Online Travel Update: Texas seeks to impose new lodging tax on hotel bookings; Expedia launches rebrand pushing for post-pandemic travel; DayAway specializes in "Beyond Bed" ancillaries

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This week’s Update features a number of stories on the largest online distributors as well as a story on an interesting new player that focuses exclusively on hoteliers’ “beyond bed” ancillaries and experiences. Enjoy.

Proposed Texas Tax on Travel Services Likely to be Passed on to Hoteliers
("ASTA blasts proposed Texas hotel tax,” April 19, 2021 via Travel Weekly US)
As part of the state and local government revenue grab that traditionally occurs during any economic downturn, Texas is seeking to enact legislation that will impose a new 6 percent lodging tax on hotel bookings in its state. Like other occupancy or sales taxes, the new tax is calculated on the price paid for guest rooms or meeting space, but unlike other traditional lodging taxes, the “price” also includes all associated booking fees and charges. Although the new tax is purportedly intended to target online travel agency (OTA) service fees and charges, traditional brick and mortar travel agents who charge their clients trip planning or advisory fees will also be targets of the new tax. So, if this new tax is intended to target the service fees and charges often imposed by OTAs, why should hotels care? For years now, OTAs of all shapes and sizes have routinely required hoteliers to pay taxes on the commissions, compensation or other fees or charges paid the OTAs. While these provisions have largely sat dormant – except for the occasional VAT withholding squabble – these contract provisions may become far more relevant as more states inevitably consider a similar travel service tax (particularly those spurned in previous litigation seeking to impose traditional occupancy taxes on OTA service charges).

Expedia’s Push for Post-Pandemic Travel
(“Expedia unveils rebrand in major push to capture travel demand,” April 19, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
Much of the online travel press last week was dedicated to Expedia’s recently announced rebrand. On April 19, millions of Expedia users received emails introducing them to the “new” Expedia. So what is new? Other than a new logo and tag line, noticeable changes to the Expedia website and mobile application include new home screen layouts (including notably a prominent tab at the top of the website for owners interested in listing their vacation properties with Expedia); use of a single uniform platform for the booking of hotels, flights, cars and experiences; new itinerary building functionality; side-by-side comparisons of accommodations based on available amenities; the display of activities near travelers’ chosen accommodations; and, of course, improved functionality for enrolling new members of Expedia’s loyalty program. As part of its overall rebrand effort, Expedia is planning a new creative campaign supported by the largest marketing spend the brand has seen in the past five years.

DayAway Specializes in “Beyond Bed” Ancillaries
(“DayAway may be built in Covid times but founder Martha Waslen says it will last long beyond pandemic,” April 21, 2021 via WIT)
Six-month old distributor, DayAway, hopes to disrupt and forever change the “beyond bed” experience. Seeking to leverage the largely unused gyms, spas, pools and other amenities often found at luxury hotels (particularly over the past 12 months), Singapore-based DayAway hopes to offer guests a curated inventory of activities and experiences that can be done in a day’s time and around hotels. While aggregators of similar experiences and activities may exist, DayAway doesn’t intend to compete with these volume-based discount aggregators. Instead, DayAway hopes to establish relationships with each of its supplier partners, by among other things, moving away from volume-based fees and co-owning the customer data that it collects from users with its suppliers.


Other News:

Four Key Takeaways From Skift’s Loyalty and Subscription Summit
April 22, 2021 via Skift Travel News (subscription may be required)
The pandemic forced travel brands to get smarter by using their loyalty programs to engage with consumers even when those customers aren’t traveling. That new skillset will have a lasting impact even after the pandemic eventually fades.

Booking Adds Tours and Activities From Viator in Their First Partnership
April 21, 2021 via Skift Travel News (subscription may be required)
Following its partnership with TUI’s Musement brand last year, Booking.com added a major tours and activities partner, Tripadvisor’s Viator, to its growing attractions business. In their first partnership in the sector, Booking and Viator announced Wednesday (April 21) that thousands of Viator’s attractions, tours and activities would soon be available for travelers on Booking.com.

How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Hotel Distribution Strategies and Onboarding
April 22, 2021 via Phocus Wire
In March of this year, hotel consultant Thibault Catala posted on LinkedIn about his frustration in trying to help a new hotel in Greece become listed on Expedia Group websites. Catala shared the response he received from Expedia Group, which said that “due to the reduced demand for your market, we will not be able to effectively support your business.”

Tripadvisor Bets Subscriptions Will Foster Resilience in the Travel Industry
April 21, 2021 via Skift Travel News (subscription may be required)
Tripadvisor believes its new subscription product could become a new business line generating more than $1 billion a year. But that will likely only happen if the company can make the program about more than just a mechanism for consumers to get discounts on hotels, experiences and other travel offerings.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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