Bargain hunters interested in staying on Walt Disney World property have never found the resort’s hotel rooms on Priceline.com, but that is about to change. After years of avoiding the website, with its claims of “No one does deals like we do,” Disney has announced that Walt Disney World hotel rooms will become part of Priceline’s inventory next month.
Disney rooms will only be available through the site’s conventional booking engine, however. Guests looking to use Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” will need to stay elsewhere. “We are not participating in Priceline.com’s ‘Name Your Own’ service,” said Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger, “and we have no plans to do so.”
The move represents a strategic shift in attitude by Disney, which has always refused to utilize Priceline for room sales, even while making inventory available on other online travel sites. Guests have been able to search for Disney rooms on Expedia and Travelocity, for instance, since 2002. (Disney isn’t completely new to Priceline, however. The company has been selling their theme park tickets through the website for four years.)
The concern for Disney seems to be about image; that listing hotel rooms on Priceline would the cheapen the company’s premium-brand reputation, which allows it to command higher rates than competitors with similar rooms. But in the current economy, it’s clear that Disney has to rethink their approach. Average occupancy in Disney hotels fell 8.8 percent from the same period last year, to 83 percent during the company’s fiscal third quarter, which ended July 3.
But the move isn’t just indicative of Disney’s struggle to fill rooms; it also reflects Priceline’s growing influence within the online travel industry. From 2008 to present, Priceline’s global travel bookings nearly doubled to $3.4 billion, far outpacing the growth of competitors Expedia and Orbitz, according to research firm PhoCusWright. And though Expedia still outperforms Priceline with its number of overall travel bookings, Priceline, together with its European subsidiary Booking.com and its Asian company Agoda.com, outsells Expedia in worldwide hotel nights.