Online travel agent Expedia says it wants to be an “enabler” of the travel industry, and has branched out into meetings and events.
The global travel giant has struck a deal with Best Western Hotels for the hotelier to use its search software to link event planners to its properties.
Starting in Germany and expected to be rolled out next in the rest of Europe and then globally, the partnership means an Expedia-powered engine (Meeting Market) aims to give event organisers instant information on price, availability and online confirmation.
“This is an area we are very excited to bring added value to our hotel partners,” said Cyril Ranque, Expedia’s president of lodging partner services. “It means there will be no more back and forth between hotels and planners.”
Ranque estimates that meetings and events account for $400 billion of a $1.4 trillion annual worldwide travel market and 66% of them take place in hotels.
“We talk about corporate and leisure a lot, but not really about meetings and events,” he added. “It’s highly inefficient at the moment.”
Ranque said the move is Expedia’s latest in its bid to be an “enabler” of its hotel partners, who don’t have the same global reach or marketing budgets.
A partnership with Marriot in the US has allowed the hotel to offer dynamic packaging to its hotels via a white label booking engine that links stays with Expedia’s 450-plus partner airlines.
And Red Lion Hotels says that it has received as many sign ups to its loyalty scheme in two weeks with Expedia on board as six months before the partnership.
Ranque acknowledged Expedia is working with its direct competitors, but said Expedia has a different focus to hotels within a busy marketplace.
“If you take a step back and look at what Expedia has been building over the last 20 years, we’ve been much more focussed on the traveller than the partner,” Ranque added.
“We have shifted this in the last few years.”
He revealed that Expedia has spent £1.16 billion on technology in the last 12 months, along with a £4.19 billion investment in marketing and harvesting 1474 terabytes of data.
He said this was to help create worldwide payment methods and offer its platform in more than 40 languages.
Ranque said: “Even the biggest chains said there was no way they could compete with this investment. They have to run their hotels and can never match what Expedia is doing in these three areas (technology, data and marketing).
“We’re evolving from a pure distributing provider to become an enabler in the industry. If you look at all the hotels in the industry and what they are spending, that’s a lot of wasted money – and they can often be two years behind the curve.
“Collectively, there’s no reason why – if we waste less money – we can’t make more travellers use our hotels and airlines.”
But quizzed on who “owns the customer”, Ranque conceded that – currently – the data Expedia obtains isn’t shared with its partners but didn’t rule out doing so in the future.
“I’m not saying that tomorrow we are going to open everything but I can see a future world where we will be more and more open,” he said.
Online travel agents continue to grow, with OTAs’ share of the online market growing by 1% in the last year to 44%. It was 40% in 2013.
“If OTA’s weren’t providing a good service, they wouldn’t see that growth,” Ranque said.