Online Travel Agency Landscape 2021: Southeast Asia

by Varsha Arora + Skift Team - Aug 2021

Skift Research Take

The Southeast Asian Online travel market is hyper-competitive. The industry players strive to strike a fine balance between creating the appropriate inventory mix, appealing price points, and a seamless user interface with adequate localized features to offer a bespoke product basket and carve out a niche for themselves.

Report Overview

Just over a decade ago, four in five Southeast Asians had only limited access to the Internet. Today, Southeast Asians are the most engaged Internet users in the world with 90% of them connecting to the internet primarily through their mobile phones.

Between 2015 and 2018, online travel bookings in the region grew at 15% compound annual growth rate driven by growth in online airline and hotel bookings, to a size of $30 billion in 2018. In this report we investigate the industry dynamics and the core value propositions — scale, usability, and pricing — of top online travel agents in the region.

Skift Research interviewed two C-suite online travel executives to further understand how they perceive Southeast Asia as an online travel market and what the key emerging trends in the industry are. We also attempted to estimate revenues of the top OTAs based on the limited available data.

The online travel market in Southeast Asia is a promising and exciting market, a rapidly growing region with a digitally engaged and highly aspirational middle class that is currently underserved.

What You'll Learn From This Report

  • Market size of the online travel industry in Southeast Asia and its six major countries, namely, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia
  • Traffic share of the popular online travel agencies in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia
  • Inventory size of Agoda, Booking.com, and Traveloka in the focus countries
  • Core website features of Agoda, Booking.com, and Traveloka along with their loyalty programs and average visit duration
  • Pricing tactics of the online travel agents
  • Estimated revenue of the Online Travel Agencies in focus
  • Emerging trends in the Southeast Asian online travel industry

Executives Interviewed

  • John Brown - Chief Executive Officer, Agoda
  • Alfan Hendro - Chief Operating Officer, Traveloka

Executive Summary

Before COVID-19 hit the travel industry, outbound and domestic travel was booming in the Southeast Asian region. The rapid growth can without a doubt be attributed to the fast-growing economies in the region, expanding middle-class, and a chunky young population. The digital economy in Southeast Asia has also grown at a striking rate in the last decade. 

Accelerated adoption of online services, fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour, a conducive macroeconomic environment, and a fragmented hospitality industry led to a burst of demand for online travel agencies in the region. Between 2015 and 2018, online travel booking grew at 15% compound annual growth rate driven by airline and hotel bookings, to a size of $30 billion in 2018. 

In this report we attempt to capture the OTA industry landscape in the region. With the help of our data partners, we present the traffic share of the popular OTAs in the main online travel economies in Southeast Asia, namely, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. 

Furthermore, we look at the three core value propositions, scale, usability and pricing, of the dominant players like Agoda, Booking.com and Traveloka to understand what they are doing differently to maintain and grow their slice of the market. To give some sense of the financial health of the companies, we also incorporated a rough estimation of their 2019 revenues based on their traffic share and cardinal revenue models. 

We found that, across the parameters analyzed in the report, Agoda ranks the highest in most of the metrics, followed by Traveloka and Booking.com, in that order. 

The report also highlights the point of view of two senior industry professionals on the recent trend of OTAs partnering with other service providers, like ride hailing apps, to pool their expertise and resources; and what the industry will look like in the post-COVID world. 


An Overview of Southeast Asia’s Travel Market

Southeast Asia’s Travel Market Is Growing

Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. If viewed as a single economic entity, Southeast Asia would be the world’s fifth largest economy and with rapid growth projections the region’s global significance can only be expected to increase further. As shown in the graph below, Southeast Asia’s economies have strongly outperformed those of the world and advanced economies in the past. 

Expanding economies backed by the rising middle class, high disposable incomes, and large young populations have fueled the rapid growth of outbound and domestic tourism in Southeast Asia. 

The Southeast Asian markets together generated approximately 45 million outbound departures in 2019, up from 20 million in 2009, and grew at a CAGR of 8.1%. Outbound travel expenditure during the same period rose from $38 billion to $78 billion. Malaysia is the largest outbound market in terms of travel volume, while Singapore is the largest in terms of outbound travel expenditure.

In addition, domestic travel expenditure during 2009–2019, rose from $1 billion to $4 billion, reflecting a CAGR of around 10%. Philippines is the largest market in terms of domestic travel expenditure, followed by Indonesia. 

The Internet Economy in Southeast Asia

Another major characteristic of the region is the exponential increase in the number of internet users. Just over a decade ago, four in five Southeast Asians had no internet connectivity and limited access to the internet. Today, Southeast Asians are the most engaged Internet users in the world. There are 360 million internet users in the region and 90% of them connect to the internet primarily through their mobile phones.

Apart from spending more time on the internet, many are also spending on online services and products. The Internet economy, that is the users actually spending on online services, now involves 180 million people in Southeast Asia, or about one in two Internet users. It is not just the penetration rate that stands out; the speed at which the region has adopted the digital economy is also striking.

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) Play a Critical Role

In the region where the young population is growing, disposable incomes are increasing, and internet penetration is proliferating, consumers are now shifting to research and book travel online. 

On the supplier side, the hospitality industry in Southeast Asia is highly fragmented and the airline industry is dominated by low cost carriers. Hence, there are limited resources available to market and distribute inventory, which makes the role of OTAs extremely crucial in this region. 

Traveloka’s COO, Alfan Hendro, commented on the buyer-supplier equation, “Another key difference is around the merchant universe we work with which is highly fragmented in nature relative to more developed markets. Traveloka acts as an important partner to these suppliers, helping them create a digital footprint and access millions of users. Someone with a small car-rental service in Tana Toraja [Indonesia] can get a booking from a Singaporean family because of Traveloka.”

The share of bookings made using online travel channels increased from 34% in 2015 to 43% in 2018. Both rapid adoption and fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour led to a burst of demand for OTAs. They offer convenience, value, and access to services and products that were previously difficult to obtain. Hence, it is undeniable that the role of OTAs is critical in order to keep up with demand and respond to changing conditions.

The line of thought can be further validated by the massive growth in the online travel booking economy. The segment was worth $19 billion in 2015, accounting for 61% of the internet economy in the region. Between 2015 and 2018, online travel booking grew at a 15% CAGR driven by airline and hotel bookings, to a size of $30 billion in 2018.

The chart below shows the online travel booking trends in key Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Between 2015 and 2018, all six countries saw double-digit CAGR in online travel booking, with Indonesia showing the fastest growth at 20%. Indonesia’s online travel booking industry was also the largest with a market value estimated at $8.6 billion in 2018, followed by Thailand at $6.1 billion. It is worth noting that despite being the smallest outbound market in the region, as shown in the section above, Indonesia has the largest online travel market. This can be attributed to the country being the largest Internet economy in the region, which grew at an average growth rate of 49% a year, between 2015 and 2018.

Singapore was estimated to be the third largest in Southeast Asia in terms of online travel booking market value, but with the highest per-capita online travel booking expenditure in the region.

In this report, we will primarily focus on the top four online travel markets by market value, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand to understand the OTA industry landscape in the region. 

OTAs of Choice and Their Market Shares 

To get a sense of the preferred OTAs in the region, we referred to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight on OTAs in the region in November 2020. The survey question was: “Which of these online travel agencies have you used before? (Choose all answers that apply)”

We then compared the actual traffic share, provided by our data partner Similarweb, of the top 5 preferred OTAs in each country in 2019. So, for example, out of the total traffic being sent to Agoda, Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor in Singapore, Agoda captures 30.1% of the top 5. Comparing the two metrics gives an idea of the ranking of OTAs in the selected countries in terms of popularity and to an extent actual usage. 

Agoda, Booking.com and Expedia, in that order, were the three most used OTAs in Singapore according to the Rakuten Insight consumer survey. However, according to our web traffic analysis, while Adoda and Booking.com maintained the top 3 spots, Tripadvisor, although not a true OTA but a metasearch site which redirects consumers to another website where they can make the reservation, ranked No. 2 in traffic share (28.2%) and Expedia only made up 9.7% of  total traffic. 

In Thailand, the top three popular OTAs, Booking.com, Agoda and Traveloka, also turned out to be the biggest in the country in terms of traffic share. Although Expedia is more popular than TripAdvisor, the latter’s traffic share (13.5%) is more than Expedia (5.7%).

Same as Thailand, in the case of Malaysia, the top three popular OTAs, Agoda, Booking.com and AirBnB, also turned out to be the biggest in the country in terms of traffic share. Although Expedia is more popular than Traveloka, the latter’s traffic share (7.1%) is more than Expedia (3.7%).

Traveloka is undoubtedly the most popular and biggest player in Indonesia with a market share of 42.6%. In the second traffic spot, although Tiket.com is more popular, Agoda’s traffic share (18.9%) and Booking.com’s (16.5%) traffic share is more than Tiket.com’s (13.2%). 

On balance, we can say that Agoda, Booking.com, and Traveloka dominate the OTA industry in the four Southeast Asian countries in focus.

Booking.com, headquartered in Amsterdam, is a part of the Booking Holdings group, which also owns Priceline, Agoda, Rentalcars.com, KAYAK, and OpenTable. Booking.com is the world’s leading brand for booking online accommodation reservations, and also offers rental car and other ground transportation services, flights, tours and activities, restaurant reservations (in some parts of the world), and other services. Booking.com is available in 43 languages and offers more than 28 million reported accommodation listings, including over 6.2 million homes, apartments, and other unique places to stay. 

Agoda, also owned by the Booking Holdings group, is a leading online accommodation reservation service catering primarily to consumers in the Asia-Pacific region, with

headquarters in Singapore. Agoda also offers flight, ground transportation and activities reservation services. Agoda’s website is available in 38 languages and boasts listings of over two million properties.

Traveloka is an Indonesian unicorn company that provides airline ticketing and hotel booking services online, expanding rapidly into Southeast Asia. It claims to have over one million hotel listings worldwide. It recently expanded to provide lifestyle products and services, such as attraction tickets, activities, car rental, and restaurant vouchers.

The three represent three different generations of OTAs. Booking.com entered the market in 1996 as a small start-up and has now grown into a global giant. Agoda was launched in 2005 while Traveloka is the new kid on the block, and was established in 2013. However, at present, the three compete vigorously in the Southeast Asia market offering a fairly similar range of services.

What Separates the Triopoly

During our interaction, John Brown, CEO, Agoda mentioned that “the front-end of most OTAs look almost the same but if you dig underneath – payment options, sorting criteria, inventory itself is certainly different. And hence, the scale, the price and usability are the three core value propositions which make one OTA different from another.”

We look at each of these values in detail to see what Agoda, Booking.com and Traveloka are doing differently to maintain and grow their slice of the market. 

Scale

We compared the number of accommodations listed on Agoda and Traveloka in a few key tourist cities and places in Thailand (Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Kho Phi Phi, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi, Malacca, Genting Highlands, George Town), Indonesia (Kota Kinabalu, Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya, Medan, Makassar, Bandung, Batam) and Singapore (Singapore city, Sentosa) to understand the expanse of their inventories. 

John Brown, CEO, Agoda, confirmed that “We have all of the Booking Holdings inventory in Asia plus worldwide.” Hence, we have assumed that the number of listings on Agoda will be the same as Booking.com. 

Traveloka is a clear winner in its home country, Indonesia, while Agoda is a clear winner in Malaysia. In Singapore and Thailand, the number of listed hotels in key locations are approximately the same. 

The numbers in the chart above are only limited to Southeast Asia, but if the scale of the three OTAs is compared globally, Booking.com has the richest inventory in the industry, obviously because of its presence in all major countries worldwide. And by virtue of being under the same parent group, Booking Holdings, Agoda has access to all of Booking.com’s inventory (approximately 30 million accommodation listings). 

A customer of Agoda will have access to the full range of hotels in Miami and Jakarta both while a Traveloka customer will have access to a range of hotels in Jakarta but not Miami and this is where the scale of the OTA becomes important. 

Usability 

User Experience

User Experience is all about how easily an application or a website allows a user to do what they want to do and enjoy doing it. Research shows that if a website’s/application’s content is not optimized, 79% of visitors will leave and search again and that a well-designed user experience could boost conversion rates up to 400%.

We tried booking a hotel with the same itinerary on Agoda, Booking.com, and Traveloka to compare the website features. The unique features of the platform are highlighted in green; the dispensable ones are highlighted in red and the remaining are highlighted in yellow in the pictures below. OTAs do constant A/B testing and hence, the website snippets shown in this report might vary when accessed through a different source.

Agoda’s website displays an array of features to ease the search and to convert it into a booking. For example, it creates a sense of urgency by displaying the occupancy rates at the destination and provides a rating to the hotels based on six important decision-making criteria like cleanliness, facilities, location, room comfort, service, and value for money. 

What stands out is the display of Agoda’s brand promise of giving the best deal at the cheapest rates on the search page. Agoda special offers, discounted rates, coupons, and Agoda cash vouchers invoke customers to finish their purchase. 

Agoda also focuses on promoting bundled services to cross sell its product offerings. It also uses data analytics to come up with recommendations for the customer based on their search history, making it easier for them to select accommodation of their choice. 

The platform, however, features only limited personalization filters on the main page and instead has the full list under the “More” tab.  This makes the process very unintuitive, difficult to access and time consuming. 

Traveloka shows a rather fewer number of features on the hotel search page. Promising transparency in prices through correct messaging like “All charges included” and features like saved and my bookings boost customer retention while the handy “Need help” option on the page helps in reducing customer servicing costs. 

Traveloka as compared to Agoda and Booking.com lacks in providing personalized filters to its customers. It provides repetitive filters on the top and left-hand side, which uses up significant space on the main page with no value-add. 

The full and clear display of product offerings like Xperience (tours and activities) and JR Pass (ground transportation ride pass) features stands out in the Traveloka website which promotes cross product sale. 

Booking.com has all the essential features to invoke emotional feelings in the customer and encourage a purchase like creating a sense of urgency, hotel ratings, and reviews. It also describes the destination to make it easier for the traveler to understand the area in which they are booking the accommodation. 

Although creating a sense of emergency might work in the interest of OTAs, in general, they have been criticized in the past for faking it ​​to manipulate users into completing the booking. 

Unlike the other two platforms, Booking.com displays an array of filters to personalize the search. The customer gets to narrow down their search using a combination of filters without wasting any time browsing through the entire range of accommodation options. 

Over and above the expanse of features that Booking.com provides, it is the logical and intuitive placement of them that makes the platform easily understandable and easy to use.

Localization

What works in one market might not work in another. Hence, localizing the product is one way of differentiating oneself from peers.

The best example for playing the localization card is how the homegrown brand, Traveloka has managed to supersede global players, like Booking.com and Expedia,in Indonesia. 

Tai Parata, senior director of online business at Sabre, Southeast Asia, in one of his media interactions mentioned that “Traveloka has had the market to themselves for a long time. They’ve built strong brands directly with the customers and also have very, very deep, locally relevant product.”

During our discussion about the advantages of localisation, Alfan Hendro, COO, Traveloka commented, “Our innovation is developed with local Southeast Asian customers in mind. It sets us apart from the global players as it takes significant investments and effort to do so.

We always strive to understand our customers and provide solutions to their pain points wherever they are, every innovation and localization we do is designed to tailor to their needs.”

Consider the case of access to banking infrastructure which varies widely across Southeast Asia. Indonesia is one of the world’s most valuable untapped e-money markets, with 50% of its population unbanked and 25% underbanked. On the other hand, no Singaporean national is unbanked. 

The banked population enjoys full access to financial services, while the underbanked population has a bank account but insufficient access to credit, investment and insurance, and the unbanked population does  not own a bank account. 

Travloka’s Hendro gives several examples of how it localizes payments, “In Indonesia, our customers prefer bank transfers, we establish partnerships with trusted banks in Indonesia to ensure we provide the best options for them; in Thailand and the Philippines, partnering with convenience stores (e.g. 7-Eleven) to provide counter payment is critical to cater to users’ needs for transactions outside business hours and where there are no ATMs nearby, especially in remote areas.”

Traveloka is currently tapping into Indonesia’s unbanked market potential by offering credit facilities to users who may not have bank accounts so that they can purchase its travel and lifestyle products. During a discussion with Skift’s Editor-at-Large Raini Hamdi, Traveloka’s COO, Alfan Hendro said “Our ‘buy now, pay later’ service is getting a lot of attention. We have actually facilitated six million loan transactions.”

This key product offering is loud and clear when Traveloka’s Indonesian and Singaporean websites are compared. The first thing a customer would notice on the Indonesian website while booking an accommodation is the banner ad for the “Pay upon Check-in” option while on the Singaporean website this is not the key messaging, the banner ad is instead focused on the activities and things to do when travelers visit Singapore.  

Now, if we compare Traveloka to Agoda and Booking.com in Indonesia, Traveloka provides “Pay upon check-in” as a filter on the fixed top bar as well as the moving filter list on the left. Agoda provides a pay-at-property option based on the destination chosen. For example, when booking from Indonesia, one can use the pay-at-property option when going to Thailand but not Japan. Booking.com, on the other hand, does have a pay-at-accommodation option, but the same is displayed in an inconspicuous manner while exploring the room categories. 

However, it is important to understand that high level of localization prohibits scalability. John Brown, CEO, Agoda commented, “Ultimately the advantage of localisation is clear in that you give a local set of customers exactly what they want. But on the other hand, the disadvantage of too much localisation is that you have got a hundred different versions of your website. In terms of testing it becomes very time consuming and difficult. Companies generally think about what are the things that we can keep ‘one-size fits all’ to streamline offerings and what are the things that must be absolutely localised because it is critical for the booking experience. For example, payment options differ in different Asian countries.”

Hence, although Traveloka has succeeded in dominating its home country and has grown successfully in Thailand and Vietnam, it is yet to be seen if they will cut down on the localised features as they expand globally.

Loyalty Programs

A loyalty program provides a perfect chance to deepen customer engagement, improve sales success, and increase profits. A well-designed and well-executed loyalty program can also help retain existing customers and attract new customers. 

Booking.com’s loyalty program called Genius is a simple two-tiered loyalty program that offers different rewards based on milestones that members cross. The customer qualifies for Level 1 by simply signing in and gets a 10% discount at participating properties. The customer needs to complete 5 stays in two years to reach Level 2 and gets a 10%-15% discount on participating properties along with free breakfast and free room upgrade.

On the supply side, properties with review scores more than 7.5 qualify to become a Genius partner. Booking.com claims that on average, partners who join Genius increase their bookings by 29% and their revenue by 24%, with the cost of the discount accounted for. The two-pronged loyalty program provides a marketing platform for the partners and also helps in attracting and retaining customers to an extent. 

Traveloka offers a rather complicated points-based loyalty program called Traveloka Points. Unlike a tiered program, there are no barriers to entry in a points program and you simply need to create a Traveloka account to get started. A customer earns points each time they make a flight, hotel, or experience transaction on Traveloka. They can then redeem their Points for Traveloka Rewards and Reward Coupons. Traveloka Rewards are discounts on various product offerings and Reward Coupons are special offers from Traveloka’s top merchants. 

Agoda, on the other hand, provides a combination of tiered and points loyalty programs. Agoda’s tiered program called Agoda VIP is more nuanced than Booking.com’s Genius. There are four layers to it. A customer automatically gets a Member status when they create their Agoda account and get access to insider deals and a best price guarantee. Thereafter, they are upgraded to the silver, gold and platinum level by making a certain number of minimum bookings in a stipulated time period. With each increasing level, the member gets access to higher discounts along with other benefits.

Agoda also offers a points program called AgodaCash. AgodaCash can be earned by booking AgodaCash eligible listings. The total number of AgodaCash accorded is determined by Agoda in its sole and absolute discretion. In determining such value Agoda gives regard to criteria including but not limited to a user’s booking history with Agoda, the types of accommodation booked, and the user’s location, but the exact math is not revealed. 

Unlike the Traveloka Points program under which each Traveloka Reward has a minimum Points requirement for redemption, for example, 2,500 Points for flight and 1,500 Points for hotel, AgodaCash works as an instant discount on future bookings. 

In addition, the Traveloka points are valid for one year from their activation date while AgodaCash is valid for five years from the date it is added to a customer’s account. 

Points earned through both Traveloka Points program and AgodaCash cannot be redeemed for bookings that will be paid directly at the hotel and hence, it seems to be a counter product to their ‘pay-upon-check in’ product. This likely has to do with the merchant vs. agency booking model and who is the payment processor or record in the transaction.

To summarise, we compare the pros and cons of the three loyalty programs to understand the differences better in the table below. 

Overall, out of the three, Agoda’s loyalty program, although limited to hotel bookings, is the most well-designed, offering a multi-layered loyalty program coupled with a simple points program which gives instant gratification. 

Average Visit Duration

An e-Conomy SEA research report suggests that there is a significant correlation between the time spent on applications and monetization. Companies in this region tend to build more engaging user experiences with the belief that engagement will eventually turn into bookings. Although, this equation is unique to Southeast Asian internet users. In developed markets such as the US, Europe, and Japan, frequent online buyers are less interested in spending time online. The apps in the region tend to focus on specific services, streamlining the user experience, minimizing the time it takes to select products and making it simple for users to submit orders. 

Keeping this in mind, we compared the 2019 average visit duration on the three platforms in discussion. As per the data, Booking.com seems to be the frontrunner in engaging customers for a longer time followed by Agoda and Traveloka. 

Pricing 

Southeast Asia is a  highly price-sensitive market and given that travelers are now moving towards booking their travel online and have access to fares and hotel rates across different platforms, pricing becomes an important decision-making criterion. 

We compared the prices of a hotel in Tokyo and a hotel in London on all three platforms, 7 and 30 days out, to see which platform offers the best deal.

First of all, it must be mentioned that only Traveloka, amongst the three, gives the flexibility of choosing the country of origin, meaning that it has a different interface depending on the origin. This renders some flexibility to implement differential pricing based on macroeconomic factors and consumer behavior. Our price comparison exercise, for instance, suggests that the same hotel is priced at a premium when booking from Singapore and Malaysia, countries with higher average disposable incomes, as compared to Thailand and Indonesia. However, given that the consumers in this region are price-sensitive and compare prices across platforms before booking, the differential pricing does not seem to be a value add for Traveloka as the prices are much higher than the other two OTAs. 

Another major takeaway from our analysis was that Agoda provided the best priced choice in both London and Tokyo hotels. As Brown also mentioned during our discussion that “For Agoda, the key differentiator has been that it provides the best price across OTAs and that is our key valuable proposition.” 

In addition, Agoda offers the “Best Price Guarantee”. If you have reserved a hotel room through Agoda and then show them that you could book the same room for the same dates at a lower rate that is viewable and bookable on another website, Agoda will either match that rate or beat it. Hence, Agoda seems to be a frontrunner with respect to providing the cheapest accommodation options. This can be made possible by either Agoda demanding lower prices from hotels, which it could do if it can guarantee higher volumes booked through its platform, or it cuts into its own margins.

Traveloka also offers the “Best Price Guarantee” service similar to Agoda. However, if our short fare analysis is taken into account, Traveloka does not seem to strive to provide the cheapest price in the market.

Payment Models

There are two predominant payment models used by OTAs, the agency and the merchant business model.

From a customer point of view there is very little difference between the two. The biggest differences are backend: timing of cash flows, who pays the processing fees, and how and when invoices are reconciled. 

The agency model uses the same revenue model as the good old brick-and-mortar travel agency: commissions. The OTA has contracts with the hotels that it lists and takes a commission on each booking through its site, mostly between 10-30%. The commission varies by market and property type/size/brand.

In the merchant business model, the platform buys hotel rooms at a lower price than standard and then resells them to travellers. The aim is to get bulk bookings and there is no standardization of guest profiles. This gives the OTAs a large room for profit of almost 20-30%.

Traditionally, merchant business model’s cash flow timings are different to the agency model. In the merchant model, the business has to fork out the cash up front. Nominally, they sit on the risk of not being able to sell all their inventory. Most OTAs started employing a variation of the agency model and the merchant business model to spread out the risk. 

However, merchant agencies do not hold onto long term inventory anymore. Once the merchant transaction is done and they have the inventory, the OTA quickly resells at the agreed upon wholesale rate. As a result, they often actually accelerate cash flows. Because the merchant agency collects the full price for the stay upfront and only has to pay the wholesale price when the traveler actually stays. While, in the agency model, the OTA needs to chase down and reconcile their commission with the hotelier after the stay occurs.

When asked about the revenue models of Agoda and Booking.com, John Brown, CEO, Agoda commented that “Agoda has historically been a merchant but we have agency inventory as well and historically Booking.com has been agency but now they have merchant inventory, too.” 

Traveloka’s COO, Alfan Hendro, on the other hand, pointed out, “As a lifestyle superapp, we offer a broad range of products and services spanning across three core pillars of travel, local services, and financial services. Thereby we have different revenue streams and revenue models across different businesses. As a platform, we primarily operate under the agency model, whereby we channel services from partners to the end users.”

The dominant use of the agency model by Traveloka is reflected in its pay-at-the-hotel offering. Traveloka simply drives customers to their partner hotels and the customers pay the hotel when on check out. 

As mentioned, Booking.com’s markets its pay-at-the-hotel offering in an inconspicuous way. This might be intentional as it is trying to shift from an agency model to a merchant model.

Agoda uses a mix of both agency and merchant models. There are a few options where one can actually choose to pay the hotel directly. But with their merchant model, Agoda purchases inventory from their partner hotels at a discount, and then sells them to customers at a higher markup. 

Revenue Estimation

Eventually it all culminates into the revenue the OTAs generate. Given that Booking.com and Agoda are part of Booking Holdings, a public company, which does not publish the revenue at a subsidiary level and that Traveloka is a privately owned company and does not publish financial data, the financial health of these companies is difficult to assess. 

We used the online travel booking market value data and the traffic share percentages of the top five OTAs in each country to come up with a rough estimate of the revenues earned by top OTAs. We assume that OTA bookings contribute to 80% of the online travel booking market and the top five OTAs account for 80% of the OTA market value. Furthermore, we assume that the OTAs predominantly use the agency business model with an average commission percentage of 15%. 

The market value of OTAs in a specific country is derived from the overall online travel booking market value (0.8x of the overall market value). Market value of the top fiveOTAs is calculated as 0.8x of the OTA market value. 15% (average commission percentage) of the OTA market value is assumed to be the revenue for the five OTAs. Once we have the consolidated revenue, we divide  it using the traffic shares provided by Similarweb, assuming that the traffic received by each OTA is translating into actual bookings. The stepwise calculations are shown in the tables below. 

To reiterate, this is just a ballpark estimate of the OTA revenues using broad assumptions to give some sense of the earnings. 

The chart below shows the estimated revenue earned by Agoda, Traveloka and Booking.com in the selected Southeast Asian countries in 2019. Overall, as per our calculation, Agoda earned $794 million, Booking.com earned $647 million and Traveloka earned $557 million revenue in 2019. 

The Scoreboard 

In the above sections we have compared Agoda, Booking.com and Traveloka by analyzing their scale, usability and pricing. Based on those analyses we have ranked the three OTAs on the said parameters. But keep in mind that the OTA business is highly complex and these are just a few elements that contribute to the success of it. 

Overall, Agoda ranks the highest in most of the metrics, followed by Traveloka and Booking.com, in that order. 

As per our analysis, Traveloka has the maximum number of accommodations listed on its platform in the four countries. Agoda and Booking.com’s inventory is slightly less than that of Traveloka’s, but the two platforms have 3x more accommodation categories as compared to Traveloka. 

Booking.com is a frontrunner in providing the best user experience which also shows in the above average visit duration, but Agoda and Traveloka supersede the ranking by the well-designed loyalty program and innovative localized features, respectively.

Agoda is a clear winner when it comes to providing the cheapest prices in the market. This can be attributed to its hybrid agency-merchant business model. The OTA is also estimated to have the highest revenue in the Southeast Asian region. 

OTAs’ strategies in the past few years have centred on strategic investments, acquisitions and expansion. To boost efficiencies, OTAs are partnering with other service providers to pool their expertise and resources. 

For example, Agoda and Booking.com partnered with Grab, a ride-hailing app, in 2019,  with the aim of broadening and simplifying travel solutions for regional and global travellers. In the same year Tiket.com, another dominant regional OTA in Indonesia partnered with Go-Jek, a ride hailing app. AirAsia.com, which is predominantly into the airline business, also has plans to offer additional travel services, such as flights from other carriers, airport transport, hotels and activities. Clearly, the boundaries in the industry are merging. 

The e-Conomy SEA 2019 report validates the trend. It showed what different companies in various sectors of the Internet economy in Southeast Asia were offering in 2015 and compared that with the services and content offered in 2019. The resultant heat maps revealed that on one hand, players have expanded sideways across sectors, while on the other hand competition in those sectors has intensified.

While discussing this topic with John Brown, CEO of Agoda and Alfan Hendro, COO of Traveloka, we realized that there are two schools of thought here. 

Traveloka aims to become, and to an extent has become, a superapp with an end-to-end product portfolio and advanced features to provide better services and become an integral part of their customers’ lives. On the other hand, Agoda’s recent partnership with Grab shows that it plans to stick to the services which are extremely relevant to its core product portfolio.  

Brown said, “We are also happy to partner with people [Grab] we think will add value. It is anybody’s guess – what should be the real components of a superapp. So it makes sense to merge flight and hotel bookings or maybe ground transportation. But does It make sense to add lunch delivery to the platform or pay the utility bills? Maybe. I don’t know. Agoda and Booking Holdings is experimenting with its connected trippers to understand which pieces go together. But I don’t want to jump the gun. There are companies which think let’s just put everything possible on the app and I feel that customer experience should be paramount and you can’t just slap everything possible on a website.”

Alfan commented, “We started our business in the travel sector, which later became the cornerstone for our expansion into adjacent services. Now, we have been a go-to brand for travel in Southeast Asia, where we are trusted by customers to provide important services, like processing high-value transactions, which put us in a strong position. Today, we have more than 20 digital products and services – spanning across three core pillars of travel, local services, and financial services, providing customers with an end-to-end solution for their lifestyle needs. We cater to the customers’ daily, weekly, and monthly needs as well as their longer-term aspirations. We believe that it is important to understand that customers look for a holistic experience – from discovery to booking to post-sales.”

It is clear that one school of thought has a more global approach while the other is more localized. Competition in the industry is bound to increase in any case with companies competing over how to differentiate their products. 

Post-COVID Scenario

Given the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 crisis and its devastating effects in all areas of the global tourism industry (airlines, hospitality, destination marketing organizations, attractions, and more), it inevitably frames any discussion of the future outlook for tourism related businesses.

Despite surviving the first year of the pandemic relatively unscathed, the region has been slammed by the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 and hampered by ineffective administration and sluggish vaccine rollouts. The resultant uncertainty means that plausible recovery scenarios for tourism are hard to discern. 

We asked Alfan Hendro how he perceives the travel recovery in the region and how it would impact the OTAs, Alfan commented, “We are very optimistic on the medium to long-term prospects of travel recovery and growth. From a macro perspective, growing income levels and a shift from offline to online commerce across Southeast Asia provide a strong foundation for sustained growth in online travel activity. There is of course a near-term impact of COVID on travel. There are ebbs and flows as countries in Southeast Asia enter and exit lockdowns, and we actually see significant pent-up demand for travel which causes online travel bookings to bounce back quickly whenever the local situation improves. Overall, we are cautiously expecting domestic travel to rebound in the near term, followed by a recovery in international travel as the global pandemic situation improves.”

Overall, senior industry leaders concur that the online travel market in Southeast Asia is still at an early stage in the industry life cycle curve. The industry witnessed intense competition with global giants expanding to the region and local players strengthening their product portfolio. However, the pandemic is expected to drive some consolidation as COVID-19 has been challenging for the industry.