Last year, California became the third state in the nation to launch an online travel agency. Since then, the state’s digital nomads have been busy testing, tweaking, and implementing various strategies to attract leisure and business travel to the Golden State. The team at Intuitive Planning, a travel planning firm that specializes in California travel, has been following the state’s progress closely and has compiled an extensive review of the online travel agency (eTA) to offer tourism stakeholders and future entrepreneurs invaluable insights on how to launch, market, and grow their own businesses in the ever-evolving world of digital nomads.
To celebrate the company’s one-year anniversary, Intuitive Planning has ranked the top five eTA’s in the state based on a combination of quantitative analysis (e.g., traffic, revenue, and growth) and qualitative analysis (e.g., customer support, website aesthetics, and navigation). The results are as follows:
#5 Van Cleef, Los Angeles, CA
Van Cleef is the oldest and one of the most established eTAs in California. Launching in 2018, this travel agency offers customers airfare, hotel rooms, and a variety of package tours all across the country. While the service is pretty good, it’s the low prices that attract mainly leisure travelers to this otherwise very expensive state
Van Cleef is a subsidiary of United Airlines, which owns an estimated 20% of all American Airlines’ flights. Therefore, it’s no wonder that American Airlines’ customers have access to discounted rates via the “FlyUnitedAA” partnership. With Alaska Airlines acquiring 100% of American Airlines, it’s fair to assume that this discount will disappear. At press time, Van Cleef had a revenue of $5.8 million annually and supported 34,000 downloads on the Google Play Store.
#4 Hotels.com, Oakland, CA
Hotels.com is the largest online hotel chain in the world, with 500+ hotels in over 180 countries, all offering great deals for online booking. Hotels.com opened an eTA in California in 2018 and, since then, has been expanding rapidly throughout the state. The brand currently offers over 60,000 hotels in over 150 countries and territories around the world.
Hotels.com’s main USP is its huge network of hotels. Because of this, the brand can usually offer customers much lower rates than other online travel agencies. However, this upside is limited, as Hotels.com does not operate any of its own hotels and instead sells hotel rooms along with airfare and transfers to third-party hotels.
With so many third-party hotels partnered with Hotels.com, it’s difficult to get the best prices without getting a package. For example, if you want to book a room at the Trump International Hotel in Los Angeles, you’ll have to pay a bit higher prices than if you checked-in at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
#3 Booking.com, Oakland, CA
Booking.com is the largest online travel agency in the world with 20 million+ monthly active users. The company was originally founded in Germany and moved to Dublin, Ireland, in 1995. Today, Booking.com operates in 37 countries and offers customers more than 500,000+ hotels and travel options, including car rentals, cruises, and more.
Similar to Hotels.com, Booking.com also has plenty of partnerships and affiliations, allowing the brand to offer customers discounts and access to special events, such as the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Austria. This year, Booking.com launched an eTA in California and has been rapidly expanding its operations throughout the state. As of May 2022, Booking.com’s revenue was estimated at $12.9 million.
#2 VistaJet, Burbank, CA
Like Hotels.com and Booking.com, VistaJet is another large online travel agency with a subsidiary in California. Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the global brand offers customers cheap flights and package deals to more than 150+ destinations worldwide. In 2019, VistaJet launched an eTA in California that primarily caters to leisure travelers, but the brand also offers flights to various cities in the state, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Thus far, VistaJet has not disclosed how much revenue it earns annually, but the company says it is growing rapidly.
#1 American Express OPEN, Burbank, CA
American Express OPEN (AmExpress) is the world’s largest credit card company, offering a credit card that provides customers with bonus points and various travel-related benefits. AmExpress launched an eTA in California last year and has been rapidly expanding its operations, currently operating in 16 cities across the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. As of May 2021, AmExpress had a revenue of $8.3 million annually and over 500,000 active users on its website. The company also offers a cashback credit card that provides customers with double the cashback when they make a purchase at a store that’s part of the AmExpress network. Additionally, AmExpress OPEN users can get cashback when they make a purchase at various retailers, such as Gap, Nike, and Ralph Lauren. Thus, with so many travel-related benefits, it’s little wonder that AmExpress’s customers are flocking to this otherwise expensive state.
AmExpress’s marketing ploys are many and varied. For example, the brand sponsors popular podcasts, such as the Joe Rogan Podcast, which regularly features guests from around the world. In addition, AmExpress sponsors popular events, such as the Montage Laguna Beach, which features a roster of famous comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld, who performs every year. Also, if you sign up for Fuelling Ideas, you’ll receive weekly emails from AmExpress, containing information about upcoming travel related events, special offers, and more.
Overall, California has gone from strength to strength, as evident from these five eTAs. The state’s tourism industry is thriving, and it continues to innovate and evolve, setting a valuable example for other industries.