Do Travel Agents Matter in Online Travel? Expedia Thinks So

Skift Take

Expedia is trying to press its advantage in business-to-business programs. It’s ahead of Booking Holdings in this area, and Airbnb doesn’t have one.

Dennis Schaal

Online Travel This Week

Expedia Group has been busy shedding non-core brands and trying to simplify operations, so why did it just expand a travel agent affiliate program from North America into 21 new countries in the Caribbean, 16 in Europe, 13 in Latin America, and three in the Middle East?

The company announced the expansion of its longtime Travel Agent Affiliate Program Tuesday. From 15,000 travel agencies in the program in 2011, to more than 35,000 today, the program isn’t exactly shattering growth records. Expedia’s affiliate program counts more than 100,000 agents, the company said.

But while leisure travel agency bookings aren’t likely financially material for the $ 15 billion company – its market cap has dropped off a cliff since February – Expedia Group’s business to business segment is.

The Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program is part of the company’s business-to-business segment, which generated close to $ 1.5 billion in 2021 revenue. And Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern sees expanding its affiliate business, which includes not only leisure travel agencies but also travel management companies, airlines, retailers and banks, as a key strategic priority.

The affiliate business seems to be a much larger one for Expedia Group than for Booking Holdingswhich is trying to play catch-up, and recently began powering a T-Mobile travel portal.

As part of its announcement, Expedia Group said it has become an American Society of Travel Advisors Silver Level Proud Partner. Expedia has been an ASTA premium member, which currently requires a $ 2,000 annual fee, since 2000. But joining the Silver Level Proud Partner tier means ASTA also treats Expedia as it would a supplier, and the company would spend around $ 40,000 annually to market to US travel advisors, an ASTA spokesperson said.

Expedia announced several promotional and limited-time offers, including higher commissions on select hotels, for affiliate program members in Canada, Europe, UK, Mexico and the US, as well as the ability for US travel advisors to offer 15 percent discounts on hotels worldwide from July 6 to August 7.

Travel agencies that belong to the Expedia affiliate program can book vacation rentals, hotels, flights, packages, car rentals and activities. They can even – in a way – earn commissions on airline bookings, which tend to come with zero commissions. If Expedia affiliates book a vacation package that includes a flight they’ll get a commission on the entire trip cost, including the flight.

It remains to be seen whether leisure travel agents will be big business for Expedia, but the company has enough confidence in the idea to expand the program into 53 new markets.

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