Editor's note: When Expedia launched its Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP) earlier this year, the story gained a lot of attention from our readers at TravelAgentCentral.com as well as at our Facebook page and a discussion thread at AgentNation. So we reached out to Expedia for their team to address the agent community, like we did with Orbitz when it announced its travel agent program. Below is what Greg Revelle, vice president of worldwide online media and business development at Expedia, had to share.
Travel agents have been an integral part of tourism since the middle of the 19th century. When European travelers needed guidance to travel outside their own country, they turned to experts who had been there. While that core function is still in place, the world of travel agents has evolved significantly since that time. Expedia.com is of more recent vintage, of course, having started in the 1990s as a more robust, web-based alternative to the traditional travel agent. Expedia’s mission is the same as that of a 19th century agent. We provide guidance to travelers across all categories and continents, helping to ensure that they reach their desired destination simply, efficiently and inexpensively. Expedia has a deep understanding of the importance that travel agents play in the distribution of knowledge, experience and services to the traveling public.
The rise of an entity like Expedia also gave rise to the sense that the company would effectively disintermediate the traditional travel agent. In fact, a different relationship has emerged. Expedia has partnered with travel agents for almost nine years, beginning in Europe, and extending to different continents. Expedia was the first online travel agent to offer programs designed specifically for the travel agent community, through our Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP).
Through TAAP, Expedia and travel agents have formed a thriving partnership. The program features elements that travel agents require. This includes a comprehensive inventory, Expedia’s inventory is industry-best. Expedia partners with more than 110,000 hotels worldwide, yielding more choices than any online or offline provider.
TAAP features competitive commissions. Expedia pays at the top end of the industry: 10 percent on hotels, up to 5 percent on travel packages, and 10 percent on attractions. This is just the start, too; Expedia offers additional incentives for the highest-volume and fastest-growing partners. Expedia pays monthly commissions promptly. This is money agents can count on.
TAAP also delivers outstanding service and support, via an exclusive support line dedicated to travel agents. This is not an offshore service; it is staffed by U.S.-based support agents. To achieve this, Expedia partnered with Travelenergy, a company that offers global representation and support for the travel industry and that boasts years of experience in working with travel agents. Michael Fisher, Travelenergy’s president stated, “We recognize the great importance travel agents play in the overall distribution process and that is why Expedia TAAP has provided its affiliates with the tools they need to keep their clients happy and ultimately earn greater levels of commissions."
TAAP is flexible. Reservations can feature any departure date and any length of stay. Payment can be made either with the traveler’s or the travel agent’s credit card. Split payments are allowed. And TAAP does not require deposits or complicated payment plans- payments are made online, day of purchase. Participating agents can craft comprehensive reports tailored to their specific needs. And brand disclosure is at the agent’s discretion. They can feature the Expedia brand, or not.
Expedia does not come between the agent and the traveler. We are a resource for the agent. We do not contact the client directly – it is critical that the travel agent maintain this relationship. We do not have access to client data. Our policy is to deal exclusively with the agent. Our Expedia Call Center policy dictates that we receive itinerary modifications only from the travel agent (with emergency exceptions permissible). We keep the lines of communication simple and direct.
The emphasis on simplicity extends to the TAAP interface. It was developed for ease of operation and we upgrade it constantly. It offers the most efficient travel tools. Most travel agents are already familiar with the Expedia system, which does not require any training. In addition, Expedia sends agent affiliates a regular newsletter, offering tips, deals, promotions and valuable tools to help travel partners provide the best service to their clientele.
TAAP was created in Italy in 2002. It expanded across Europe, and to Asia and Canada, in succeeding years. TAAP was launched in the United States earlier in 2010. Before reaching the United States, TAAP had grown to include more than 8,000 travel agency affiliates and more than 20,000 agents/bookers.
The U.S. market was a natural fit for TAAP, given the size of the market and the needs of domestic travel agents. The mature operating knowledge developed abroad made TAAP’s entry into the United States a simple one. We did not launch until we were confident in the service levels we could provide. And the U.S. market has endorsed this strategy. Since May, more than 700 agencies, including more than 3,000 agents, have joined. More than 25 percent of those agents have been active.
They’re seeing immediate dividends by leveraging Expedia’s unmatched inventory and service. They’re earning commissions. And they’re delivering tangible value to their customers. Expedia offers a full array of hotels, e-packages, cars and other services, with competitive commissions. We’ve crafted the program to give agents every tool they might need, and we’ve done so in a way that lets them do what they do best: provide service to their clients.
The question as to why a travel agent would partner with a seeming competitor is an obvious and common one. Expedia believes that the continuing evolution of the travel industry, particularly in this difficult economic environment, should prompt all parties to work to find efficient and reliable forms of distribution and service. The success of Expedia’s global TAAP flows from that belief.
This partnership allows travel agents to grow their business, focus on selling the very best travel products at the most competitive prices, and to take advantage of the advanced tools that the Expedia system offers. Ultimately, TAAP agents earn more commissions and keep their clients happy. In this environment, we all win.