Meriton, Australia’s largest apartment company, has split with Wotif.com in a dispute it estimates will cost the online agency $1 million a year in lost commission. Matthew Thomas, National Manager, Meriton Serviced Apartments, says Wotif.com pulled Meriton’s inventory after prolonged disagreement over access to inventory and rate. “It was six months in the making,” says Thomas. “We agreed to disagree and they removed our product. Whether it is permanent or not, who knows. When Wotif walked away they lost four of their top revenue generating products. They walked away from $1 million in commission.”

Thomas says it was a matter of control for Meriton, which had been negotiating terms directly with Wotif.com CEO Robbie Cooke, who declined to comment for this article. “As a hotel operator we reserve the right to dictate what, when and how we sell the product whether it is offline or online. Unfortunately the terms and conditions put on the table were too rigid for our liking and did not suit our distribution policy. The problem we had with Wotif is it’s all or nothing. They want everything – the entire inventory: every apartment, every room type, every rate.”

Meriton wanted flexibility, the ability to sell whatever product it wanted through whatever channel it wanted at whatever price it wanted depending on demand, an approach that means not all its inventory would be available through online travel agents 100% of the time. “I guess at the end of the day we want to take control of our inventory. We want to work with Online Travel Agents but not just be dictated to via email.”

It was a tough decision for Meriton to make and there have been significant repercussions for the company, which owns and operates more than 2000 serviced apartments in Sydney and the Gold Coast. Meriton, owned by billionaire Harry Triguboff, is also Australia’s largest builder of ‘for sale’ apartments. “It has impacted on our business and what it has meant we are all having to work harder. It’s our off season so it’s hard enough as it is. However, I believe this short-term pain is going to have some substantial long-term gain.”

Thomas says Wotif.com also took issue with Hotstayz.com.au, a non-brand website powered by Siteminder’s Booking Button that Meriton has launched to sell its serviced apartment inventory. “They saw it as a third-party site,” Thomas says, adding that Meriton is looking for suppliers with similar product outside Sydney and the Gold Coast to come on board. Commission would be 5% – half that charged by Wotif and much less than US-owned online travel agents.

Meanwhile, Wotif.com was central to another dispute over hotel rates and inventory during its latest heavily promoted three-day sale last week. OTA rival Expedia Australia demanded deal parity from hotel clients participating in the promotion and pulled the inventory from its website of those that didn’t comply. Complicating the scenario is the fact Wotif.com demanded pricing/deal exclusivity as a condition of participation. As a result many leading properties including an number owned or managed by Mantra and Mirvac  were switched off by Expedia for the duration of the sale.

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