Expedia: the platform for moving people

It’s TIC time, folks! This blog was born at the 2017 BC Tourism Industry Conference and I’m continuing the rich tradition of profiling noteworthy content from the event.

First up, some thoughts from Mark Okerstrom, the President and CEO of Expedia, who opened the conference. Mark is a home-grown talent (Port Coquitlam) who joined Expedia and rose through the ranks to helm the global brand that now includes Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Trivago, VRBO, HomeAway, and other dominant companies in the OTA space. 

He opened with a famous quote from another famous Mark. In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain said that

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Today, the WTTC reports that tourism encompasses one in ten jobs in the world and accounts for one in every five new jobs. Travel and tourism is responsible for 10% of the global GDP.

Can we keep this run going? According to Mark (from Expedia, not the ghost of Mark Twain) we should have a “good but slightly cautious outlook” on the industry. 

Economies in Canada and the US are strong, the Chinese economy slowing down slightly (from 7% to 6.5% growth), while the situation in the Eurozone (e.g. UK/Brexit) are concerning, and Latin America remains volatile.  But even though our industry growth is tied to the global economy, tourism is still forecast to grow by 5.3% (FocusWright).

So the question, according to Mark, is will not WILL travel and tourism grow but HOW will travel grow? 

It seems like Expedia will continue to be a major player. That’s because of their massive scale. If Google is the platform for the organization of the world’s information … then Expedia is the global platform for the movement of people.

The company books over $100 BILLION in travel a year and employs roughly 40,000 “Expedians”.

Mark says that moving forward the platform will capitalize on trends that see us moving away from “big data, big data, data science, and a little human intelligence thrown in.” Instead we should be focusing on “streaming real-time data, AI and automation, and human creativity.”

He provided an example of a common occurrence, flight delays. What if, instead of an announcement from the cockpit and a mad dash to find an agent upon landing, a passenger could be served up a notification that enables them to rebook a connecting flight or book a hotel overnight or make a dinner reservation.

Mark said that at Expedia they “want to put the A (agent) back into OTA” to work to make the right recommendations and inspire travellers to pursue new journeys. 

Apparently 70% of Expedia visitors don’t know what destination they are going to book, or choose a different destination by the time they book on the platform. There is an opportunity for destinations to influence that.

Atout France (National DMO) partners with Expedia 

He used the example of a partnership between Expedia and Atout France.  Expedia bookings represent 10% of the inbound travel to France. Working together, About France and Expedia worked to feed the demand for Paris into the outlying areas (Loire Valley) and used Expedia data to help the DMO understand what the competition is, what positioning and targeting is needed, and how to push those visitors outward.

Is your destination working with Expedia? Do you think they can put the A back in OTA? Weigh in down in the comments.

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