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STATEMENT By Gabriel Garcia, Head of Marketing and Channel Strategy, Asia Pacific, Expedia

August 16, 2017 OTA News No Comments Email Email

The past two decades have seen tremendous changes in the travel sector, but even a greater shift is expected over the next five years. One of the key reasons is application of technology and the rise of mobile penetration in Asia. Consumer’s use of technology continues to shape online travel forcing companies like Expedia to take the lead in design, experience and product innovation.

Mr. Gabriel Garcia, Expedia Asia Pacifics Head of Marketing and Channel Strategy, was a guest speaker at the Digi. Travel Conference 2017 in Bangkok on the role and power of technology in the online travel industry space and share Expedia’s view on key factors that will evolve the travel business and understand how the company is preparing to meet changing consumer needs as following.

Overall

  • The next big thing in travel will be better use of information to make the travel inspiration and booking experience more personalized and predictive in real-time.
  • But, big data is not enough – companies must turn data into consumer value in real-time. Expedia.com® is one of the world’s largest full service travel sites, with 200+ travel booking sites in more than 75 countries. Through our scale, we have access to better travel data than anyone in the industry, and we make our data work hard to create a better, personalised, customer experience.
  • The biggest challenge we face in travel is to make the inspiration to booking phase as seamless and frictionless as possible. How do we match the traveller with the best trip for them in the quickest and easiest way possible?
  • To help solve this problem we’ve built an enormous network of nodes that we call the Travel Graph, which provides endless opportunities for our developers and engineers to identify patterns that can drastically improve the online travel experience.
  • In our business relevance of content and conversion are interlinked. Our goal is to give travellers the most relevant data for them, which is why we use pattern recognition that takes data from across Expedia’s brands and delivers insights in a way that consumers find useful. Increased traffic to our websites means we can more effectively match customers with the most relevant content for them.

Virtual Reality

  • Millennials expect technology to further enhance their travel inspiration phase. More than 50 percent of Millennials (source: Millennial Traveller Report) are interested in using VR to help them discover new holiday destinations, and there is a clear expectation for VR to make the standard holiday photo a rich media experience.
  • Fully immersive VR has the potential to captivate potential travellers with style and substance, offering true-to-life expectations and matching wearers to their ideal experience.
  • Social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube will undoubtedly continue to try and develop more immersive content, including the likes of virtual and augmented reality. With high-end devices such as Oculus Rift coming to market, along with more affordable setups such as Google Cardboard, immersive experiences could potentially be used to captivate prospective travellers.
  • The commercial use of VR in the future would allow travellers to have a deeper understanding of what a destination ‘feels’ like, before committing to booking a flight. 

Machine Learning/AI/NLP

  • Expedia has been refining its algorithms since its inception 20 years ago. With the introduction of more advanced technologies, we’ve improved our algorithms, and added components that incorporate some of the fundamentals of machine learning. We started implementing this type of artificial intelligence a few years ago, and it now exists across various parts of our website in small fashions.
  • For example, our flight search algorithm, Best Fare Search (BFS) is a one-of-a-kind product that reduces the nearly infinite set of flight combinations down to a key set of options. The algorithm has been learning the patterns for over ten years.
  • We are testing the ways machine learning can automate and expedite some of our big data tasks. For example, we use machine learning to help refine our sort algorithms, geography tools (associating inventory with specific search regions), recommendations and other areas.
  • We are also experimenting with Natural Language Processing – or turning travellers’ normal questions into searchable content. When you visit Expedia’s homepage, we offer a bunch of fields for travellers to provide – destination they want to visit, dates they want to travel, number of people traveling, etc. Natural Language Search is about making the experience more like a conversation you would have with a spouse or partner. “I want to go to a beach with fun activities for my family.” We have an area on our homepage that allows travellers to search in this manner, as does our Expedia bot for Facebook Messenger.
  • As the data available grows, so will our ability to refine the algorithms that can turn content from natural language processing to a solution that more closely resembles artificial intelligence.

From Information Age – ‘How tech will change the travel experience

  • In a world where artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, facial recognition, augmented reality and big data transform our built environment, opportunities for travel players are vast. The big strength of AI technology is that it can learn from past experiences, use these lessons to evolve, and begin predicting patterns of behaviour.
  • Because AI relies so heavily on data, the travel sector is prime for taking advantage of this technology: every time a person searches, books, and travels, they create new data to be analysed and understood. Using predictive algorithms gives this information more value and allows companies to better present information to consumers.
  • Once a traveller is at their destination, augmented reality (AR) has the potential to transform their experience in a whole host of ways. Museums, visitor centres, zoos and aquariums are already using AR to enhance visitors’ experience with additional information as they tour a space.

Expedias lab uses scientific methodology

  • Expedia’s aim is to bring choice, comparison and, most importantly, convenience to travellers.
  • Through the Usability Lab, UX, product and engineering teams are able to gather real scientific insights in order to deliver this promise.
  • Two primary technical capabilities of the lab include eye tracking and electromyography (EMG) technology.
  • With EMG, small sensors are placed on the cheek and eyebrow of test subjects, and the sensors record tiny changes in the user’s facial muscles. Expedia’s researchers then track the changes in the EMG readings to understand the real-time impact that the experience is having on the subject as he or she navigates the booking process.
  • When paired with eye-tracking, researchers are able to get a sharp read on exactly where the user was looking and what actions they took as a result.

Testing new product innovation

  • In addition to consumer behaviour insights, the lab also gives Expedia an opportunity to test new products.
  • Expedia researchers noticed that travellers manually noted down prices to compare and find the best deal when searching for their trip. Scratchpad – an intelligent personal assistant – was developed to solve this problem.
  • When customers login and search – no matter which device they use – their searches are saved. More importantly, prices are automatically updated with the latest information eliminating the need to start over. Since its launch, Scratchpad has evolved to include price trends and price prediction functionality.

EMG research insights

  • One of our earliest discoveries w/ EMG research is that photos create delight. We were particularly interested in hotel photos being delightful and enhancing the decision making process when shopping for hotels. We’ve done extensive research to help understand what types of photos are delightful and have used findings to influence photo guidelines for our hotel partners.
  • Language (e.g., labels attached to hotels in hotel search results: “Excellent”) can elicit a positive emotion from shoppers when used judiciously. Language related to savings or deals can be particularly positive, especially when the prices truly reflect savings.

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