Expedia claims to have invented online travel 15 years ago and that it is now on the verge of reinventing it for the Web 3.0 age.
Speaking to Travolution this week, new UK managing director Andy Washington, who joined from Thomas Cook in June, remained silent on details of what the online travel giant has planned.
But he revealed the first signs of what Expedia is cooking up will start to emerge within weeks.
In his first trade interview since joining, Washington, who has 19 years experience in the travel industry having worked for lastminiute.com and Cosmos, said a new era beckons for Expedia.
The online travel agent has already hinted at what is to come in its latest brand television advertising which showcases its people and its expertise rather than its offers.
And this move away from commoditising hotel rooms or aircraft seats, from the global corporate behemoth to a more local, customer-centric entity will characterise its transformation.
Washington said the strategy in place at Expedia is “the most exciting” he has seen in his nearly two decades in travel.
“It’s all about the trip planning process, social media, the booking process and customer experience whilst in resort or the hotel and when they come back home as well,” he said.
“Expedia has been a very corporate business that commoditised travel products and sold them online. They did not focus on looking after consumers, but we will do a much better job of that going forward.
“This is about Web 3.0 and how customer interaction evolves. It’s about interacting with social media, on mobile, online – everything is part of your booking experience.”
Washington could not reveal specifics, but said the next two years will see Expedia’s site undergo a transformation with the key aims of improving the planning stage of booking trips and increase loyalty.
As well as enhancements to the functionality of the core site consumers can expect new mobile apps, social media integration and an expanded product range.
“There are consumers who will always want a traditional search because they know what they want and they want to book it quick.
“But there is a customer base that wants to be inspired and does not know what they want. They want user generated recommendations but they also want recommendations from a travel company in a natural and impartial way.
“It’s not just about having every flight, every hotel in the market readily available, it’s about having the best flight, the best hotel and the best fit for that family and that can be done through web 3.0, through social media, rather than just having a full listing and being driven by price.”
Washington considers many holiday sites which boast about how many millions of deals they have on offer as more focused on industry brinkmanship than offering customers what they want.
“I have seen some dynamic packaging sites recently where they scrape Ryanair and you have to get through 30 pages before you get to any packages without a Ryanair flight,” he said.
Essentially, Expedia is looking to drive up the loyalty that eludes many online players who end up spending millions chasing the customers they do not already have.
“The best customer to have is the one that is loyal and is going to come back time and time again. It’s about making sure our product and our sites and everything we do is tailored to the customers rather than a one size fits all,” said Washington.
The vision for the new approach is being driven from the top by Scott Durschlag, president of Expedia Worldwide and formerly Skype chief operating officer.
Below him Gary Morrison, the former Motorola head of product management and Google global sales chief has been brought in to oversee operations in the EMEA region.
One rung down Washington, who joined after a short stint at the Thomas Cook online travel agency based in London, was recruited to run the UK office.
“We are bringing more travel people in and people with experience in e-commerce. We need additional resources for customer relationship management and customer experience.
“This is about saying we are experts in travel rather than just ‘here’s a website’. What the consumer wants the consumer will find on our site.”