The online booking landscape might have just got even more complicated. Agoda, the controversial OTA accused by many of frequent rate parity violations, has announced ‘a suite of enhanced products’ designed to increase access to its inventory of over 2.5 million properties in 200+ countries.
This affiliate programme on steroids allows corporate partners to acquire rates and can be used as a white-labelled turnkey solution. Partners with their own inventory can use a white-labelled extranet - a controlled private network where travel products/services from Agoda's inventory can be resold under a different domain or brand name - where they can "seamlessly manage their supply along with Agoda’s".
As the lines between traditional distribution channels continue to blur, what does Agoda’s latest news mean for hotels trying to keep control of their parity?
What the experts say
"Almost all OTAs have affiliate programmes, but Agoda is taking theirs to a new level," says Chetan Patel, Vice President Digital & CRM at ONYX Hospitality Group. "This news benefits Agoda's affiliates, but only to a certain extent. For a long-term strategy, selling someone else's product on a white-label website can be limiting, unless you are also selling related products. It would be interesting to know the level of uptake on third-party sites, but I don't think Agoda will release any data regarding this going forward.”
Blessy Townes, Vice President & Head of Digital, Discovery Hospitality (and Triptease Hotel Hero) suggests that Agoda and some other OTAs have been forced to find demand source alternatives due to “the reduced efficiency of SEO, increasing cost per acquisition, strategic partnerships between hotel brands and retail, and the rise of Super Apps”. Blessy makes the point that this move isn’t uncommon in eCommerce, where online stores can be set up easily without actual inventory via affiliate marketing.
"With the increased technological advancement and consolidation we’re seeing in the B2B and B2C travel space, this was expected," adds Sunish P Sadasivan, Vice President of E-Commerce & Revenue Management at Chroma Hospitality. "We’ve known for a while that Agoda was doing something like this, but now it's all coming out in the open."
"With this public statement, they're basically saying that they are going to be the next metasearch engine."
What does it mean for hotels?
For hotels, especially more OTA-reliant independents, that means a greater risk of finding lower rates on even more third-party websites.
"It could be a disaster for independent hotels, as all Agoda’s rogue wholesaler rates could soon be sold across more of their major distribution channels," says Sunish
"Agoda has clearly indicated their plans for the future. For them, there will be no difference between B2B and B2C rates. That's why dynamic rates are the only way ahead!"
Earlier this year, Sunish shared the approach to the issue taken by Chroma: "We work with our wholesalers on dynamic contracts which work in both parties' favor. They are able to get inventory during peak periods as well as on the yielded rates of the hotel."
“This is a very interesting time for hotels,” adds Blessy. “Despite our recent successes with Book Direct initiatives, OTAs’ tech innovations remind us that we simply cannot rest on our laurels. We have to be creative to win the war for direct bookings.”
Nicolas Durand, Senior Director Global Distribution at Jumeirah Group Headquarters (and Triptease Hotel Hero), also shared that while your distribution team should help move global contracts with wholesalers from a static to a dynamic model, any account on dynamic rates requires close management from your sales team - they will need to be trained and contracts signed with this in mind.
Find out more about rate parity and share your stories of working with Agoda at the next Direct Booking Summit in Bangkok - or join us further afield in Berlin or San Diego.