LAS VEGAS -- Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom assured
hoteliers attending the Expedia Partner Conference that the rapid rise of Expedia's
vacation rental business is not a huge threat, but he did encourage hoteliers
to step up their game.
Expedia users searching for vacation accommodations will
find a mix of hotel and HomeAway results (Expedia acquired HomeAway three years
ago). HomeAway may have an edge in swaying consumers booking
a family vacation.
"Do you know how hard it is, as a family of four, to
book connecting hotel rooms online?" Okerstrom said. "It's
impossible. Hotels have the inventory, but the data is just not there. I think
they need to wake up and actually make that available and be competitive for
"I also think there are opportunities for people who
want a kitchen or a little more room. Our [hotel] chain partners have some
incredible product, and we need to showcase that and advertise that more
Nevertheless, vacation rentals are just "one small
piece" of Expedia's business, Okerstrom said. Vacation rentals won't be a
fit for every customer.
"You are not going to stay in an alternative
accommodation every time you go somewhere," he said. "But if we're
going to be customer-centric, then we need to have everything."
Artificial intelligence a game-changer
On the technology front, Okerstrom called artificial
intelligence (AI) the most important emerging tool for travel players,
particularly in regard to personalization.
"AI just changes the game," said Okerstrom. "We
used to take huge data sets and run algorithms on them to tell us what we
should do next. This could take us days, but now we're doing that in hours, and
hours will go to minutes, and minutes will go to seconds. And 675 million
people visit Expedia Group sites every month, so with that type of power and
volume, you can start to treat every individual differently in real time. AI
makes personalization an absolute reality."
While voice technology is emerging, it won't be impactful on
its own. For travel shopping and booking, "it's hard to imagine a world
where the best way to communicate the answer doesn't involve a photo or image,"
he said. Expedia will likely create a more "integrated experience,"
offering a visual on-screen component to complement information received via
Not straying too far
Meanwhile, Okerstrom emphasized that the company would
likely stay laser-focused on building out its existing travel businesses. He
said that Booking Holdings' acquisition of restaurant reservation service OpenTable
has fallen short of expectations, proving "that you have to be very
careful about making assumptions" about synergies between travel and other
Okerstrom expressed interest in pouring significant
investment into the company's corporate travel business, which he wants to make "significantly larger." The company is also
exploring the addition of more retail stores (Expedia owns travel agency
franchise Expedia CruiseShipCenters).
"We have hundreds of stores and power 150,000 travel
agents with our technology using our platform," Okerstrom said, adding
that physical stores are particularly effective when selling cruise and luxury travel.
"Not unlike Amazon, we'll look at how can we use these shops to access
more of the market."