How Expedia Plans to Make Travel More Social
Some online travel sellers see an enormous business opportunity in working with bloggers, as well as connecting your friends with your travel plans.
On a recent Monday afternoon, executives at online travel agency Expedia (EXPE) invited 16 bloggers for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood. The steak burritos and green chile enchiladas were richly aromatic, but the bloggers had caught a whiff of something even more tantalizing: money. The lunch, along with meetings with top executives at the company’s suburban headquarters and a corporate suite at that night’s Seattle Seahawks football game, was part of a charm offensive aimed at developing a relationship with bloggers. Expedia, the biggest online travel agent, hopes bloggers can serve as an important plank in its effort to re-engineer the way people shop for hotel and airplane tickets by incorporating those transactions into a marketplace driven by social networks.
“If our goal is to get closer to travelers … bloggers are a very interesting place to us,” says Joe Megibow, vice-president of Expedia U.S. And while Expedia isn’t looking to add a roster of bloggers to its payroll, the company is likely to fund trips for bloggers it deems influential—those with sufficient audience and voice. Expedia would likely use the bloggers’ videos, photos, and writing on its site, without influencing content. The company considers bloggers an untapped resource in an industry whose media strategies are often dictated by newspaper travel sections, magazines, and public relations firms, said Sarah Keeling, the Expedia public relations executive overseeing the effort.
The idea that your friends might alert you to cool stuff while flagging the dreck is not a new one. Industries as diverse as retail, radio, and restaurants have leapt into social networking with gusto in recent years. People tend to trust their friends’ opinions. The $109 billion annual online travel market has been notable for not deploying the mountains of data found on social networks to suggest potential trips, or to connect your friends’ experiences with a hotel or resort you may be researching at a site such as Orbitz (OWW) or Expedia. “Think about what Amazon (AMZN)has done around personalization and recommendations. And we see nothing like that around online travel,” says Douglas Quinby, a senior director for travel research firm PhoCusWright.