Group buys threaten agent rice bowl

GROUP buying websites are gaining popularity in Hong Kong and are beginning to offer travel products, causing some agents to become concerned that these are encroaching on their business.

Groupon recently extended its Groupon Getaways with Expedia partnership (TTG Asia e-Daily, June 3) to Hong Kong, launching a local version of its travel deals site offering discounted flight, hotel and cruise packages.

Hong Kong Pass Travel general manager, Samson Chan said: “Group buying has dampened agents’ business given our low profit margins nowadays. These group buying sites should not sell what agents are providing as they don’t hold travel agent licenses.”

According to Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council (TIC), only those with travel agent licenses are authorised to sell travel products.

TIC executive director, Joseph Tung, said: “If our members want to promote any packages, they have to register with us first. We want to remind agents that they are not allowed to sell special fares without prior agreement from the service providers.”

Wincastle Travel (HK) senior manager marketing and products, Eliza Li, said the impact of group buying on the industry was minimal at the moment.

“Their clientele is different from ours,” she explained. “They are mostly the younger generation who shop around for the lowest deals, as their budget is limited.”

“In the long term, I would be concerned if they venture into package tours, as that would definitely threaten us.”

Meanwhile, agents like Jie Ling Express have begun using group buying sites to complement their existing sales channels.

Jie Ling’s managing director, Hanes Tong, said: “I treat it as an additional advertising channel. The response is okay for exposure’s sake, but we aren’t totally relying on it.

“Since we are putting our company’s name as the contact point, all clients contact us directly for bookings, so the group buying site isn’t technically selling travel products,” he added.

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