With new start-ups emerging all the time in the travel space, online ‘legacy' players have to find new ways to survive and thrive. Ahead of an imminent announcement Pamela Whitby caught up Benoit Jolin, VP Global Product and Marketing at Expedia Affiliate Network, to find out how the technology and tools arm of Expedia Inc is securing its slice of the cake.
So, you're a booking engine with an inventory of thousands of hotels. Or maybe you're an airline trying to grow ancillary revenues and boost direct bookings. But do you really know your customer? Can you present your customer with the hotel that is right for them? And if so how do you do it?
These are among the questions that are keeping Benoit Jolin VP Global Product and Marketing at Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN) on his toes. For Jolin there has never been a better, more exciting to be in the business of travel - or for that matter to be a traveller. "Today it is incredibly easy for new entrants to enter the travel space and new, disruptive business models are emerging all the time," he says. He adds that this is great news for customers who now have even more choice - and power - to decide how and where they book, experience and even review their trip.
In this mature and competitive market place start-ups can find it hard to survive but even so a lot of innovation is happening in the mobile, social and local search (next will be semantic search and processing) space. This means that ‘legacy' players need to work harder too. "What that means for EAN is that we need to support a much wider array of user experiences," says Jolin. And right now the organisation is working out how it builds a platform that makes this possible. "Initially we had a cake, then we moved onto selling different types of cake, now we are exposing the ingredients so that we can really talk to a target audience," he says.
Innovation is the name of the game
Expedia has always been an early innovator with technology, moving quickly to tap social, mobile search, reviews, user-generated and curated content and so on. So sharing the ingredients that got it to the top of the OTA ladder is a clever move and is based on the recognition that with the proliferation of distribution channels, they will only ever have a slice or two of the cake. "We acknowledge that not everybody is going to want to book through Expedia or Hotels.com," explains Jolin. But if they share ten-year's experience of selling online travel with others in the sector, the slice may well be smaller but they will have a bigger cut of the overall cake.
Right now Jolin's focus is on growing EAN's airline business where he is hoping to help carriers improve their own customers' experience of shopping for and purchasing travel. EAN is currently working with 40 airlines to grow revenue, margins and brand, through adding hotel retailing to their portfolio of services. It is easy to see why: OTAs sell hotel rooms with around 30% of flights sold through the ‘flight-only' channel but with leading airlines that figure is less than 5%, a gap EAN hope to help airlines close. With its web optimisation, search and retail expertise (as well as offering access to a large inventory of hotels) EAN argues it can help airlines capitalise on the vast quantities of data that they hold on their customers, and become a much larger part of their customers' travel experience. The ultimate aim is to help them create an Expedia-style look-alike that works for their business.