here was a lot of fuss in the late
'80s when airline ticket-printing kiosks were installed in grocery
stores. Likewise, travel agents were up in arms when banks started
to sell travel. If these were turf wars, agents won the battles,
but lost the war. Big time.
I'm not referring to the emergence of the online channel --
that's simply a channel that's available to all sellers of travel.
I'm referring to the fact that an enormous amount of travel is sold
by companies whose core business isn't selling travel, companies
with names like American Express, Carlson, Sabre, AAA and
Divisions of each of these companies are among the top 10
sellers of travel in Travel Weekly's Power List. No. 1 on the list,
American Express, is primarily a financial services company. When,
in 2003, it acquired the third-largest seller of travel --
Rosenbluth International -- the financial impact on the parent
company was so minor that it didn't need to issue an advisory note
No. 2, Carlson, is primarily a supplier rather than a seller.
No. 6, Travelocity, is a subsidiary of Sabre Holdings, whose
primary business is being a GDS. The various regional components of
No. 8, AAA, typically make more money selling insurance than
travel. And No. 9, Cendant, in addition to selling travel, owns a
GDS, car rental firms and hotel brands.
Of the remaining top 10 companies, just two sell only travel:
No. 5, TQ3 Navigant, and No. 7, Orbitz -- though some see the
latter's airline ownership as making it something less than
Travel does provide the highest gross sales volume for No. 3,
InterActiveCorp, but the company also includes Home Shopping
Network, Ticketmaster, LendingTree.com and even an online dating
service. BCD Holdings, the parent of No. 4, WorldTravel BTI, is
primarily focused on travel, but 22% of its business is in
financial services and technology.
And, try as it may to undergo separation surgery, in most
people's minds No. 10, Liberty Travel, is joined at the hip to
wholesaler Gogo Worldwide Vacations.
As a result, most of the largest travel sellers do not always
behave as though their company's future depends on selling
Want proof? Unlike almost every other industry on the planet
that has retail outlets, no legacy businesses in travel are among
the top sellers on the Web.
It could change. Amazon.com had what seemed like a lock selling
books on the Web until Barnes & Noble awakened. B & N may
have been late to the party, but it's now the largest online
At this point, the only traditional agency that could topple IAC
Travel's Expedia from Web dominance is Amex. Its strong brand
recognition with consumers would give it a flying start, but thus
far it hasn't shown the will to enter the fray. If it had been
interested, it could have outbid Barry Diller for Expedia using
loose change it found under the sofa cushions.
But remember, selling travel isn't at the core of Amex's
business -- financial services are.
Agents used to worry about banks selling travel rather than
financial services. Maybe not so much has changed -- travel
agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz must be quite glad
that Amex's corporate focus is where it is.