|ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby|
Following Marriott International's announcement that it will offer its best rates to loyalty program members who book through direct channels or through select corporate travel partners and travel agencies, industry organizations are starting to weigh in on what the new policy means for travel agents.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) praised Marriott's decision to include select travel agencies in the rates, in addition to the hotel company's direct booking channels. ASTA said that it has been vocal about supplier incentives that do not take into account the value travel agencies bring to suppliers and their customers, and that it has formed a Hotel Distribution Advisory Committee to study the implications of emerging hotel policies.
"We applaud Marriott for including partner agents in its most recent campaign," said ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby.
Virtuoso Senior Vice President, Global Product Partnerships Albert M. Herrera noted that Virtuoso members would be able to access the new rates at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, and EDITION Hotels through Virtuoso's partnership with Marriott's luxury division, but he warned against any policies that could bypass travel agents.
"While Marriott’s recent discounting policy is less impactful for our organization, we do want to stress that we do not support any effort that subverts the client-advisor relationship," Herrera said. "Our travel advisors are in the business of serving their clients’ best interests and we feel confident that Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari and EDITION will continue to support Virtuoso members in their efforts."
Starting April 11, the new Marriott Rewards Member Rates will offer best available rates to loyalty members who book directly on Marriott.com, through Marriott's app, through Marriott's call centers, or through select corporate travel professionals and travel agency partners. The rates are available across Marriott's portfolio of brands, including Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, EDITION, Marriott Hotels, Autograph Collection, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott and more.
The decision to include select travel agencies in the new loyalty rates is different than Marriott's previous changes to its loyalty program. In 2014, Marriott announced that it would offer free Wi-Fi to loyalty program members, but only those who booked through Marriott's direct channels -- travel agents were not included. 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.
Marriott's most recent move is more similar to Hilton Worldwide's recent discount campaign for Hilton HHonors loyalty members, which also provides special rates to members who book either through direct channels or select corporate travel partners and travel agencies.
Outside hotels, other travel suppliers have been experimenting with ways to drive direct bookings, too. Most recently Lufthansa Group's (LHG) controversial EUR 16 "Distribution Cost Charge" (DCC) hit a snag when LHG was forced to sue Sabre over whether or not the charge puts the airline group in breach of its contracts. Sabre argued that because two of LHG's distribution channels -- its direct connection and its agent.com Internet portal -- are operated by technology providers Farelogix and Travelfusion, they effectively act as GDSs and should also be subject to the surcharge. LHG denies that position, and has asked a Texas judge to determine its contract rights.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates to this developing story.