three essential components from a supplier :

a) I want it to inform me of the latest offers relevant to me
b) Tell me about products I trust, in places I like, supplied by people who I’ve used before or are recommended by friends
c) Last but by no means least, some of us may also be interested in a constant social conversation about the product to help shape my friends views (though quite why anyone would actually want to do that is beyond me). This step may involve not only views but also content and video.

It’s against this backdrop that a bunch of papers by US advisory firm Evercore stand out. Penned by Ken Seda and his colleagues these start to map out precisely what Google may be up to in the world of digital travel and search – and why the OTAs in particular have a great deal to fear.

The most recent report is from September and is entitled Google’s Travel Plans in a Post-Atomic Era, but you should also make a point of reading the earlier Google’s Summer Online Travel Plans report from March.

Seda and colleagues think that Google has essentially decided to cross the rubicon and take on its big customers like Priceline and Expedia. These huge OTAs have been very reliable customers for the search giant but history teaches us that eventually Google decides it can do the job better .

Starting with a number of small scale initiatives  Google is pushing into the OTA territory, with products such as Limited Offers linked to Google’s Hotel finder service.

Next up will come a yet to be branded ‘captive demand platform’ which will allow Google’s hotelier customers the ability to upload their secret lists of loyal, valuable customers into the Google engine and then churn out very special rates to customers.

Finally all this will be connected back to Google Wallet, allowing the search giant to control the whole process of research and booking.

This activity opens up a number of possibilities  not least the rise of opaque pricing based on personalised information – a huge departure from the existing rate parity agreements signed with the OTAs, with the potential to push prices below the advertised price on Priceline and Expedia.

Key to this push by Google is the bait for hoteliers – they keep the customer lists and transactions and don’t have to rely on the existing ‘atomic’ model managed by OTA merchants where between 15% and 25% of all revenues is taken as commission.

Data is now owned by the brand marketing channel, allowing them to aggressively market to their own private lists of customers.

According to Ken Seda at Evercore, the OTAs are going to lie down in this battle, with Priceline in particular fighting back by buying up specialist outfits such as Buteeq, HotelNinjas and Open Table – the game plan here is to effectively build another leg to the business allowing the OTAs to turn into white label customer intelligence and servicing propositions for hoteliers.

As these changes start to ripple through the industry I’d wager that we’ll see some profound changes, not least for the rabble of OTAs scrapping around for business.

The key challenge is that the direct travel model is a classic ‘middle man’ squeeze waiting to happen. Technology teaches us that eventually the market finds a way to squeeze out the expensive middle man, even if they provide a valuable service.

Lurking beneath this push for market control is a cold reality – the OTAs who account 20% of travel ad spend while contributing to 8% of global bookings, and they simply charge too much. According to the Evercore analysts they reckon that Priceline and Expedia “charge hoteliers over 20% of each booking  on average (adjusted to account for just hotels), whereas Amazon and EBAY take closer to 13% and 9%, respectively)….”.

Google is slowly but surely eying up this model and seeing a huge new market especially as mobile helps to redefine everything, almost instantly removing some traditional channel superiority.

This’ll force the OTAs to plump for one of  three options – be the biggest and offer the most comprehensive selection (the Expedia model), start to look at white labelling and working with hoteliers to provide optimisation services (the fast emerging Priceline approach) or become the brand customers trust and base your product around search and knowledge via reviews (the Tripadvisor model).

And what of the implications for the rest of the travel sector ? The obvious issue here is that Google has woken up to the simple realty that all travel research is about search and that what helps us all search better is personalised, valuable information.

Cut the jargon and one simple fact jumps out – we all want to cut the time we spend online working out what to do next.
Evercore cites a  Google Travel study presented to its Hotel Finder partners, which cited ” that travellers spend an average 55 minutes to book a hotel and flight, visit 17 websites, and click 4 different search ads per travel search, with 90% of those travellers conducting the booking process over multiple screens.

The point of its presentation seemed to be a need for a streamlined bookings path, one where Google can retain the traveller from Search to Research to Book”.

And Google already starts off with an advantage – according to the Evercore paper again “22 billion hotel searches are performed on Google per month with 58% of travellers (64% of business travellers) beginning their travel experience on Google, according to Ipsos MediaCT/Google Travel Study.  However, there is some question as to how many of those that start their search on Google were actually led to a booking decision by Google”.

My own slightly off-beat take on this is that most major existing travel businesses should give up thinking they can stop the Google juggernaut, back it in its fight against the OTAs and then build their own platforms on top of the search giants architecture.

And last but by no means least what happens to the poor old customer, befuddled by all the channels and brands?

Clearly the big game changer is mobile and the degree to which phones and tablets will become the main digital interface.

These relatively constrained devices will lend themselves to modern day equivalents of the old Compuserve walled garden i.e software based architecture that keeps the customer within the world of Google via browsing through Chrome and then paying through Wallet.

Or as Evercore’s analysts put it “we see the integration of HPAs to Google Wallet, Maps and Now as creating a seamless travel experience for the user (from search, to research, to book  — to travel and return)”.

And just in case you thought this was all pie in the sky remember that according to analysts at Evercore, “10%-20% of all online-booked occupancy is [already] driven by Google properties, including Search and Hotel Ads (aka Hotel Price Ads).  Moreover, this measure roughly equals all OTAs combined”.

My sense is that customers will happily live within these closed gardens because the net effect will be that prices – for most – will be driven down, not least by Google taking a hunk out of the OTAs revenues.

Sadly this downward pressure on prices will have two nasty knock on effects – more of that opaque pricing via personalised offers and a slow but steady move towards online forms of internet social stratification.

In the new world that is fast emerging, power will sit in the hands of those marketers with the right lists of wealthy travellers who also happen to be on the right loyalty card lists and have the right credit scores.

– See more at: http://www.travolution.com/articles/2014/09/19/8206/why-googles-designs-on-travel-arent-good-news-for-the-big-otas.html#sthash.vxicHuKY.dpuf