HB ON THE SCENE: Expedia Works to Reduce Travel Friction

LAS VEGASTechnology can improve travel experiences by reducing pain points and stressors along the journey, according to a report released by Expedia Group here at its Explore ’19 conference at The Venetian Las Vegas.

Expedia Group and business strategy firm Magid released the Online Travel Friction Index, finding travelers want suppliers to offer a seamless travel experience, and to quickly and effectively handle any challenges during their travels.

The research is aligned with Expedia Group’s priority focus to unleash the power of its platform to build out traveler and partner solutions that can help knock down the barriers to travel, making it easier, more enjoyable, more attainable and more accessible and, in doing so, ultimately bring the world within reach for billions of people around the globe, according to the company.

Mark Okerstrom, Expedia Group president/CEO, told Hotel Business the company’s ability to offer a number of travel products gives it an advantage in reducing friction for travelers and its travel partners. “If you have a multi-product offering, then it does put you in a good position to remove friction because there is simply more to know about what is happening on the travel journey,” he said. “If someone is on a flight and the flight has a connection and it is delayed, knowing that you can actually change their hotel for them in advance—those are the types of things that put you in a position to do so. I think it continues to be a focus for us to make sure that we can understand what the whole traveler journey is.”

Removing travel friction requires an understanding of customer pain points, according to the report. Expedia Group’s Innovation Lab tests new products continuously, leveraging advanced technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning, eye tracking and face reader technology to understand travelers’ focus on a website and the emotions they experience while booking travel.

These tests recently uncovered the attributes travelers value the most that provide an easy-to-use, frictionless online booking experience. Friction reduction occurs through the creation of extensive end-to-end user experience research, highly efficient coordinated processes, iterative product development and obsession with customer and partner centricity.

“When we think about frictionless travel, we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to find the best and right accommodation for them and then have amazing experiences when they are traveling,” Scott Crawford, VP product and technology, Brand Expedia, told Hotel Business. “Some of the ways we have been investing is really leveraging the huge amount of data we have to help customers make the informed choice. One example would be applying an algorithm to our photo selection so our properties can put photos into our systems that actually help to target exactly what the customer might be interested in.”

The Online Travel Friction Index research identified key factors that reduce traveler friction through a “friction reduction index,” a weighted average numerical score rating more than 15 experience attributes that nearly 850 online travel users, ages 18-55, used to rate their experiences related to research, shopping and booking of travel products on various travel websites. Results from this research identified the top five most impactful friction reduction attributes:

  1. An easily navigable booking website
  2. Inventory that is the best value
  3. Ability to filter and sort a specific room type
  4. Option to redeem special offers
  5. Ability to quickly filter and sort specific hotel location criteria

The company’s two-sided platform approach meets customer demands while simultaneously building innovative technology solutions, and infrastructure for its partners. These tools include examples such as white-label packages that offer hotel partners better website monetization by integrating air and car bookings into their branded sites.

In 2018, Expedia Group spent more than $1.6 billion on technology, with a focus on making its platform seamless for both partners and travelers.

The company’s platform aims to solve partner pain points through different tools, such as the new Partner Central Chatbot, powered by the next generation of the company’s AI Lab’s Centralized Conversational Artificial Intelligence Platform (CCAIP) architecture. This chatbot is a virtual assistant experience providing contextual help and support to partners.

Personalized opportunities for partners generated by a new recommendation engine driven by dozens of machine learning algorithms intertwined together. This central intelligence computes, organizes and passes revenue opportunities to partners, constantly evaluating the state of each partner to identify potential actions they can take and the return reward in doing so. Currently, this engine is generating 2.5 million recommendations and will continue to evolve to be more precise.

“We can help other players in the travel space make their own consumer journeys more seamless. One of the biggest ways we are doing that is with our API solution,” said Shelby Reed, VP North America, Expedia Group Partner Solutions. “In particular, with the machine learning that is driving that. The predictive components of that model take in all of those signals and inputs coming from that massive platform that is Expedia Group and we actually can match it with the unique travel behaviors and preferences of our partners so that when those results are delivered—the sort order and those results are of higher relevance, highly personalized and highly targeted. It means less time booking travel and less time scrolling through results that aren’t relevant to that traveler.”

Brand Expedia launched a trip assistance function on the app, that will alert the hotel a traveler will be checking in, if the traveler is experiencing a flight delay of 8-plus hours, regardless of where the flight was booked. The company is also piloting a shuttle tracking technology program built by Track My Shuttle into the Expedia App, allowing hotel guests to see exactly where to find shuttle pickup for their hotel, and follow along with a live route map.

Egencia, the company’s corporate travel brand, is creating a frictionless booking experience for business travelers by tapping into algorithms and applied machine learning. The business travel management company recently launched Smart Mix, a feature that intelligently analyzes data and complex scenarios, factoring in the personal preferences of each traveler and their company’s travel policy to deliver smarter search results out of hundreds of hotel and flight options. This week, Egencia revealed that the number of flights selected in the top ten North American search results improved by 13%, since Smart Mix for air was launched this summer. Smart Mix for hotel has helped Egencia customers save hundreds of thousands of dollars by optimizing search and sort results, estimating that customers could save over a million dollars by mid 2020 through the service, the company reports.

Expedia is also using its conversations platform to removing friction for both travelers and partners. The platform includes a virtual agent (bot) that offers self-service experiences, all supported and altered by artificial intelligence/machine learning through a configuration console, resulting in reduced effort and a quicker process for making changes to bookings or completing queries. It is currently being used by Expedia Group agents and partner agents, reducing their cognitive load, delivering operational efficiencies and improving satisfaction.