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Bill consoldating

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.

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Gobbling up the competition may help a parent company's bottom line, but it weakens the marketplace for consumers.But consider that only seven companies own more than 80 major brands.In many cases the sister companies are not direct competitors, but in some cases they are:* Carlson Rezidor operates eight brands, including Country Inns, Park Plaza and Radisson* Choice Hotels operates 11 brands, including Clarion, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, Quality and Rodeway Inn* Hilton operates 11 brands, including Conrad, Double Tree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Hilton, Homewood Suites and Waldorf Astoria* Inter Continental Hotels operates 11 brands, including Candlewood, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Inter Continental and Staybridge* Marriott operates 18 brands, including Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Marriott, Renaissance, Residence Inn, Ritz-Carlton and Springhill* Starwood operates nine brands, including Le Méridien, Sheraton, St.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.Others point to cross-pollination, such as stronger reward programs.

But there's a long history of consumers not benefitting from mergers and acquisitions.

Expedia owns 12 travel brands, including Travelocity, Hotwire, Hotels.com, Car and Egencia; Priceline owns Priceline, Kayak and

As Charisse Jones noted, some travel companies are concerned about an Expedia-Orbitz marriage.

Back in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a 10-month investigation before voting 3-2 to allow Princess Cruises to be acquired by Carnival rather than Royal Caribbean.

However, the dissenting opinion noted, "there is a substantial likelihood that either merger will significantly lessen competition in violation of the Clayton and FTC Acts."Such concerns focus on a handful of corporations controlling multiple brands worldwide, such as:* Carnival Corporation owns nine lines, including Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, P&O, Princess and Seabourn* Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings owns Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas* Royal Caribbean Cruises owns six lines, including Celebrity and Royal Caribbean• Lodging The largest sector of the travel industry contains hundreds of brands and thousands of properties, so competition would seem to be robust.

Before the proverbial ink had dried on Expedia's acquisition of Travelocity last month, Expedia recently announced its acquisition of Orbitz for $1.6 billion.