Expedia Conference: innovation, technology, partnership

Dara Khosrowshahi

Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO, Expedia, Inc., middle, discusses his company and travel trends with Melissa Maher, SVP global partner group, Expedia Lodging Partner Services, left, and Henrik Kjellberg, president, The Hotwire Group.

Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO, Expedia, Inc., middle, discusses his company and travel trends with Melissa Maher, SVP global partner group, Expedia Lodging Partner Services, left, and Henrik Kjellberg, president, The Hotwire Group.


Las Vegas – Expedia, Inc. is all about its partners. Truth be told, without them they’d be hard-pressed to have a viable business, since the inventory its sites sell is not its own. Such was the backdrop for the online travel agency conglomerate’s partner conference here at Caesars Palace. 

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The theme of the conference, “Travel Rising,” was based off of three main drivers, as Melissa Maher, SVP global partner group, Expedia Lodging Partner Services, outlined at the outset of the show: innovation, technology, partnership.

The key, she said, was partnership. “Without it, technology and innovation are meaningless.”

THE TRAVEL PICTURE

Expedia, Inc.’s CFO, Mark Okerstrom, took over where Maher left off. He delivered a broad overview of the travel industry and Expedia’s spot within it. While 2013 offered “mixed signals,” he said, alluding to the government shutdown, 2014 should be less unclear.

“Travel continues to grow at healthy rates,” he said (it’s up 3.7 percent in the U.S.). “People want to travel.”

Expedia is also reaching new pockets of demand; first and foremost, China. “U.S. arrivals are up 25 percent on Expedia points of sale,” Okerstrom said.

In sum, he said that the travel outlook for 2014 is better than 2013. Forward bookings for Expedia, Inc., he said, are up 34 percent for San Francisco, 49 percent for Bangkok, 30 percent for Paris and 28 percent for Cancun.

At the conference’s Vegas-inspired Town Hall session, Johan Svanstrom, president, Hotels.com and Venere.com, left, addresses the audience along with Laurens Leurink, president, Lodging Partner Services.

At the conference’s Vegas-inspired Town Hall session, Johan Svanstrom, president, Hotels.com and Venere.com, left, addresses the audience along with Laurens Leurink, president, Lodging Partner Services.

 

But Expedia is not resting on its laurels. The company spent a staggering $2 billion in sales and marketing in the last 12 months. “We spend more and more each year,” Okerstrom said.

BUYING TRAVEL

Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO, Expedia, Inc., and president of the brand, discussed changes in travel—particularly how consumers are buying it.

“We continue to change with new devices and technology,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. What are we doing to stay ahead?” he asked the audience.

Khosrowshahi said Expedia had three assets: brands, people, and technology.

He also said that the company has changed how it operates internally. It has to, in this quickening age of commerce and technology. “Instead of predicting the future, we build one that is agile and fast. It becomes difficult to predict the future, so we build one that can react to the future. We have stopped guessing what the consumer wants and let them tell us.”

Guessing, no, but trying to figure the consumer out, yes. Expedia does loads of A/B testing, and Khosrowshahi said that there are hundreds of different Expedia iterations on the Web. This manifests itself, for instance, in the way and appearance of how categories are sorted.

Of course, no travel discussion is finished without mentioning China, which Khosrowshahi said is responsible for a third of the world’s growth. “By 2020, there will be 100 million outbound Chinese travelers,” he said. “We are spending a lot on the international consumer,” he said, adding that Expedia is making large investments in Elong.com, its China-targeted OTA.

China is already twice the size of U.S. market in online use,” he said.

Meta-search was also a topic of discussion, reportedly up 28 percent in use in 2013. “Consumers like to shop around,” Khosrowshahi said.

And the future? It’s all about mobile. “PCs are the minority of connected devices,” Khosrowshahi said. “Mobile is up 20 percent in 2013 for U.S. consumer media consumption share.”

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