Expedia's Partnership with Travel Agents Adds New Growth Driver


According to market research firm PhoCusWright's Global Online Travel Overview Second Edition report, by the end of 2012, one-third of the world's travel sales will be booked online. While leisure travel bookings on the Web are growing twice as fast as the travel industry in general, the majority of travel bookings still happen offline -- mostly through the traditional brick-and-mortar travel agents.

This is exactly what Expedia (EXPE) is targeting through its Travel Agent Affiliate Program, wherein travel agents get access to Expedia's database of hundreds of thousands of hotel destinations, air ticket bookings and car rentals across the globe and earn a commission on the bookings while helping Expedia liquidate its inventory of travel products. Expedia competes with other leading online travel agencies such as Priceline (PCLN), Travelocity and Orbitz (OWW). We value Expedia with a $30.60 Trefis price estimate of its stock, about a 5% premium to its current market price.

How Expedia Benefits

1. Expedia evolves from being another 'competitor' to a 'supplier' to travel agents.

Brick-and-mortar travel agents have always viewed online travel agencies as competitors. Partnering with them helps Expedia serve as a supplier to this traditional sales channel. Also, this helps Expedia improve customer service through these retail outlets, in addition to increasing its presence beyond the Internet.

2. Growth opportunity in markets with an already high Internet penetration.

Online travel has grown rapidly primarily on account of increasing Internet penetration. In 2010, the developed economies of the U.S. and Europe had 59% and 43% of the total travel booked online respectively. Compare this with the Asia-Pacific region, where online travel made up only 21% of the total travel sales.

Given the growth opportunity and increasing Internet penetration in the emerging economies of China (with only 18% travel booked online currently), India (at 25%) and Brazil (at 20%), it makes sense for Expedia to focus on selling online in these markets for the time being. However, as the increase in Internet penetration in the mature markets of the U.S. and Europe slows, the split between online and offline travel sales is stabilizing. Hence, targeting offline sales through partnerships with travel agents could add a new source of growth.

In the U.S., 1,840 travel agents have enrolled in TAAP during the first year alone. With 100 to 200 new agent affiliates signing up every week, there are no signs of the program is slowing down anytime in the near future.

View our detailed analysis for Expedia here.

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