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Best Western said about 140 corporate accounts are booking negotiated rates using a "tailored hyperlink" on their travel portal pages that "interfaces directly with bestwestern.com to search for rates, availability and bookings, while appearing to remain on the partner's Web site." Reported this week by The Beat, this type of direct distribution is one of several flavors gaining traction throughout the lodging sector.
Developed two years ago by the hotel firm's e-commerce department, Best Western's solution uses "splash" pages that embed the client's corporate identification number to access rates. It has advantages and drawbacks. Client benefits include "lower transaction costs, timely content and expanded access to rate programs and destinations," said Best Western senior vice president of marketing and sales Dorothy Dowling. "These types of connections provide a one stop solution for travel managers."
But by evading travel management companies and global distribution systems, such supplier-direct bookings prevent comparison shopping, complicate traveler itinerary changes and on-the-road support, and hinder travel data consolidation. Best Western can provide reporting only on its own bookings; if a client wanted reports integrated with hotel booking data from its TMC, such integration would be up to the client, officials said.
Regarding itinerary changes, Best Western said that travel agents or arrangers can alter reservations using a confirmation number. Nights can be removed and bookings can be canceled, but adding a room night requires a new reservation.
"Over the last five years, distribution has taken on a very different look and feel," said Dowling. "There are a lot more direct connects and more custom content. We have seen portal connections for some time in the leisure space, but now we are starting to see greater demand on the corporate front."
A Wyndham Worldwide official said the company offers a similar service. "Midscale and smaller companies with unmanaged travel programs are asking for this more because it cuts out all of the middle men," said a spokeswoman.
A variety of direct booking options that do not require one or more of the traditional middlemen--GDSs, switch companies or travel agencies--has proliferated elsewhere in the industry. Examples include the Concur Connect program, in which travelers booking with Concur's Cliqbook tool can access suppliers including Choice Hotels International, Hilton Hotels Corporation and InterContinental Hotels Group. Meanwhile, agency programs that can avoid GDSs by using direct electronic booking connections when need be are offered by American Express, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Expedia.
Introduced in October 2007, American Express Hotel Hub offers about 150,000 properties and allows bookings to occur either directly or through a GDS. Since its introduction, about 40 percent of Hotel Hub bookings have circumvented the GDSs and 60 percent used one, a spokeswoman said last month.
At CWT, 89 percent of bookings are completed through the GDSs and about 11 percent skip it, according to an official.
Expedia has added 1,000 hotel properties in 35 countries to its QuickConnect system since it launched last year. QuickConnect allows independent hotels and small and medium-size chains to connect their central reservation systems to Expedia's Web sites without using the global distribution system. QuickConnect links to more than 50 hotel central reservation systems to enable hotel properties in "real time" to "exchange rates, availability and booking information with Expedia sites," including corporate travel brand Egencia.
Expedia also runs the Expedia Connect program created three years ago for larger hotel chains. Expedia, which also owns Hotels.com, directly connects to more than 18,000 hotel properties globally using Expedia Connect and expects an additional 5,000 properties to sign on this year, according to the company. In bypassing the GDSs, hotel chains save on distribution expenses, which "we assume would trickle down to the customer," an Expedia spokesman said.
On the other hand, Travelport GDS director of strategic content Keith Harrison suggested that direct connections could be more costly than expected because of the expense of creating and maintaining them. He also said that connecting directly can "slow down" the sharing of content, rate and inventory information, resulting in "direct connect fatigue" for hotel companies.
Attempting to negate the further spread of direct connections by reducing incentives for hotels to directly connect, Travelport in 2004 introduced JumpStart, which connects hotels to select online travel agencies and tour operators as a third party intermediary for a 50 percent to 60 percent lower fee than traditional GDS transaction fees.
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