Expedia is mining big data and offering helpful tools to hoteliers previously the domain of the bigger brands.
When HOTEL MANAGEMENT reported on the new Guest Review Insights tool, now available on Expedia Partner Central (EPC), we speculated on the possibility of more new products coming down the pike for Expedia Lodging Partners. The remark followed an in-depth conversation with Benoit Jolin, Expedia’s VP of global development, who also shared further details on why the company’s 2017 strategy is a perspicacious approach to conducting business in the market’s current environment—both for the OTA and its partners. The strategy was born of direct input from lodging partners; about three years ago, Expedia announced plans to create its first global hotel partner panel, intending to onboard 20 partners. In less than three months, more than 5,800 lodging clients signed on and, today, they continue to serve as the engine driving much of Expedia’s innovation for lodging partners.
“We have two types of lodging partner audiences: the hotelier who wants to get in, distribute across Expedia and get out and then others who want to use our tools to improve strategy, guest experience, content and distribution,” Jolin said of Expedia’s approximate 300,000 lodging partners worldwide.
More Revenue-Generating Tools to Come
Following this month’s roll-out of Guest Review Insights and the revenue insights that are a feature of Rev+, more booking insights are next on the docket. Booking analytics introduced last year—by which hotels can understand how frequently a customer who considered the property booked elsewhere—are soon to be enhanced with additional demographic data on the customers who most often view the property and those with whom the property converts best. “Sharing this information with partners can allow them to make smaller changes by adding one or two amenities that cater to those audiences and that could help increase the previous conversion rate," Jolin said.
Hotel partners can also expect a new tool for selling upgrades, which Jolin described as a means of “increasing hotel occupancy at the premium level, while offering a unique upgrade offer to guests who have already experienced the property.”
The tool is currently in the testing phase, with a global rollout soon on the horizon.
Also in progress is a richer communications platform where lodging partners and guests can interact before and during the stay. The innovation is tied to driving ancillary revenue, as hotels that engage with guests post-booking have a 40-percent higher incremental spend rate at the property.
Hoteliers Want Customized Experiences, Too
Like so many of their guests today, Expedia’s lodging partners are also demanding more customization—and Expedia is delivering. As with the adaptable features of the recently launched value-add tool, EPC functionality is also under development to supply specific, relevant data to revenue managers, front-desk managers, financial controllers and general managers gauging the property’s overall performance against its competitive set. “When someone logs in, we want to understand who they are, what their objectives are and the specific needs of that user and how we can tailor the data that we give them as well as the actions that they can take on our system to make them more effective in their role,” Jolin said. “This will no longer be one EPC for all, but an EPC that’s tailored to every user as we move forward.”
Expedia’s end game is to “democratize the data” and create a competitive advantage for hotels lacking the budget to support leading revenue-management software. The strategy is particularly geared toward smaller, local properties seeking more B2B opportunities and while Expedia’s lodging panel membership is balanced in terms of geographic representation as well as room counts, Jolin pointed out that the schism between their independent properties and their larger, more dominant counterparts is becoming increasingly pronounced. So in “democratizing the data,” lodging partners will also have opportunity to experiment in the Expedia marketplace through a variety of promotional opportunities to test new markets, new seasonal rate changes or simply which property photos resonate best with consumers. The promotions will test a hypothesis so that hoteliers can adjust their online retail strategy through the platform’s feedback loops. However, Jolin said a launch date is not yet set for this tool.
Online travel agencies help smaller and independent properties compete with major hotel chains. pic.twitter.com/bTS4LTN8Kr— Travel Tech (@TravelTech) March 20, 2017
Leveraging Local Experiences
Dynamic packaging is also slated to go a step further, enabling Expedia suppliers to create new, unique travel experiences and sell as their own. The 2.0 version is currently in the “exploratory phase,” according to Jolin, who adds that package components could range from paid value-add services and amenities available on property to experiences available through local vendors with whom the hotel has an existing relationship. “If a hotel has an agreement with another local business, both could work together and create a package for travelers worldwide,” Jolin explained. “These would be new travel experiences that didn’t exist before or were harder to discover without knowing the destination intimately.” But hotels are often destination insiders and while hoteliers don’t currently have a means of showcasing knowledge of their properties’ local environs on Expedia’s sites, content platforms are slated to become another avenue where they can communicate in-the-know intel to travelers.
Jolin also acknowledged that highlighting unique hotel assets and amenities is key to setting a property apart in the market and properties want to optimize their promotional strategies around such points of differentiation, hinting “value-add was the first launch in optimized promotional strategies.”
Mobile is also on Jolin’s mind. While Expedia Media Solutions’ recent Travelers’ Path to Purchase study found that travel consumers are increasingly moving toward mobile, Jolin and his team are betting that lodging partners are too as they consider a platform for smartphones that will allow for the management of pricing strategies across multiple room categories and multiple days.
“In a few years, everything will be experienced through mobile or native,” Jolin said, then posed the question: “How do we merge everything that we offer across different forms and devices so that managing every touch point between the hotel and the Expedia marketplace is as seamless and frictionless as possible?”