We are often told by merging businesses and corporations that consolidation will bring better services to more customers and will lower prices. Even regulators, whose job it is to protect the consumer, will often say this. This goes against both the capitalist theory of competition and my personal instinct. Why would a more powerful company with less competition want to lower its price if it doesn’t have to? Consolidation of essential positions (HR, finance, etc) might lead to increased profit for the fewer people that own the now larger company. And the now larger company might have more power in the marketplace to insist on lower prices from suppliers. But one should not assume that this cost savings will be passed on to consumers. In the travel industry, both mainstream and niches like Adventure Travel, the trend has been moving towards consolidation. I have personally seen very good ground operators lose significant amounts of business due to a tour operator upstream being bought and the now larger business unifying the entire business around a different supplier. This might seem good for the other ground operator, but this means greater homogenization of the products offered, and a company that might not have been ready for such an increase of growth now responsible for a much larger share of the market.
I haven’t seen a ton of attention given to the potential pitfalls for businesses and consumers with consolidation in the travel industry. There are two recently published articles, that, especially seen side by side, outlines some of the negative sides of consolidation. The first is in Adventure Travel News and outlines the separation of a young mega company: Peak Adventure Travel Group, a strategic venture between TUI Group and Intrepid Travel. This is the merger that saw ripples in the supply chain internationally. In addition to the possible impacts on businesses and consumers, it appears that mega mergers can sometimes be hard on the two merging businesses themselves. TUI and Intrepid are still huge, but I think this separation is ultimately good for the industry.
TUI-group and Intrepid Travel to Part Ways – Adventure Travel News
The second article was in the New York Times on July 1st. It initially caught my attention because the lead is about price collusion between the four major airlines. As a frequent flyer I get concerned with lack of competition amongst airlines, leading to poorer service and higher prices. The article digs into the fact that consolidation in the airline industry has made it easier for collusion to occur even though “[executives] actually hate each other, truth be told. But with so few of them left, there’s almost a natural oligopoly.” Airlines have gone from near bankruptcy to record profits. One reason is the extremely low fuel prices. Yet, ticket prices have not dropped as you would expect with lower costs. Says Senator Chuck Schumer: “It’s hard to understand, with jet fuel prices dropping by 40 percent since last year, why ticket prices haven’t followed. We know that when airlines merge, there’s less price competition.” Senator Schumer has called for a Justice Department investigation.
Airlines Under Justice Department Investigation – New York Times
To maintain a vibrant and sustainable travel industry it is important to be skeptical of the promises made by merging companies. We need to hold regulators accountable to do their jobs and make sure they apply scrutiny when approving such mergers.