With hotel demand on a sharp decline since the Coronavirus pandemic started in March, travel related businesses of all types have had to pivot and find creative ways to support their customers and Expedia is no exception.
The Seattle, WA-based online travel giant—which includes Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Vrbo and more—has put in place a number of new initiatives aimed at helping its hotel partners as well as consumers.
Rachel Bird, vp, market management for North America, Expedia Group, took part in a threaded discussion on Hotel Community Forum earlier this week to discuss how the company reacted to the challenges created by the pandemic.
“From the start we responded by focusing on the most critical actions we could on behalf of our supply partners. We revised our cancellation policies, updated our lodging tools to make it easier for partners to manage or cancel bookings directly, and we created scalable programs and tools. Additionally, we launched our industry recovery program in May committing $275 million to help partners rebound from COVID-19,” she said.
Bird later added, “we are continuing to listen to our partners and customers to reimagine and rebuild a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable global travel platform. We will learn together”
The company’s industry partner recovery program has resulted in financial relief in 114 countries. In addition, participating properties are producing roughly 23 percent more room nights compared to non-participating properties, according to Bird.
Furthermore, roughly one-third of Expedia contracted properties have updated their listings on the new health and hygiene tool, which was launched as part of the program. The newly added feature allows lodging partners to highlight the health and hygiene measures they are taking at their hotels.
“At the moment that is so important to our travelers. More now than ever, our customers want to see content, health and hygiene information, etc.,” he said.
Bird pointed out that there are “a series of global initiatives” that make up the recovery program and provided a breakdown of how the $275 million was allocated.
“To support lodging partners we committed $250 million to help them rebuild their business, attract high-value guests, and optimize cash flow. To better understand when demand will return, we created a new and improved dashboard called Market Insights that offers proprietary search data from across the Expedia Group Business. To support destinations we’re providing $25 million in advertising for destination recovery. To support the restoration of our travel industry we launched Expedia Group Academy, a complimentary training and education program to help displaced travel professionals,” she stated.
Since guest satisfaction is always critical for the company, Bird noted the company remains vigilant about transparency.
“We are always working with our partners to ensure our properties are showcasing their content, amenities, etc. Anything that helps the guest understand what their experience will be,” she said.
In August, Expedia rolled out its optimized distribution program, which is geared toward medium to large-size lodging partners, according to Bird.
“It allows them to tap into new areas of B2B demand and gives them increased control of their B2B rates, availability and content across a network of global travel providers. Larger lodging partners with the capability to load a large volume of rates on our platform can load B2B rates directly into Expedia Group, which will flow through to third-party providers. This helps to increase their distribution reach, demand and incremental bookings during- and post-COVID-19 recovery,” she said.
Bird added, “properties can also benefit from access to more than 100,000 travel agents and over 1,000 API [application programming interface] and template partners that combined reach millions of travelers in every part of the globe. This enables them to reduce cost and overall complexity.”
When it comes to leisure travel projections, Bird maintained there are some reasons for optimism as she referenced some recent surveys, particularly when it comes to drive-to destinations. She noted that, for example, research company BVA BDRC—an international consumer insight consultancy and part of Paris based BVA Group—conducted a study in June that indicated nearly 40% of consumers polled planned to book an accommodation within the next three months.
In addition, some 47 percent showed interest in destinations in the mountains or to a lake, likely due to the remoteness and potential ease to social distance responsibly. Furthermore, Expedia Group Media Solutions recently determined in new research that customers are three times more likely to rent a car for a leisure trip than they were pre-COVID.
Bird acknowledged the deep impact of the pandemic on the travel industry and took a look ahead. “Restoring travel will take an unprecedented level of partnership. The key now is for us to work together to come out of this by communicating clearly to guests and working to rebuild traveler confidence. We will continue to listen to our customers and partners and learn together. We still have a long way to go but we’re optimistic for the future. As it continues to pick up, we will be ready,” she noted.