|By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 28, 2010--Walt Disney World is poised to sell hotel rooms on Priceline.com, after years of keeping its hotels off the popular site for bargain hunters.
Disney hotel rooms will become a part of Priceline's inventory in mid-November, though the rooms will be available only through the site's conventional booking engine -- not its "Name Your Own Price" service.
"We are not participating in Priceline.com's 'Name Your Own' service and have no plans to do so," Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said.
Still, it is a strategic shift for Disney, which has for years refused to list rooms on Priceline, even as it did so on other online-travel sites. Disney hotel rooms have been available on Expedia and Travelocity, for instance, since 2002.
Disney shunned Priceline at least in part because of internal concerns that making its hotel rooms available through the site would undercut the premium-brand image that allows it to command higher rates than competing hotel operators. But now the giant resort is grappling with falling occupancy across its roughly 25,000 hotel rooms and time-share suites; average occupancy in Disney hotels fell 8.8 percent from a year ago to 83 percent during the company's fiscal third quarter, which ended July 3.
Disney has sold theme-park tickets through Priceline for four years.
The move to add hotel rooms also reflects Priceline.com Inc.'s growing importance within the online travel industry. The company, based in Norwalk, Conn., includes Booking.com, the top hotel-booking site in Europe, and Agoda.com, a fast-growing hotel site in Asia.
From the beginning of 2008 to the middle of this year, Priceline's global travel bookings nearly doubled to $3.4 billion, far outpacing growth at Expedia Inc. and Orbitz Worldwide Inc., according to research firm PhoCusWright.
And while Expedia still rings up more travel bookings overall, Priceline now outsells its larger competitor in worldwide hotel nights.
"Priceline has obviously been kicking butt over the past couple of years," said Douglas Quinby, senior research director at PhoCusWright.
Jason Garcia can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5414.
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