Opinion By Zuhairah Washington, SVP, Strategic Partners, Lodging and Vacation Rental, Expedia Group
While the past year has been a tumultuous ride, the light is blinking brightly at the end of the tunnel for the Australian travel industry. With a trans-Tasman bubble open and whispers of more to come over the coming months, Australia is already taking big steps away from a domestic-only market.
But before we rush to snap back to business as usual, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve learned about our industry, and ourselves, during this difficult time. To this end, the team at Expedia Group has been listening carefully and learning actively from our partners and shared travellers – the collective voices of travel – so we are prepared to meet their emerging travel needs. Here are a few of our key learnings:
Travelers Want to Travel – with New Safety Standards
While travel behavior has been heavily impacted, the desire to travel is still high but only if safety and security measures are taken and communicated. Our new standards include cleanliness and safety protocols, with filters applicable across our lines of business, travel restriction notifications in our shopping experience and early online check-in for both hotels and rental cars.
New Era of Flexibility
As we shifted focus on meeting the new needs of all travellers, a key learning was the need for greater flexibility. Eight in 10 travellers are now more likely to choose a property with a flexible cancellation policy, which is why we have made sure that 70% of lodging rate plans on Expedia Group sites are now refundable. These innovations and new travel products will give travellers the confidence they need and ultimately drive demand back to our lodging partners.
Inclusiveness as the Norm
When we say “every voice matters” we are also challenging ourselves to listen to and empower different traveller groups, including LGBTQIA travellers. As destinations reopen, industry experts foresee that LGBTQIA travellers are likely to be among the first to hit the road however, our learnings have taught us that not all destinations are equally inclusive. To that end, Expedia Group last year launched a microsite geared towards LGBTQIA travellers, sharing properties that meet a high inclusivity standard. We are so proud of working alongside our lodging partners to ensure allyship and support.
Partners Need Innovation – with Simplifying Technology
Small independent hotels cite complexity as their biggest challenge when adopting technology. So, we made enhancements to our partner-facing platform, Partner Central, to let lodging partners quickly make informed decisions using simple tools. We have also extended our AI-powered virtual agent to provide on-demand support for lodging partners including answering basic questions and accomplishing tasks such as reviewing cancellation policies for a specific booking or editing cancellation policies. This year, we will develop even further the skills of the virtual agent to include things like building promotions, adding rate plans, researching rates and inventory. This technology will help hoteliers complete tasks faster and virtually at any time.
Anticipating Demand with Data
Data and insights will be crucial to understanding where pockets of demand are coming from. To help lodging partners know where the market is today and how demand is evolving, Expedia Group has created new data science features and forward-looking metrics which pre-empt where their market is heading. Available for free in Partner Central, one of these new tools is ‘Rev+ Insights API’. It allows connectivity partners and other service providers to bring lodging partners real-time insights and improve decision-making.
Controlling Wholesale Inventory
Controlling inventory within a complex and fragmented wholesale distribution landscape has been an ongoing challenge for our lodging partners. We first looked to help solve this with Marriott in 2019, with the Optimised Distribution Program. The results have been game-changing, with an 80% reduction in rate parity issues in metasearch for Marriott. This solution is now available to mid and large-sized lodging partners, allowing them to tap into new areas of B2B demand and access to 100,000+ travel agents and over 1,000 API which, combined, reach millions of travellers in every part of the globe.
Improving During Downturns
Travel is an industry powered by people. Expedia Group’s existence is intrinsically linked with travel workers around the world. Last year, when we saw the far-reaching impact that this pandemic was having, we wanted to find ways to help people weather the storm. So, we created Expedia Group Academy, a free education program designed to bring new skill sets to furloughed travel industry workers and smaller lodging partners. Nearly 2,000 people joined the learning modules in 2020 and the full program remains available on our online learning platform.
We’re now in a new year. One that brings hope and yes, travel.
Our priority is to continue to listen, to ensure that our travellers can regain confidence, and that our lodging partners have all they need to build back their businesses better so that together we restore our beloved industry. Travel is a force for good and we’re here to facilitate connections between travellers and our partners that truly bring good into the world.