Expedia has soft-launched new ski pages that offer an insight into how the website is set to be revolutionised over the next 12 months.
The new UK ski product pages have been redesigned to offer customers a much more immersive experience than simply searching for offers.
They have been built in the UK using Expedia’s new E3 development platform that the firm says will ensure by the end of this year the site will be unrecognisable compared to today’s offering.
Andy Washington, Expedia’s UK managing director, said: “We are starting to look at how we deliver our pages and our approach based around what the consumer wants.
“This is about making sure we increase conversion and consumer retention, not just having a typical web page with a search box and hoping they will convert based on the deal price point.”
The revamped ski pages have sought to address a number of key issues customers were found in research to have had booking holidays.
Although experienced skiers who know where they want to go will be able to book through a traditional search box, first timers or the undecided have much more information to help them.
It is hoped the pages will be more inspirational for those customers who are researching where they want to go.
Peter Parkes, Expedia head of social media, said: “We have been looking at online experiences that take visitors outside of the functional, the ordinary, to be more inspirational.
“The old pages were lists of destinations and prices. Some of the elements are critical and we need to cater for the traveller who knows where they want to go and when and just want prices.
“But our previous experience did not really allow people to compare places if they did not know where they wanted to go. We have rebuilt it from the ground up.
“The key is to get people through that decision making process, to give people a much more comprehensive level of information and to build trust in Expedia as a brand.”
To address this, Expedia has been working to draw in more content like photography, live snow reports and resort ski run maps so customers can make more informed decisions.
At the time of launch the new pages feature a limited selection of 12 resorts picked to cover the diversity of ski options available, but this will be expanded over time.
Pages have been designed in a much more infographic format, each featured resort having tabs offering ‘at a glance’ details, deals, a more detailed information page and a ski run map.
In time Expedia hopes to use exploit social media to draw in more live content from its customers including pictures and videos from the slopes.
“Ski is the ultimate social holiday; you are taking photos all the time and there’s so much you want to share about what you are getting up to,” Parkes said.
“Social media is the natural phase two of this because there is just so much out there. The opportunity for us is to think about harnessing that content to support a retail experience.”
The new ski pages have been designed in partnership with London-based agency Made By Many, and draw their influence from other sectors, in particular food retailing, said Parkes.
“We are increasingly bringing companies like Made By Many into the fold to think more holistically about the problems people have searching for travel online rather than formulaically.
“Solution one was to completely rethink how you retail ski on a website.”
Although the new ski pages are currently aimed specifically at the UK market the approach is likely to be rolled out to other markets.
Expedia is also looking at taking the learnings from the ski project and applying them to other sectors, with beach next on the radar.
Washington said the flexibility of the E3 platform means Expedia can continue to hone the offering, adding new elements and regionalising to suit certain markets.
“Content is available all over the internet – it’s sourcing the right content for your customers and the right providers. There is more that we will add and iterate over time.
“We certainly very much have a licence to innovate within the regional operation. In the context of the global strategy we get the support we need in order to deliver things at a regional level which often get snapped up globally.
“A lot of OTAs in the past have really only built transactional websites that lack content and that means everything is driven by price. This is a very different Expedia – still huge-scale but very much consumer-focused.”
Washington said ski was “small-scale” for Expedia but one in which it “under-indexes” online and this project was a low-risk opportunity to up its game in the niche market.
In tandem Expedia has launched its Ski Companion Facebook app which is set to address the other major problem for ski bookers – the fact that many holidays involve groups, often including individuals who do not know each other that well.
Research has shown that 55% of ski holidays are booked using more than one credit card and take at least 20 emails to plan. The Facebook app helps groups of ‘friends’ choose their holiday by voting on options.
Expedia has not cracked the multiple payments problem, but says it is working on a solution so that the trip can be paid for in one transaction with the primary customer does not having to chase others in the group for the money.
No above the line promotion is planned for the new ski offering but Expedia will exploit its traditional email, SEO and social media channels to increase awareness.
Washington said early indications were good with conversions trebling over the same period last year.
“We are the largest travel company on earth and our investment in technology is significant, and the investment in the E3 platform has been the driver to be able to do this.
“We will see front end and back end developments on a big scale moving through 2012. You will see a very different Expedia in 12 months time.”