Booking.com has confirmed a focus on developing ‘connected trips’ or dynamically packaged holiday bookings in an effort to take market share from traditional travel agents.
The online agency giant’s parent, Booking Holdings, highlighted the connected trip strategy when it reported its latest quarterly results last week.
But the extent of Booking’s progress in this area remains unclear.
Booking Holdings chief executive Glenn Fogel confirmed the aim to grow by reproducing what travel agents offer in a Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) webinar following the results announcement.
He noted: “When you’re planning a trip you need a flight, a hotel and ground transport.
“You don’t want to go back and forth. You want it all connected and when something goes wrong you want one place to call.”
Fogel recalled: “My family used to use a travel agent – a human, who knew all about us. When something went wrong we called her and she fixed it.
“She kind of knew what we could afford and what we liked, so she didn’t waste our time. I want to do that but make it digital. Digital can do it better.”
He insisted: “This gives a great opportunity for suppliers to give us different services at different prices that we put together. That is what we’re working on.”
Booking.com has been talking about ‘the Connected Trip’ for some years after acquiring FareHarbor, a tour operator software firm, in 2018.
In late 2019, Fogel talked of “creating the connected trip” saying: “As the biggest player, we have the resources, the capital, the engineers, the technologists, the AI specialists.”
Yet the company has yet to break out any figures for ‘connected trip’ bookings or revenue in its results.
It breaks down revenue by ‘agency revenue’ (commission), ‘merchant revenue’ (a price mark-up on net rates) and ‘advertising and other revenue’.
In the three months to June this year, agency revenues comprised 61.5% of Booking’s revenue and merchant revenues 30.5% with advertising at 8%.
Connected trips or package holidays would be unlikely to fall under agency or merchant revenue unless Booking was selling packages put together by a supplier such as a tour operator.
The company breaks down gross bookings by ‘agency’ and ‘merchant’. Bookings for April to June show 70% were agency and 30% merchant, marking a small shift from the same period in 2019 when just over 74% of bookings were agency and just under 26% merchant.
Booking also breaks down ‘units sold’ by room nights, car rental days and airline tickets. These figures show even less change, with room nights comprising 90% of sales in the second quarter of this year, unchanged from 2019.
Car rental days comprised 7.5% in the three months to June compared with 9% in 2019 and airline tickets 2% in the three months to June against 1% in 2019.
A Booking spokeswoman told Travel Weekly: “Development of the Connected Trip this year will focus on enabling travellers to book the major elements of their trip in one place on Booking.com.
“The priority has been to scale up a robust flight platform which will give us the ability to engage with flight bookers early in their travel journey and allow us to cross-sell accommodation and other services.”
She added: “Since our last earnings call [in May], we’ve launched our flight product in six new markets and are now live in 24 countries.
“Air tickets booked through Booking’s flight offering have continued to meaningfully exceed our expectations. However, they still represent a small portion of our total reported air tickets, which were up 120% in Q2  vs 2019, primarily driven by Priceline [in the US].
“While it remains early days for Booking’s flight product, we’re seeing positive data indicating we’re getting entirely new customers for Booking.com.
“In addition, we’re seeing an encouraging attach-rate of accommodation bookings from these customers.
“These early data points help demonstrate that a flight offering creates a new funnel to bring incremental customers to the platform and then cross-sell accommodation.”
Booking reported a half-year loss of $222 million to June, roughly 40% of the losses in the same period last year.
Second-quarter bookings were worth $22 billion, just 12% down on the same quarter in 2019. However, room nights were 26% down on 2019 and revenues down 44%.