Since the introduction of air travel, nothing has revolutionised travel as much as the internet. Amazingly, ‘travel agent’ is still a thing, when you consider that it is perfectly possible to completely book your flights, accommodation, ground transport and travel insurance, and indeed tours from the comfort of your computer, tablet or phone in 2019. And it’s been that way for quite a while now, hasn’t it?
As I return to the screen to continue booking things for the next big adventure, I can’t help but notice some of the most annoying TV adverts in the last few years are actually for hotel booking websites. Not specific ones, not even the ones that pool all the hotels together for you, but ones that pool the sites that pool together the hotels. I’m talking about Trip Advisor and similar sites.
Trip Advisor in fact is not so bad, it purports to be the ultimate in travel reviews, with the biggest collection of user reviews in one place in the world. And it sure has more than the hotels.com, booking.com, Expedia and the like. However, it still does, in most cases, offer links to these sites so that you can book. Then combine it with the surprisingly well-held belief that it is mostly fake, and let’s be honest it’s not that hard to create multiple user identities and stack positive fake reviews for your establishment, and it seems less convincing. Of course, if you really had it in for a place or the owner of a place, you can do the reverse too and stack the reviews with negative ones.
But in a similar vein to Trip Advisor, but with a more heavy and obvious emphasis on sales, comes Trivago and Hotels Combined. Both of these, at least in Australia, have a heavy media presence, especially on television here with adverts running frequently. They are sites that ‘search’ through your mid-level sites such as Hotels.com, Expedia, Agoda etc and give you a range of prices for the one hotel. They also include sites like Qantas.com – yes, the airlines are doing the same thing as well, providing a one-stop shop for all your travel needs. Is this a good or bad thing? I have no idea!
So I ask then, how much money are these two companies in particular making when they can afford so much advertising? They surely are doing all right, aren’t they? And if that’s the case, and they refer you to another website which is not the hotels own website, how much extra is made on top of what the hotel actually takes? Because the fees at the top are being trimmed off TWICE.
Even Google now is in on the act. It will give you prices when you google a city or a hotel. People are making loads of money and we, the consumers, must simply be the ones paying. You will often read advice to go direct to the hotel’s website to get the best price. But this simply isn’t always true. I have seen many times better prices through mid-level sites like Agoda.
And on top of that, Agoda for example gives you special discounts, you can earn frequent flyer points (I use Velocity) and you get ‘Agoda Cash’ to use towards your next booking. Hotels.com has a rewards program where if you stay 10 nights booked through their website, you get a night free equal to the average value of the 10 nights. And these things are costing the websites, you have to figure. (Agoda’s FF points rewards are generally not available for the cheapest price by the way, you have a choice to pay more but get more rewards)
All in all, these systems and websites have added to the cost of accommodation. How much? I would have no idea but I would have to presume it is not insignificant. The business of finding businesses for you to business with is apparently everyone’s business. The idea seems to simply have stemmed from the idea of internet searches.
I’ve also seen many of these websites, Agoda in particular, now branch out into apartments much in the same way as Air BnB. Again, the success of one model has brought a reaction from what was already there, they saw a piece of pie they were missing out on (or hotels suddenly became less popular) and they decided to have their slice too.
Air travel have numerous websites that search fares for you too – Sky Scanner, Web Jet etc, and some of the hotel websites like Expedia also to flight searches. Again, they are not philanthropic, they are taking a cut adding to the cost of your flight. In this case I tend to search on these sites only to get an overview and I ALWAYS book on the airline’s direct site. Comparing prices, this seems to be the thing to do.
I pose the question – how long before sites that search sites such as Web Jet etc and combine the results pop up? It’s can’t be long.
All in all, it’s the convenience you’re paying for more than anything else. Travel Agents always took something off the top too, and if they’d been replaced by these websites, which much cost very little to run, then maybe little in cost would be added, but they both still operate in the same field.
The Internet is likely to remain the place to find the best deals on most or all travel related items. And there is something satisfying about doing it all, or mostly, by yourself. Of course, if you stuff it up you only have yourself to blame! The Internet has changed everything in the world, travel is just one thing changed by it. I think it’s probably also meant that people plan more than they used to.
What do you think? Thanks for reading, and May the Journey Never End!