A slight majority of travel agents are increasing their usage of global distribution systems for hotel bookings, according to a biennial TravelClick study released this week.
Of more than 900 agents surveyed, 51 percent reported they're using GDSs "more often compared to the past two years" for booking hotels, according to the hotel technology and data services firm. Those agent sentiments support TravelClick's projection that 2015 will be a record year for GDS hotel bookings, expected to rise by 1 million year over year to 62 million.
In TravelClick's 2013 study of 650 agents, 39 percent indicated they were growing their rate of GDS bookings.
"Motivated travel agents have become better at being client advocates and giving their travelers a one-stop shop," said TravelClick senior industry analyst John Hach. "For years, they were more focused on air, and now it's more of a complete itinerary. We've seen the hotel pick up for years."
Another reason for growth: "The technology is better and the content has improved," said Hach. He noted that agents now can add hotel bookings via GDSs with fewer keystrokes than before, while the sheer volume of bookable properties has risen in the channel since the last study.
Each of the three major GDSs has reported growth in non-air bookings during the second quarter. For the three months ending June 30, the number of hotel room nights sold through Travelport rose 5 percent year over year to 17 million. Using a different metric for the period, Amadeus reported that non-air bookings, including hotels and rental cars, rose 6 percent year over year to 15.7 million. Meanwhile, Sabre's second-quarter non-air bookings rose 6 percent to 14.7 million.
Since TravelClick's last study, the GDSs have endeavored to add more hotel content, both directly and by way of partnerships with aggregators like HRS.
Even though GDS hotel bookings are growing, most continue to come direct, according to TravelClick's most recent North American Distribution Review, which was based on second-quarter data.
GDSs captured 19.3 percent of the share of transient room nights, online travel agencies had a 16.4 percent share and the remainder were made through various direct channels, including central reservations offices, brand websites and hotel properties directly.
Meanwhile, TravelClick's study found that 47 percent of agents indicated they would book best-available rates over negotiated rates if it yielded client savings.
"There's a myth among hoteliers that if they have a corporate rate, they're going to get their fair share," said Hach. "What we see in the transaction data and the research is: If there is a better rate available and an agent can save the client money, they will actively book that rate as opposed to just booking the negotiated rate."
Meanwhile, 96 percent of agent respondents to TravelClick's study considered rate parity to be "somewhat or very important," noted TravelClick. Rate-parity agreements ensure hotels provide distributors with the same rates they make available in their own channels.
"Over half of agents stated that they actively book away from hotels that do not offer their best rates within the GDS, and if there is a better rate that's outside of the GDS, a travel agent will book through that channel," TravelClick noted.
Working with market research firm Phoenix Marketing International, TravelClick surveyed travel agents in 48 countries who use Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport GDSs. The study was produced with the support of those GDS operators.