Direct accommodation sellers such as Marriott, Hilton, and Starwood now provide the greatest threat to online travel booking agents such as Expedia, according to a 'price vs. loyalty' study conducted by customer experience consultancy eVOC Insights and online research solutions provider RelevantView.
The report, entitled The Battle for Loyalty - Online Travel Agencies vs. Suppliers, compared the customer experience between leading online travel agencies and direct lodging suppliers to identify the factors that drive purchase preference and determine how loyalty is affected when such travel booking web sites reach price parity.
With more than 150 million consumers shopping for travel on the web, and over US$70 billion in online revenue forecasted for 2006, competition between online travel agencies and suppliers is fierce.
Online travel agencies are feeling the pressure from direct suppliers, most notably airline and lodging suppliers, as consumers are beginning to migrate to suppliers to research and book travel.
Lodging suppliers pose the greatest threat, as consumers are seeking more than just competitive prices when making a purchase decision for hotel accommodation. The competitive lodging study explores this trend, and addresses the following key questions:
- Will the trend toward suppliers continue?
- Will users research on one web site and purchase on another?
- What factors impact the purchase decision? (e.g. price, content, functionality, rewards)
- How effective are loyalty programmes at attracting and retaining customers?
- Are loyalty programme members really loyal?
Highlights from the report include:
- Supplier loyalty programmes are a key differentiator. Loyalty programme members will pay more for hotel accommodations and are twice as likely than non-loyalty programme members to return, purchase, and recommend.
- Loyalty programme membership does not, however, guarantee purchases. Almost half (48%) of Marriott Rewards members and 44% of Starwood Preferred Guest members said they would prefer to purchase from Expedia or Hotels.com than the supplier after experiencing each of the sites
- Consumers are initially more likely to prefer purchasing from a supplier directly than from an online travel agency (OTA). However, after experiencing their web sites, overall purchase intent for leading OTAs outperforms direct suppliers.