Emphasizing that he has a “growth mindset” as opposed to scaling back, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern detailed many of his long-term objectives for the company and shared strategies on how it has navigated some of the unique challenges of the last several months.
Kern—who was promoted from vice chairman of the Seattle-based travel giant in April—detailed a number of ongoing initiatives during Expedia’s annual partner conference last week dubbed explore ‘20.
When asked his top three priorities, Kern clearly stated his ambitious expectations.
“I want to really understand the power of the customer and have good outcomes. I want to really drive success for our suppliers with everything we have to offer and I want the best travel technology platform in the world,” he said.
Kern stressed that Expedia Group—which includes a robust lineup of travel brands including Hotels.com; vrbo, Orbitz, Travelocity, trivago, HomeAway, Hotwire, to name a few—is looking to narrow its focus.
“We came in even before the pandemic wanting to simplify things. Expedia was a company built to some extent on a lot of acquisitions and [added] a lot of brands. We ran that play as far as it could go and we were thinking it was time to get a little more refined. The best tech companies in the world tend to do a few things very well, not a thousand things very well. So we had to think about that when it came to brands, technology and when it came to almost everything,” he said, adding, “it’s a big change for us.”
Acknowledging he brings “fresh eyes” to the CEO position, Kern underscored some of the unique consequences of the pandemic.
“I would say in a weird way COVID is a blessing if you want to be a change agent…In terms of really focusing your company it gives you an opportunity to really look starkly and clearly at what’s going on and be able to focus on what really matters,” he said.
Kern further elaborated on the importance of companies focusing on what they do well and enhancing that as Expedia is looking to do.
“We believe technology and the marketplace is where we’re strongest and where we can help everybody. We’re doubling down and tripling down, investing in our technology platform making it really powerful so it can power our suppliers and our customers to better outcomes. That’s what we’re totally leaning into,” he said, later adding, “we have a big agenda about driving he things we’re really good at on the technology side.”
Kern was asked specifically about the company’s vrbo brand, a vacation rental online marketplace, which has performed particularly well throughout the last several months.
“Anybody in the vacation rental business got lucky. There are winners and losers unfortunately in the pandemic. We cover everything so for every good thing we have we have two bad things but vrbo has been a great thing. The positioning for vrbo is family; we like to say it’s whatever your family is. It’s bigger groups traveling together wanting space. That’s really what vrbo is. It’s all about the whole home experience and that’s been a particularly attractive experience during COVID…I think it’s a great experience and I think it has a very clear lane,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kern stressed the importance of equality within the company and pointed out that Expedia has “very definite plans about inclusion” from a corporate standpoint. He added that the company’s Orbitz brand is going a “layer deeper” with some of its recent efforts. In September, the brand launched site filters highlighting LGBTQIA welcoming hotels. The microsite, Orbitz.com/Pride, includes hotels, travel advice, inspiration, and attractions that support and are allies of the LGBTQIA community.
“They’ve oriented a bunch of their content to help those travelers travel more safely, easily and successfully…I would say more broadly we want to be able to help all underserved travelers. There are many groups who face issues that may not be common to all of us. We want to make sure we do everything we can to help those travelers be successful and be happy and go to places that will make great trips,” he noted.
Kern also touted the expansion of the company’s key partnerships, particularly when it comes to leveraging data. As an example, in 2019 Marriott pioneered the optimized distribution solution with Expedia Group. The company recently rolled out its optimized distribution program for all medium to large-size lodging partners, allowing them to tap into new areas of B2B demand and giving them increased control of their B2B rates, availability and content across a network of global travel providers. Kern noted that a number of hotel companies, including IHG, have now joined the program.
“It’s giving us an opportunity to help our partners simplify, to save money, and to manage the marketplace better. It’s a win/win. The more supply partners who go that route will end up with a much healthier eco system that we can help power and we can make it more successful for them. Obviously it helps us as well and creates a better marketplace. That’s just one example of many things we will do in the future, we want all our supply partners to optimize their business,” he noted.
The CEO provided some more examples of partnerships and the importance of leveraging its strengths.
“We want to use the power of the tools and the things we’re good at it; data, tools understanding the marketplace. We’ve worked with airlines on understanding where demand was coming back so they could think about load balancing and other things for the future. I think that’s where we have a lot of value. I’ve said internally to the company ‘we have the most complete set of travel data in the world and we’ve got to use it to help our customers make great choices and to help our supply partners succeed.’ That should be our whole purpose around our data,” stated Kern.
Finally, Kern acknowledged his reputation as a “restructuring guy” but insisted his focus going forward for the company is on growth.
“I really believe in the growth of our business and our industry. Even though you have to do tough things like restructurings and cutting costs…it’s part of getting your business right. But I have a growth mindset and that’s what I want for the company,” he said.