HB ON THE SCENE: Expedia Conference Pinpoints Opportunities for 2015

LAS VEGAS—This year’s Expedia Partner Conference, held here at the Bellagio, brought together more than 3,700 travel professionals, making it the company’s biggest conference to date.

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Expedia Inc. and Brand Expedia, highlighted some accomplishments and points of focus for the company. “We think the level of innovation and speed in this company is greater than it ever has been,” he said, noting that the addition of Trivago is one of the things the company is most excited about. “Trivago is the largest and fastest-growing hotel-only metasearch out there with over 80 million unique monthly visits,” he said, adding that the addition of Wotif.com, an Australian-based online travel company, was another source of excitement.

Khosrowshahi noted that, historically, Expedia has been aggressive about investing in technology, pointing to the company’s Scratchpad solution, as well as a focus on real-time data within Expedia Partner Central. “If you book through our app, you would have gotten real-time reviews that ask you how was your check-in, how’s the room, etc.,” he said. “The information you provide us instantly goes into Expedia Partner Central so the hotel is getting feedback in real time and, if you have a problem, then the hotel is going to have a chance to respond to that problem right now.”

There will also be a focus on adding to its portfolio of accommodations. “Today, we have over 365,000 hotels in over 200 countries,” Khosrowshahi said. “We’re looking to add aggressively, and also augment the hotel portfolio with other products like vacation rentals.”

Mark Okerstrom, CFO, Expedia, Inc., addressed the global economy, noting that 2014 was an OK year all around. He reported that GDP was up 2.2% in the U.S., but “more importantly, consumer confidence is up 9%. They’re feeling decent about things.”

He added that, in Europe, there are challenges—GDP was up 0.8% while consumer confidence is up 3.5%—because of the weakening euro. “It’s more expensive for them to travel,” he said. Okerstrom also noted that the GDP in China is up 7.3% and consumer confidence is up 1.8%, but its economy “is starting to slow down.”

However, there are some bright spots on the horizon. “There are some tailwinds,” said Okerstrom. “The price of oil is going down and it’s putting more money in the hands of consumers.” He noted that the average American will save anywhere from $400-1000 just by paying less on gas and heating oil. “The average trip usually contains $350 of hotel spend, and it’s reasonable to believe some of that will end up in travel,” he said.

The other tailwind is the strength of e-commerce,” he said. “In the next five years, we expect e-commerce to double in size… Mobile commerce is the new e-commerce.

“There is strength in the travel industry,” he continued, noting that ADR is up around the world. Okerstrom also noted that a big advantage for U.S. hoteliers is that international travelers are exploring beyond the major gateway markets, with areas like Napa Valley, CA; Reno, NV; and Yosemite National Park seeing huge increases.