Big data, technology drive Expedia and HomeAway’s growth in APAC

As the digital transformation wave sweeps across the tourism industry, travel retailers are waking up to the need to leverage technology to unlock insights from big data and optimise inbound travel flows.

Riding the technology boom to expand its reach in Asia-Pacific, Expedia has been working with governments and tourism boards in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia to help them leverage existing travel and search data to promote inbound tourism, while expanding tourism to second-tier cities.

From left: Expedia’s Lavinia Rajaram, HomeAway’s Judith Davidson, and Expedia’s Gabriel Garcia discuss how technology has unlocked opportunities for their businesses in the Asia-Pacific region

In the case of Thailand, Expedia teamed up with Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote the country’s secondary destinations on its platform, shared Lavinia Rajaram, regional head of communications (APAC), Expedia, at a recent media roundtable organised by Expedia and its vacation rentals arm HomeAway to discuss the trends that have shaped travel in the last decade.

“When (TAT) was looking to promote secondary cities, it first started off as a co-branded marketing campaign. We were working with our media solutions team to develop digital campaigns and also looking at countries that Thailand was looking to boost inbound arrivals,” she said.

Marketing campaigns aside, Rajaram shared that Expedia was also looking at upscaling the hoteliers in these secondary destinations, so that users get that authentic experience that they are searching for outside of big cities like Bangkok.

“Working with our lodging team, we brought these hoteliers onto our platform, and trained them on how to use revenue management. We also conducted training sessions for these hoteliers to ensure that they have the right experiences. We also helped local tour operators to obtain proper licenses so we can bring them onto our platform, and give travellers that all-rounded experience,” she said.

AI also plays a big part in Expedia’s aim to grow its footprint in the region as well as improve the consumer experience for Asian travellers. In Singapore, AI is being used to enhance travel search query understanding and improve the accuracy of search query resolution in Asian languages.

Earlier this year, Expedia Group inked a collaboration with AI Singapore under its 100 Experiments programme to leverage natural language processing and machine learning to develop an AI-based model to enhance search query understanding in the Japanese language and other Asian languages. On the customer front, AI is being integrated into the Expedia Line chat app to improve customer experience.

Gabriel Garcia, Expedia’s global head of mobile marketing and app ecosystems, told TTG Asia: “AI and the utilisation of technology are powering our growth globally, and a big part of that growth comes from the Asia-Pacific region. There are things that have emerged in this region before anywhere else. For example, the (emergence) of AI and chatbots, and messaging apps like Line in Japan, was within this region.”

Globally, more than 50 per cent of traffic arrive on Expedia Group sites via mobile, with much of that mobile centricity concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Garcia.

With mobile being a big force for travel, Garcia said that speed is king when delivering those mobile experiences. “The way that we approach travel today is on an end-to-end basis because the mobile device allows us to serve our customer from when they are at the inspiration phase to during their trip. We got to take not a mobile-first, but mobile-only approach, as the younger generations are very likely not going to interact with a platform that is not mobile,” he said.

Driven by the big data and technology boom, travellers are increasingly expecting personalised services from travel providers.

That push for personalisation has also led to HomeAway launching Virtual Tours in Bali this August, a new proprietary product that harnesses virtual technology to offer 360-degree walk-throughs of the site’s properties. First launched in the US last November, Bali is the second market outside of the US and the first market in Asia-Pacific to offer virtual tours.

Judith Davidson, region director for Asia, HomeAway, told TTG Asia that Virtual Tours help build that layer of trust, especially in the Asia-Pacific market, where staying in vacation homes is still not the norm.

“Our number one priority (in Asian markets) is building trust because (holiday homes) are a relatively new way to stay in Asia. It’s pretty common in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but it’s still relatively new for Asian families to think about staying this way. So it’s critical for us to build that trust with them,” said Davidson.

“Our focus is really on families and groups. One of the things we found is that for family trips, the ones doing the bookings are often the mums who will be thinking about all the practical things. So Virtual Tours was a way for us to help give her peace of mind. It’s adding that layer of trust because what you see is what you get. And we have seen an increase in engagement, and therefore, an increase in conversion for those properties with Virtual Tours.”

Another tech-centric product rolled out by HomeAway this year is Trip Boards, a group planning feature for travellers to save their favourite properties, while enabling them to discuss and plan their trips in collaboration with their travel party.

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