With GTA under its belt, subject to regulatory approvals, and its acquisition announcement last February of Tourico Holidays, Hotelbeds will be by far the dominant, global B2B bedbanks player.
Former Hotelbeds’ chief in Asia-Pacific, Manuel Ferrer, who is now chairman & founder of Olea Consultancy, observed: “The GTA deal combined with Tourico means that now, there is only one world leader in the B2B wholesale business, Hotelbeds, and it is far, far, far (ahead) from the second.”
The ‘seconds’ include the likes of Hotusa, Miki, JacTravel and DOTW. When TTG Asia contacted one of them, JacTravel, for comments on how an acquisitive Hotelbeds may impact its business and the sector, JacTravel did not reply at press time.
That Hotelbeds is acquiring GTA comes as a surprise to Judy Lum, general manager of Diethelm Travel Singapore, in that both are “direct rivals and are major B2B bedbanks in their own right”.
“At the same time, it is not a surprise as consolidation is the name of the game today. Moreover, in the last five years, GTA seems to have gained ground with both suppliers and travel agents and wholesalers in Asia-Pacific, thus has become an ideal strategic acquisition target for Hotelbeds.”
Time will tell how the Hotelbeds Group intends to integrate GTA into the company. Joan Vilà, executive chairman of Hotelbeds Group, will not comment on questions such as if the GTA brand would be kept. As well, at press time, GTA’s CEO, Ivan Walter, did not respond how GTA would be integrated into Hotelbeds and whether the consolidation would lead to job cuts. Walter was quoted in a statement issued by Hotelbeds as saying: “We believe that today’s news is a milestone for the industry, and great news for our respective suppliers and customers.”
In the same statement, Vilà said: “Both of these important deals (GTA and Tourico) clearly underline our steadfast commitment to accelerate the growth of our business both organically and via M&A activity.
“GTA is a very successful B2B travel distributor with a proven track-record providing hotels, transfers, and activities to the world’s travel trade including intermediaries, OTAs and travel agency retailers. Like Hotelbeds Group, it directly contracts an outstanding global portfolio of hotel and travel ancillary products that it connects and distributes via API integration or online booking platform.
“GTA’s global footprint and in particular its well-developed presence in the fast growing Asia-Pacific and Middle East markets is closely aligned to Hotelbeds Group’s growth strategy. We are looking forward to welcoming them to our group.”
Industry players believe that there may be several drivers for Hotelbeds Group’s move to solidify its position through organic and M&A growth. “One is perhaps the realisation that the larger B2C guys, Priceline, Ctrip and Expedia, are becoming so big that anytime soon they will compete in the B2B arena, thus you need to be very strong to face this competition if it comes,” said Ferrer.
Added Lum: “The trend of major hotel chains driving direct business via their websites and offering the best rate guarantees to loyal clients, dynamic rates to travel agents, etc, will inevitably affect the business model of bedbanks.”
Observed a source who declined to be named: “Looking forward, the hotel space will continue to be a highly competitive business. Hotelbeds enjoys the benefit of in-country purchase and delivery services throughout the world. That is a true value which OTAs do not possess. They have an opportunity to deliver measured product quality control and to sell hotels and ground services on to customers once they arrive in the destination country. If they can leverage that, coupled with the huge volume they certainly will enjoy, that would be a winning hand. It will be interesting to observe.”
Meanwhile, EQT which owns Kuoni declined to comment whether it will also be selling the other two remaining arms of the company, VFS and GTS.