Every Voice Matters: Shaping a Better Travel Ecosystem – By Zuhairah Washington

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Every Voice Matters: Shaping a Better Travel Ecosystem

By Zuhairah Washington, SVP, Strategic Partners, Lodging and Vacation Rental, Expedia Group

While the past year has been a tumultuous ride, the good news is that as we head into spring, the light is blinking brightly at the end of the tunnel for the most of US and Asia Pacific markets and we’re on track to come out of this experience all the wiser. 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 travelers – 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 travelers, a key learning was the need for greater flexibility. Eight in 10 travelers are now more likely to choose a property with a flexible cancellation policy[1], 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 travelers 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 traveler groups, including LGBTQIA travelers. As destinations reopen, industry experts foresee that LGBTQIA travelers are likely to be among the first to hit the road[2], 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 travelers, 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 Optimized 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 travelers 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 travelers 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 travelers and our partners that truly bring good into the world.

Zuhairah is a Senior Technology Executive, Public Company Board Director (NASDAQ: FIVE), and Angel Investor who delivers billion-dollar outcomes for start-ups to Fortune 500 leaders Expedia Group (NASDAQ: EXPE) and Uber (NYSE: UBER). She brings 15+ years of experience in hyper scalability across complex B2B and B2C environments, navigating digital transformation and business model disruption in consumer, hospitality/travel, real estate, retail, fintech, transportation, logistics, and e-commerce marketplace businesses.

[1] Vrbo Research reveals emerging travel trends, 2020

[2] Harris Poll research, 2020