|Photo by Freeimages.com/Carlos Chavez|
Hilton Worldwide has launched a new discount campaign for its Hilton HHonors loyalty program members that includes travel agents in a move that bucks a recent series of decisions by travel suppliers to encourage consumers to book direct. The new discounts, which became available at more than 4,500 Hilton hotels around the world as of February 16, are available to Hilton HHonors members when booking through Hilton's own channels, as well as through preferred corporate travel partners and approved travel agents.
The decision stands in contrast to other recent efforts by travel suppliers to encourage consumers to book through direct channels. For example, in 2014 Marriott International announced that it would offer free Wi-Fi to members of its Marriott Rewards loyalty program, but only if those customers book directly through Marriott.com, Marriott's mobile app, 1-800-MARRIOTT or through a Marriott hotel. At the time the move drew criticism from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and other industry organizations, who argued that the policy penalized customers who choose to book with travel agents.
Lufthansa Group (LHG) has also moved to encourage direct bookings by implementing a EUR 16 "Distribution Cost Charge" (DCC) for every ticket issued by a booking channel using a GDS for LHG airlines: Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS). At the time LHG argued that the move was necessary, as LHG's costs for using a GDS are several times higher than other booking methods. Nevertheless, industry groups including ASTA, Travel Leaders Group and Ensemble Travel Group charged that the move would drive their customers to book with other airlines.
ASTA has released a statement supporting Hilton's decision to include travel agents in the discount program, saying that the move shows recognition of the value of travel agents as an extension of Hilton's brand and business.
"Representatives of ASTA and Hilton have recently held discussions on a variety of industry issues of mutual concern. These discussions have been productive and we are appreciative of Hilton's willingness to engage with us," said ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby. "Hilton's recognition of the contribution the agency channel makes to Hilton's success has not gone unnoticed. ASTA applauds Hilton for this action and we look forward to continued dialogue and progress on this and other topics."
"We celebrate this proactive move Hilton has made showing support for the value and viability of the travel agency community," said Lee Smolinski, CEO of Palm Coast Travel, an ASTA Premium member. "Being a partner with Hilton rather than simply a supplier is important to the substance of what we bring to our shared end-customer: the consumer."
"As we make travel easier and more rewarding through personalized experiences and benefits for our guests, we are 100 percent committed to the travel agent community, which of course includes ASTA members," said Andrew Flack, Hilton Worldwide, vice president, global marketing. "We always have and continue to offer access to the same rates and exclusive HHonors benefits for travel agent bookings as through our own direct channels, like Hilton.com and the HHonors app."
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates to this developing story.