Expedia launches new tool for hoteliers

By Bill Tremblay

BELLEVUE, WA – There’s a new tool for hoteliers looking to
improve their property’s visibility in the Expedia marketplace.

The online travel agency recently launched Accelerator, (available
for Expedia and Hotels.com) which allow hotels to boost their ranking in a
consumer’s search results.

“We're here to give our consumers an amazing experience, but
also help our hoteliers compete against the real competition, which is the
hotel down the road,” Mark
Okerstrom, Expedia’s chief financial officer, said during a recent
international media tour of the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, WA.

To use Accelerator, operators are able to adjust the
commission paid to Expedia up to 15 per cent per booking. An Accelerator
preview tool, available in Expedia Partner Central (EPC), allows the operator
to see a prediction of where their property will rank. The use of Accelerator
is not highlighted in a consumer’s search results.

“It’s a marketplace approach to our hotel listings,”
Okerstrom said. “The strategy here is to allow hoteliers to come onto our
platform, with a low base margin, and allow them to use our marketplace in a
way that suits them.”

Accelerator is designed as an occasional tool for hoteliers
to boost their product’s visibility during difficult booking times. On average, hoteliers
use the tool for a two-week span.

“It’s a way to showcase a hotel during a particular time,”
said Aman Bhutani, president of Brand Expedia Group. “This is a short-term product.
It is not meant to use forever.”

While the new tool is available to all hotels, a property
with a low rating will not be able to pay its way to the top of search
results. 

“You can’t cut across a cohort,” said Benoit Jolin, vice-president of global product for Expedia. “It benefits the hotel without hurting
the customer experience.”

A hotel is ranked based on its offer strength, a formula
generated by combining historical price point, the property’s popularity on
Expedia, location, traveller review scores and amenities.

Properties are also ranked on quality score, which factors
in value as well as content provided to Expedia customers.

“It’s things like: Do they give our customers the cheapest
rates? Do they make their inventory available to our customers? And are their
photos up to date?” Okerstrom said. “Importantly, do our consumers give them
good ratings?”

New app

Last year, Expedia launched a mobile app for Expedia Partner
Central (EPC), an online dashboard designed to assist hoteliers operate their
property. Jolin explained the app is designed to answer key questions raised by
operators including how well is the hotel performing in the Expedia
marketplace, whether the property is performing better than its competitors and how the operator could improve.

“Anything you can do on EPC you can now do on your mobile
phone,” Jolin said. “You can manage your entire property now through your
mobile device.”

In real time, the app allows an operator to see the number
of visitors to their listing, whether or not those visits translated into
bookings and how a competitor is performing.

As well, the EPC app alerts the operator of potential issues
like availability, rates and content issues as well as rate changes at nearby
properties.

“We want to provide as much marketing power as we can,”
Jolin said. “Our tools need to solve their problems in their world.”

Lines of
communication

In early April, Expedia also launched EPC Conversations
worldwide, which allows hoteliers to communicate with their guests. Jolin
explained Conversations solves the problem of communication between
hotel and consumer.

“It’s almost as if we erected a wall, between our guests and
our hotels,” Jolin said.

The interaction also
helps solve problems before the guest decides to leave a possibly negative
review of the hotel.

“Hoteliers will know what they were doing well or not doing
well,” Jolin said.

Shiva Naidu, user experience researcher, at work in Expedia's innovation lab.

Shiva Naidu, user experience researcher, at work in Expedia's innovation lab.

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Data driven decisions

Expedia’s top-level executives once made the company’s
decisions. Today, however, data is calling the shots.

Expedia has moved to a “test and learn” culture where
everything about the online travel platform is adjusted to create the best
possible user experience. Data generated through the site determines which
tests are successful.

“Leaders are adapting quickly. Everybody accepts where the
data is,” Bhutani said. “We critique how they think about the testing.”

Last year, the company performed 13,000 tests adjusting
everything from colour to photo sizes. Bhutani explained one third of tests are
successful, one third negative and one third neutral.

“You have to have a culture that accepts failure,” he said.
“If it is not a good idea, it is time to let it go.”

Electromyography

Expedia recruits consumers as well as hoteliers to form user
panels to gain feedback on its online travel properties. Some of the feedback
is collected via muscles movement.

In the company’s innovation lab, electromyography (EMG) is
used to determine the user experience.

“It’s sort of like a lie detector for emotions,” said Bill
Long, senior director of global product design and user experience.

In the lab, users are invited to book or plan their trip.
Before the process begins, electrodes are connected to muscles in the
travellers’ brow and check muscles. The information sent via the EMG records
delight spikes and frustration spikes as the traveller navigates the website.

“A lot of the decision making in travel happens in people’s
heads, how do you understand that and uncover those unmet needs?” Long said. “This allows us to watch them. It’s not just physical.”