For the first time this year, Expedia invited hotel trade press to its annual partners conference at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I had the opportunity to attend, and I’ll be sharing some of the company’s growth strategies early next week.
As I fly back from the conference, I’m left wondering why exactly the hotel trade press was invited this year as opposed to previous years. Some may think it’s because Expedia wants to win the hotel trade media over so fewer negative headlines appear about unfair commissions and the importance of booking direct. While that may be part of it, I also believe something has clicked with Expedia. I think Expedia and its family of brands finally realized they NEED those hotel partners and NEED to better explain their respective value propositions to those hoteliers—at the property level and the corporate level. Also, it’s clearly evident that Expedia is worried about Google’s entrance into the travel distribution space and needs backup heading into that fight.
The partners conference attracted approximately 2,500 attendees this week and a majority of them were hotel owners and GMs, as well as airline and car partners. During general sessions, Expedia executives spoke directly to hoteliers, touting how the two can work together to create a “winning ecosystem.”
They talked about evolving travel technology and how speeding up search results can benefit hoteliers. Instead of classifying Expedia as a distribution channel, Expedia executives said they’d rather think of themselves as a marketing channel. They spoke often about the secondary benefits of online travel agents and the billboard effect.
Also, Expedia took a page from Google’s playbook by saying their ultimate priority is satisfying the consumer because “if the consumer wins, we will all win.”
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But that’s about the only props Expedia executives gave Google. Instead, they shared more concern about where Google’s travel products will go and asked hoteliers, airline executives and car rental business owners to start thinking about how they can collaborate to stay relevant.
“The single biggest thing we’ll be dealing with next year is the entrance of Google,” said Scott Durchslag, president of Expedia Worldwide.
Durchslag said Google’s paid-search model is the “biggest legal money-making scheme that’s been done in the history of capitalism.
“If you think your distribution costs have been high in the past, think about the next three years,” he said. “(Search-engine marketing) is not free and all of us are competing with each other for those bids.”
Expedia executives say they’ve always valued their partners, which is why they created a Partner Services Group, but this week they used words like “respect” and “humility.” Without their supplier partners, Expedia and its family of brands wouldn’t exist, and it appears they’ve finally realized it.
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