Travel and technology rising

President and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) shares a joke with  Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive of Expedia, Inc.

President and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) shares a joke with Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive of Expedia, Inc.

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By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

LAS VEGAS—Chinese travellers, mobile phones, and simply keeping pace with changes in technology and consumer preferences, were all on the agenda at Expedia’s 14th annual Partner Conference held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas last month.

By 2020, there will be 100 million outbound Chinese travellers, and Expedia has an ownership stake in eLong, a Chinese travel website aimed at that market. “eLong has grown by 70 per cent in the last five years,” Expedia Inc. president and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the conference audience in his opening remarks.

“Chinese Internet use is already twice that of the U.S.—for mobile in particular.”

Johan Svanstrom, president of Hotels.com Worldwide and Venere.com, said a recent survey of Chinese travellers shows that they are moving away from traditional tour groups and are now FIT (free, independent travellers).

Svanstrom added that outbound Chinese travel is still dwarfed by domestic travel in China, with the majority of outbound travellers going to nearby destinations such as Hong Kong and Macau. “Now, as bilateral visa regulations allow people to travel individually, they are going to Bangkok and Malaysia; then iconic destinations like New York City, Paris, Madrid and Rome.”

Canada still has a strong affinity with Hong Kong residents, he noted. The exodus leading up to the 1997 handover to mainland China continues to be a very strong bond.

Chinese booking windows are very short—an average of three days compared to a worldwide average of 25 days.

Svanstrom noted that 100 million Chinese people have downloaded the Qunar smartphone travel app. “The Chinese simply skipped the PC stage and went straight to smartphones,” he said.

“The Chinese state used to limit leisure travel to Chinese New Year and the national holiday on Oct. 1,” Svanstrom added. “About 500 million people would travel during those two weeks only. Now people have the money to travel and summer vacation is becoming a concept. We can now target Chinese travellers in a normal way.”

Expedia's top brass dressed as Las Vegas gangsters.

Expedia's top brass dressed as Las Vegas gangsters.

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Mobile room night bookings up 135 per cent in a year

Expedia figures show that mobile room night bookings are up 135 per cent in the past year, and 80 million apps have been downloaded in the U.S., Europe and especially Asia.

Expedia is addressing the rise of mobile technology by creating a dedicated handset experience rather than adapting the PC experience. They are working on responsive pages—technology that can tell if you are using a tablet, PC or mobile phone and respond accordingly.

Khosrowshahi sees the fragmentation among devices and platforms as “a wonderful opportunity.

“People now have a multi-screen experience. They start with a PC, and book on a mobile phone. We have invested heavily in technology that can remember searches you made on different devices so you can have a seamless experience.

“Not only is there fragmentation, but innovations are coming faster,” said Khosrowshahi. “But there’s still the handshake, friendship and relationship—that hasn’t changed.”

System architecture more flexible

In the past, each hotel had a single web page. Now Expedia is working with application program interfaces that stream data to let users know what hotels are available along with photos and reviews. “We offer it in a very flexible manner so that consumers can consume anything they want. It’s a different architecture for the system,” he said.

Egencia innovations coming to Canada later this year

In other Expedia news, Egencia, the business travel brand of Expedia, Inc. reported on the company’s success in Canada during the first three quarters of 2013 last month. The company reported an increase of 174 per cent in contracts signed in Canada from Q1-Q3 2013 compared to Q1-Q3 2012. A wide range of Canadian businesses including the likes of Aritzia, HootSuite, Exp Global, Newell, Rubbermaid, Sears and Volvo turned to Egencia in 2013 to manage their corporate travel needs.

“It’s been a great year in Canada,” says Dirk Baerts, managing director of Egencia Canada.

Egencia announced at the Global Business Travel Association 2013 Convention it is utilizing contextual interactive voice response (IVR) to match a caller’s phone number and ID with what is in the traveller’s Egencia profile to expedite service. This enhanced service offering has been rolled out in the U.S. and is being rolled out to Egencia clients in Canada during the first half of 2014.

With enhanced IVR technology, Egencia Travel Consultants automatically know who they are speaking to and have immediate desktop access to the trip itinerary that the traveller wants to discuss. During heavy call periods, the traveller may also request a callback versus waiting on hold.

Service with a tap of the app

Egencia AssistMe is accessible within Egencia’s iPhone app Egencia TripNavigator, which launched globally on Nov. 5, 2013, to give Canadian business travellers access to agent-assistance how they want it, and when they need it via their mobile phone. Egencia TripNavigator offers a standard ‘click to call’ functionality that is available to travellers worldwide.

The app offers a callback option under Egencia AssistMe that gives Egencia Travel Consultants additional information about mobile callers ahead of the call. Travellers are personally greeted for immediate engagement. Egencia AssistMe with callback will be made available in Canada in 2014.