Expedia conference doubles in size

Left to right, Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO Expedia; Laurens Leurink, president, Expedia Lodging Partner Services; Henrik Kjelberg, president, Hotwire; Guangfu Cui, CEO, eLong; Rob Greyber, president, Egencia; and Johan Svanstrom, president, Hotels.com.

Left to right, Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO Expedia; Laurens Leurink, president, Expedia Lodging Partner Services; Henrik Kjelberg, president, Hotwire; Guangfu Cui, CEO, eLong; Rob Greyber, president, Egencia; and Johan Svanstrom, president, Hotels.com.

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By Colleen Isherwood, editor

LAS VEGAS—Expedia welcomed 3,700 travel partners from around the world to its annual partner conference at Bellagio in Las Vegas Dec. 10-12—more than twice as many as last year. 

This year's conference added more entertainment to the usual menu of trending technology, updates on Expedia affiliates and global statistics. Hotels.com “spokesperson” Captain Obvious was everywhere!  He joined chief financial officer Mark Okerstrom (who hails from Vancouver) on stage.  And six Expedia company presidents decked out in Captain Obvious gear answered questions from the audience at the Town Hall Session that ended the formal part of the conference.

Guangfu Cui, CEO of eLong, Expedia's Chinese affiliate, added some humour too, while driving home his message that the U.S. needs three things to attract its share of Chinese travellers—visas, visas and more visas. The U.S. is currently attracting only 2 per cent of the enormous Chinese travel market. That share is projected to rise to 7.2 per cent by 2021—but that could happen in just three years if President Obama fixed the visa situation. Cui told CLN that the situation is much better in Canada, adding that he personally likes travelling to Vancouver and Whistler.

Chinese travellers are among the highest per capita spenders, at $11,700 per visitor. The best price point for hotels is $100-$200 per night. The Chinese like to travel during summer with their children, during the Chinese national holiday Oct. 1-7, Chinese New Year in January/February and for their Spring Festival just after that. Among their requirements are Chinese language (90 per cent of travellers); free WiFi (70 per cent); and a hot water kettle. Contrary to popular belief, only 30 per cent of Chinese travellers come in a group; 70 per cent come on their own. There are 200,000 Chinese grad students in the U.S., and another, little known market is the 10,000 Chinese who come to the U.S. to deliver babies, usually second children, as children born in the U.S. will be U.S. citizens.

Key statistics

Travel numbers ballooned this year as well.  As Melissa Maher, SVP
global partner group, said in her introduction to the conference,
“It's a really good time to be in the travel business.”

Key travel statistics from the Expedia conference are as follows:

  • * Last year China surpassed the U.S. as the largest economy.

  • * The price of oil is providing a tail wind for the travel industry—with the price of oil at $60 per barrel, Americans save $400 per year on transportation. With the average hotel spend $350 per trip, it's likely that some of those savings could end up in travel.

  • * Another tail wind is the strength of e-commerce, which is growing at three times the rate of offline commerce in the U.S.

  • * Online is now mobile.  Ten years ago, a mobile phone cost $300; now the average price is $63, making mobile accessible to those in emerging economies.

  • * M-commerce (mobile) is the new e-commerce with 67 per cent of people researching travel on mobile.

  • * Global travel is now a $1.3 trillion industry, with U.S. travel accounting for $334 billion of that total.

  • * Expedia had a great year with 29 per cent growth in bookings.

  • * Expedia booked 173.4 million room nights, or six room nights per second.

  • * In the last 12 months, they fielded 44 million phone calls in 36 different languages.

  • * They spent $650 million on technology and $2.6 billion on marketing.

  • * Expedia has 25,000 employees.

  • * In June 2014, Expedia started accepting bitcoins as payment.

  • * Expedia has added Homeaway listings, similar to Airbnb, as an experiment to see if this is a popular option for travellers.

Expedia deal with Best Western

In other news, Expedia and Best Western International have signed a global partnership agreement to distribute Best Western branded hotels on Expedia, Inc. sites. This partnership is truly global in nature.  Expedia features more than 150 travel sites in more than 70 countries, while Best Western boasts more than 4,000 hotels in over 100 countries and territories worldwide.
 
“Expedia is an incredibly valuable distribution and marketing channel, and we see this new strategic partnership as a great investment to ensure hoteliers can easily and efficiently sell their hotel rooms on their sites,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Best Western International, Inc. “Expedia excels at driving demand from around the world, and their marketing power is something that our hotels will benefit from leveraging,”
 
The agreement includes participation in the Expedia Traveler Preference program, which provides Expedia shoppers with an option to pay at the time of the booking, or pay the hotel at the time of stay.  Further, technology enhancements between the two companies will also ensure that rates and availability of rooms will be reflected in real-time on Expedia sites, providing the best possible customer experience with seamless booking integration.