Travel agents are using Global Distribution Systems (GDS) more than ever before, according to a new study of more than 650 agents from 34 countries. The 2013 Bi-Annual Global travel agent GDS Study, conducted by market research firm Phoenix Marketing International in partnership with TravelClick, surveyed travel agents worldwide that use Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre and Worldspan.
The GDS is one of only two channels that travel agents are using more than in the past, with the percentage of agents increasing their usage of the GDS up an impressive 14 percent from 2011, the study shows. The only other channel that experienced growth was hotel/chain websites, which increased 3 percent.
Travel agent usage of all other channels (including other agent booking tools, telephone to hotel/CRO, travel mega-sites, general hotel directories and direct mail/fax) shrank significantly in the past two years, decreasing 21 percent, according to the study.
“The GDS is more popular with travel agents than ever. This year the GDS is on pace to produce 58 million hotel reservations, up 5 million from 2011,” said Jason Ewell, executive vice president, business intelligence, media and web solutions for TravelClick. “As key influencers in booking decisions, hotels need to merchandise themselves to travel agents at the point of sale through the GDS.”
Nearly two thirds of agents will actively book away from a hotel not in full rate party within the GDS, the study says. Rate parity emerged as a critical issue for travel agents. Of those surveyed, 81 percent stated it is very important that the GDS offer rate parity. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) stated that they would book away from hotel properties that do not offer full rate parity within the GDS.
“With more agents using the GDS, there is an increased emphasis on ensuring rate parity so that agents can maintain credibility with their clients. There is nothing worse for an agent than offering a rate to clients only to learn that they could find a better rate by themselves on a different channel,” said Ewell.
Travel agents affirm that rate, whether negotiated or not, is the critical factor at determining their booking decision, the study says.
The study highlighted travel agents’ desire to provide value and build loyalty with their clients by booking promotional rates and best available rates as opposed to just relying on negotiated rates:
• Nearly 60 percent of travel agents surveyed said that they will book a hotel room based on best available or promotional message over any other factor.
• The number of travel agents offering their clients alternatives to negotiated rates increased 21 percent from 2011 to 2013.
In addition, 53 percent indicated that a promotional message steered them to book one negotiated rate over another negotiated rate.
“Negotiated rates aren’t the only option for travel agents using a GDS. Travel agents put a premium on booking the best available rate for clients and promotional messaging help agents find the best rate whether negotiated or not. Agents affirmed that promotional messages from GDS Advertising influence bookings,” said Ewell.
Amenities are still driving travel agent behavior, according to the report.
Beyond providing competitive pricing, travel agents also indicated that amenities were critical in making a booking decision. The most popular amenities were free Internet and free breakfast (both at 79 percent).
“To generate bookings from travel agents, hotels need to go beyond just offering a good rate by providing value-added amenities. This was one area that emerged as more important than when the study was conducted in the past, as travel agents continue to focus on building customer loyalty by providing value that their clients can’t find elsewhere,” Ewell concluded.