PhoCusWright: Online travel spending on the rise in Europe

By Danny King
When Priceline acquired metasearch leader Kayak, and Expedia followed that up by buying a majority stake in Trivago, analysts said the world’s two largest online travel agencies (OTAs) were essentially making a bet on increased online travel spending in Europe.

Recent PhoCusWright research suggests that was a good bet.

Expedia and Priceline’s Booking.com division could control about half the European OTA market by the end of the year, as the expanding presence of the two companies among American travelers is replicated across the pond.

Booking.com, which launched its first U.S. TV advertising campaign in early 2013, boosted its European market share in 2012 to 31% from 25%, while Expedia’s market share held steady at 15%.

“Cultural, legal and other nuances across Europe’s diverse travel marketplace have created a fragmented OTA landscape that is moving toward great consolidation,” wrote the authors of the PhoCusWright study, which was released late last month.

Both companies stand to benefit from the fact that online booking is growing substantially faster than overall booking in Europe. OTA bookings from Europeans were expected to rise 10% in 2013, to about $58 billion, and are predicted to advance 12% and 11% in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

By comparison, total European travel bookings were expected to rise just 2% in 2013, to about $347 billion, and are predicted to increase 3.6% in 2014 and 3.8% in 2015, PhoCusWright said. Overall, online booking penetration in Europe reached 43% in 2013, surpassing online penetration in the U.S.

Granted, the travel industry in Europe remains far less homogenous than in the U.S., where Expedia has about a 42% of the OTA market share while Priceline controls about 16%, PhoCusWright said in November (Orbitz has a 21% market share, while Travelocity’s 16% share will essentially be controlled by Expedia when it takes over Travelocity’s back-of-house operations this year).

European economic conditions vary wildly, as Germany, Scandinavia and the U.K. have unemployment rates in the 5% to 8% range while joblessness has surpassed the 25% threshold in Southern European countries such as Spain.

Additionally, online travel-booking rates are projected to grow faster in countries such as France and Germany than in relatively mature markets like the U.K.

Still, Priceline and Expedia appear to have viewed metasearch companies as the great equalizer, as sites such as Kayak and Trivago tout price parity within a multination continent in which industries such as the hotel sector remain far less consolidated than in the U.S.

Priceline announced in November 2012 that it would buy Kayak for about $1.8 billion, though that transaction was delayed by a probe from U.K. antitrust regulators and wasn’t completed until May 2013.

Meanwhile, Expedia completed its majority-stake acquisition of Trivago last May. It paid $564 million in cash and about $65 million in Expedia stock for 62% of Trivago.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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