Unveiling the Hidden Truth: Behind the Online Booking Sites

Following my Agoda.com/Booking.com phishing experience described last week, I was keen to understand more about the behemoths I was dealing with.

I am one of those travellers who love today’s digitally connected world with its plethora of online booking agencies at my fingertips. I like being able to book your next adventure with a few clicks. Up to now, my experiences have largely been positive. My phishing experience has changed that!
What many do not realise is that our online hotel and airfare booking agencies are owned by just a handful of mega-companies. In this blog post, I pull back the curtain and reveal the fascinating world of the online travel industry, where a few giants dominate the landscape.

In summary, here are all the key brands grouped by owner:

Booking HoldingsEtraveli Group ABExpedia Group, Inc.Lastminute GroupTripadvisor, Inc.
2022 Revenue US$ billion2022 Revenue US$11.67 billion2022 Revenue US$ billion2022 Revenue US$1.49 billion
Booking.comgetaroom.comCheapTicketsCrocierissime.itCruise Critic
HotelsCombinedMyTrip.comExpedia CruisesHotelscanHoliday Lettings
I earn no commission from any of these organisations

1. Booking Holdings:

When you think of online booking agencies, Booking.com often comes to mind. This household name is part of Booking Holdings, a company that has rebranded over the years but is still a dominant force in the industry. They also own Priceline.com, Agoda.com, Kayak.com, and more. With Booking Holdings, travellers have a wide array of choices, all under one corporate umbrella. Their sites operate in over 42 languages, handle 130 different currencies and aggregates more than two million deals from hundreds of travel sites and hotel chains.

However, critics have raised concerns about data privacy and security. As detailed, last week, I fell foul of the Booking.com scam. The experience and the handling of it so far has made me completely re evaluate my approach to this conglomerate.

2. Etraveli Group AB:

Etraveli Group AB, based in Sweden, is the driving force behind several online booking agencies such as FlightNetwork, GoToGate, and Seat24. While these brands might seem independent, they all fall under the Etraveli Group AB’s portfolio. Booking Holdings is trying to buy Etraveli Acquisition and is seeking formal approval of the acquisition from the EU, after getting clearance from the UK .

Critics have raised concerns about the Etraveli Group AB’s customer service and refund policies, particularly with GoToGate. Some customers have faced significant delays and challenges when trying to obtain refunds, which has sparked questions about transparency and accountability.

For instance, Anna Tims from The Guardian shared her frustrating experience with GoToGate, where the company refused to provide her with a valid refund even after sixteen months. She also criticized GoToGate’s policy of deducting a portion of any airline refund unless the customer purchased a “platinum support package.”

These issues highlighted by Tims were echoed and expanded upon by British consumer magazine Which? CBS News and News.com.au.

3. Expedia Group, Inc.:

Founded as a division of Microsoft in October 1996,[3] Expedia was spun off into a public company in 1996, Expedia Group, Inc. is today an American travel technology company that owns and operates travel fare aggregators and travel metasearch engine. such as Hotels.com, Vrbo, Orbitz, and E-bookers.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers raised concerns about difficulties in obtaining refunds for cancelled flights. Lengthy call times and problems reaching representatives led to multiple lawsuits, highlighting the need for better customer service.

4. Hopper, Inc.:

Hopper, Inc own GDX Travel, PlacePass, and Journy meaning their marketplace offers flights, hotels, rental cars, and short-term rentals, providing travelers with comprehensive solutions.

5. Lastminute.com Group:

Lastminute.com Group’s, based in Chiasso, Switzerland has a portfolio includes lastminute.com, Volagratis, Rumbo, Bravofly, Jetcost, and more. The company operates websites and mobile apps in 17 languages and 40 countries and has 43 million monthly unique users, making them a significant player in the industry. Hotelscan is a metasearch engine for lodging. Its daily updated database has around 1.3 million properties with data from over 100 online booking websites.

Some customers have voiced concerns about the transparency and refund processes of companies within the Lastminute.com Group, emphasising the need for more straightforward policies. In 2020, their refund performance ranked 49th out of 53 companies, highlighting a persistent challenge in this area. The situation further deteriorated amid the Covid-19 shut downs, with lastminute.com facing potential legal action for failing to meet refund deadlines.

6. Trip.com Group Limited:

The Trip.com Group Limited, headquartered in Shanghai, China, operates several travel fare aggregators and travel fare metasearch engines, including Trip.com, Skyscanner, and Qunar. Operating in about 40 languages and 200 countries, this conglomerate has really been pushing its offerings and last year had revenue of $US5billion.

7. Tripadvisor, Inc.:

Tripadvisor has been a traveller’s best friend for over two decades when it comes to reviews and recommendations. But did you know it’s just one piece of the puzzle? Tripadvisor, Inc. operates in 40 countries and 20 languages and features approximately one billion reviews and opinions on roughly eight million establishments. The company’s portfolio also includes brands like Bokun.io, Cruise Critic, and Viator.

I was one of those that had concerns when Tripadvisor decided to open the option to book through the site. In 2022, Tripadvisor earned 35% of its revenues from Expedia Group and Booking Holdings and their subsidiaries, primarily for pay-per-click advertising. I think there are real questions about the integrity of user-generated content. Some critics have highlighted issues with fake reviews on Tripadvisor, and I am one of the customers who occasionally complain about the reliability of reviews.

In this age of digital convenience, understanding who stands behind the online travel agencies can be an eye-opener. They are sprawling conglomerates with numerous subsidiaries and a global reach. Next time you’re planning a trip, remember that the choices at your disposal might all lead back to a select few industry giants. Also, good to be informed about the criticisms and issues related to these industry giants.

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