Consolidating websites

But since you haven't clicked the "about" pages on these sites, you're unaware all the brands within these four sectors are sister companies.

In fact, the wide world of travel is much smaller than many consumers realize, with the latest consolidation occurring in online travel.

What this argument ignores is much of that huge industry is comprised of individual branded sites owned by airlines, hotels, rental cars, cruise lines, packagers.

Veteran travel journalist James Shillinglaw noted the sheer size of online travel -- particularly direct-to-supplier sites -- dwarfs Expedia and Priceline, but in the third-party segment, Expedia "is now an even bigger giant than it already was."One would expect competitors to howl the loudest, yet last week the CEO of Priceline stated: "I don't see the deal that Expedia's made, if it passes, as being a negative for our group."Mitchell has vocally fought airline consolidation, but supports Expedia-Orbitz, asserting "it's not always the number of participants that make a market functionally competitive or not." He cites robust competition between airplane makers Boeing and Airbus, and states, "This Expedia-Orbitz development is on balance pro-competition and pro-consumer, in my view ...

You compare rental rates at Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty.

You even consider a cruise on Carnival, Holland America, Princess.

But the real question is, does all this consolidation help or hurt consumers? airline industry has undergone the most dramatic consolidation in its history, leaving travelers with just three major network carriers -- American, Delta and United.

800-pound gorillas What's happening with online travel is mirrored in every sector of the industry, leaving travelers with ever expanding mega-corporations. Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, notes: "Most consumers cannot get all their needs met by one of these airlines.

I've written about it here, in 20.• Car rentals Consider a major U. airport offering nine major rental brands: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Payless and Thrifty. In fact, those nine brands are owned by just three corporations:* Avis Budget Group operates Avis, Budget and Payless (and Zipcar)* Enterprise Holdings operates Alamo, Enterprise and National* Hertz Global Holdings operates Dollar, Hertz and Thrifty• Cruise lines Consolidation has been rampant in the cruise industry for decades, as have concerns about such consolidation.MORE: Read previous columns Bill Mc Gee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports and the former editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, is an FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher who worked in airline operations and management for several years.Tell him what you think of his latest column by sending him an e-mail at [email protected] president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association stated, "this most recent merger raises questions, and appears to be counter to the goal of creating more consumer choice."One expert believes choice will diminish behind the screen.Cheryl Rosner, who served as president of both Expedia Corporate Travel and, asserts, "No matter which of the 'storefronts,' for want of a better phrase, that a consumer is engaging with, whether it be Expedia or Orbitz, the content or offering with regards to inventory and pricing, is going to be the same."Ironically, reports quote a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the industry's trade organization, declaring these acquisitions will "strengthen Expedia's position in the distribution chain and could have implications for consumers, travel agents and airlines." This "do as we say, not as we do" strategy conflicts with how the U. airline industry fiercely fought all of us who warned of the dangers of consolidation, while airlines spent untold millions lobbying for mergers.

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