Orbitz Worldwide’s Barney Harford

By Kate Rice

Barney HarfordAt the PhoCusWright Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, Orbitz CEO Barney Harford talked with retail editor Kate Rice about the company’s stock price ($2.13 last week compared with Expedia’s $55.47 and Priceline’s $616), its business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) efforts and his stance on airlines’ ancillary services pricing. But it’s not all work and no play for Harford; he also talked about his favorite surfing spots and, in a video from the interview, featured below, about some of his adventures in getting there. 

Q: What does Orbitz’s low stock price mean for the company?

We’ve got a bunch of debt as a company that is more highly leveraged. Typically you see more volatility in the stock price. This is something we’ve lived with and something I am sure we will continue to live with. I feel good about the trajectory that we’re making and the value that we’re adding to consumers. It’s not something that we pay too much attention to.

Q: What’s the trajectory you’re talking about, starting with your B2C initiatives?

We have one of the best-performing and highest-performing travel apps, which allows you to shop and book for airline tickets and hotel rooms and car rentals. One of our competitors rolled out its app for flight search today; we’ve had one out there for two years. We rolled out our latest iPhone [app], and when we asked consumers to book flights, hotel and car rental, it was mind-blowing. They were able to do it in half the time using Orbitz than on our competitor’s app.

One of the reasons is because of the way we integrate the shopping and booking experience. The ease of use, simplicity and speed of our app is killing the competition. That is one reason 21% of our standalone hotel bookings on Orbitz.com are from our mobile app. … Over 10% of our air is sold through mobile.

Q: What are you doing in B2B?

We have our private-label distribution business. We just launched the world’s largest private-label site for American Express. We won it from one of our competitors in Dallas. We launched in the third quarter and will start to get real revenue in Q4; we are still ramping up.

We also have Orbitz for Business. We have a 90% adoption rate for online booking compared to 60% for our competitors. Travelers prefer to book online; it’s empowering. And when they book themselves, they make better use of their corporate travel providers.

Q: What’s your stance on the current debate about how to distribute airline ancillary services and enable airline customers to comparison shop the cost of an airline ticket, including these fees?

We provide our customers with a way to get access to those fees, but it is hard to get a robust feed because we are still waiting for transparency and transactablity. The airlines don’t want a level playing field. They want customers to think the product costs less than it does. We want to encourage the government to take action.

We use ITA for travel search and the GDS for booking. These entities have the technology to do it; that is why we need regulation. The DOT is actively engaged. I have been to the White House to make this point very clear, with the CEOs of the GDSs and a number of representatives of the OTAs. We feel very strongly about this.

Q: What is your favorite surfing site, and can you book it in Orbitz?

My favorite site is down in Baja [Mexico]. You can fly into Loreto or La Paz and from there it is a four- to six-hour drive. But it’s a secret place. (Hear more from Harford on his surfing exploits in the video below.) 

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.

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