Exclusive: Expedia in talks with non-travel websites

Non-travel companies with high volume websites are poised to move into travel by agreeing partnerships with established players.

Expedia is expected to announced the first of such deals towards the end of 2010 as sites with large volumes of traffic look to monetise their activities.

Financial institutions like banks, sports firms, television companies and human resources departments are showing interest, signalling a significant shift in how travel will be distributed.

Alex Gisbert, Expedia direcor online partner marketing, said: “We are getting approaches from non-traditional online channels. Financial institutions and other large volume sites are coming to us and saying, ‘I want to add a travel section to my site’.

“They have a captured audience and they are looking to monetise and add value to their sites. I think travel is going to be distributed in many new ways over the course of 2010.”

Affinity deals are being worked on, with the travel supplier offering some form of online voucher for bookings and agreeing a share of the revenue.

Gisbert said Expedia was seeing creative propositions from various potential partners, adding that he expected similar deals were being pitched to Expedia’s rivals.

“They are coming to us and saying, ‘We are not a brand people would buy a holiday with, but we are happy to put your brand in front of our customers and we can share the revenues’,” he said.

Gisbert’s team was set up last year and consolidated all Expedia’s third-party marketing activities in London for the first time.

He said he believed this was unique in the sector and put Expedia in the best position to work with partners across Europe on a multi-channel basis.

The department also has its own technical team, something which Gisbert claimed was unique and a massive advantage. The team structure means any development costs are spread over multiple markets, he said.

He said some “really exciting, groundbreaking” partner-friendly technology has been in development over the last six months, and will be launched in March.

“Our ability to deliver that has been increased massively because we are able to share the costs. It’s a real statement of intent giving a marketing team a dedicated technology resource.”

The London team now also commands a single marketing budget, which allows Expedia to focus its attentions on the markets that are most lucrative at any given time.

Gisbert said giving partners a single commercial and account management contact also helps it to develop bespoke solutions.

One example in Germany with a firm called Swoodoo has seen hotel results inserted into flight searches because the company wanted to grow its higher margin accommodation bookings.

Expedia is currently trialling contextual advertising, having switched to a post-click model that can determine and measure the effectiveness of an advert in preference to simple display advertising.

Gisbert said behavioural targeting has been looked at, but that the technology was not yet sophisticated enough to effectively track travel profiles.

“It’s just something we are not investing in yet, unless someone can come along with a proposition that can segment profiles behaviouraly,” he said.

“With behavioural advertising you are making lots of assumptions about what you think someone might buy. For us that’s too close to the top of the funnel.

“With contextual ads you know what they are looking for and that, for us, is a key learning. I have also not seen any compelling evidence that makes we want to spend money in online branding.”

Expedia has seen triple-digit growth for flights across Europe after it released its air XML feeds last September, and some significant multinational retail announcements are imminent, Gisbert said.

“We are seeing more cross-border partners. When you integrate our hotels XML feed it works for 12 countries, so people are saying, ‘I have inventory to set up in other countries, so why not?’.”

“We are definitely moving towards a multi-market culture, which is a bit of a shift. The ability to copy and host technology across markets is more and more doable.”

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