Thursday, November 22, 2007

You don’t have to be a global brand to reach for the Holy Grail

Our latest column in Travel Weekly:

The Travolution team had the pleasure of hearing Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Expedia, speak at a conference in Florida last week.

Khosrowshahi faces similar problems to bosses of other travel companies: changing consumer behaviour, economic pressures, and competition at every turn – but just on a global scale.

Although Expedia’s 11 years in operation have given it the opportunity for first mover advantage in so many areas, it still grapples with what is still the Holy Grail of online travel: replicating the role of the traditional travel agency.

The online world, Khosrowshahi says, still needs to find a way of mirroring the interaction and knowledge a user might experience when they talk to an agent.

This probably doesn’t keep Khosrowshahi awake at night, but it remains a problem for online travel agencies as they attempt to woo the offline refuseniks to the Internet.

Expedia in the UK won a Travolution award earlier this year for a number of reasons, but its Inspirator tool played a major part. A section on its website narrows down ideas for holidays by combining simple preferences such as type (beach, culture, nightlife) with location and length of stay.

Khosrowshahi probably knows this isn’t enough. He offers three tips for online: use e-mail and customer relationship management better; segment users so offers and products can be targeted better; and improve online search.

Most people will realise all of these ideas use data and user preferences to a huge degree.

But while few online travel firms will have the budget to implement this strategy, fewer will have to worry about the requirements of a global brand.

Good CRM and customer segmentation should not be beyond the capabilities of most travel firms – and, with emerging technology around the corner, intelligent search will follow soon.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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