Belfast Telegraph

Four taps on a mobile can book hotel rooms just about anywhere

It has been a bumpy road at times for online travel firms but, as James Thompson discovered, Expedia Worldwide now says it has found the right route

Many bosses show passion for their businesses without ever having walked the walk. This accusation can't be levelled at Scott Durchslag, the president of Expedia Worldwide, the online travel business.

He jokes that his passion for travel started with his first trip to London when he was still at college and since then his holidays became "progressively more adventurous until I got married".

In fact, he has even climbed to Everest base camp from both the Nepalese and Tibetan side. However, it is likely that Expedia hired Mr Durchslag more for his extensive technology and business background than his mountaineering skills.

Certainly his credentials seem to fit the bill, as he joined Expedia earlier this year from Skype Technologies, where he was chief operating officer. He previously held several senior roles at Motorola, which no doubt also helped his job application at Expedia.

Mr Durchslag now runs the strategy and operations of Expedia, part of Expedia Inc, the world's largest online travel company, which houses brands including Hotels.com, TripAdvisor and Egencia.

Mr Durchslag has strong views about the direction of travel required at Expedia, such as fast-growing markets in Asia and adopting mobile technology.

But he admits its growth curve has not been as straight as desired after rivals caught up with the online travel pioneer.

Expedia was founded as a small division within Microsoft in 1996 but was spun out of the software giant three years later to become a listed entity on the Nasdaq.

One reason for Expedia losing momentum was that rival online travel specialists "copied" elements of its model. Mr Durchslag says: "We were first 15 years ago and built that technology on a platform that needed to be dramatically improved and other followers copied our model, did it later and built it on what was then new technology.

"Expedia invented online travel in the first innings. I think we were too slow in the second innings and now in the third we are playing a big, rapid game of catch-up with ourselves in certain parts of the world." Asia is a key area of its growth at this stage of the game.

The Asia-Pacific travel market grew by 17% to $256bn (£139bn) in 2010 and actually overtook the US to become the second-largest regional market, according to market research firm Phocuswright.

Playing catch-up in this region, Expedia unveiled a joint venture with the low-cost airline AirAsia to cover Asia Pacific in March. The new venture has exclusive online third-party distribution rights in the region for AirAsia, AirAsiaX and travel packages.

The joint venture will offer packages that span more than 130,000 hotels and more than 300-strong airlines that Expedia works with.

While Expedia now operates localised websites in 22 countries, Mr Durchslag says that "local knowledge and sensitivity to local cultures" is critical in Asia.

In May Expedia unveiled a hotel booking application for Google's Android mobile devices that allows users to make a booking anywhere in the world with just four taps on their keyboard. Equally as clever is that Expedia Hotels automatically uses global satellite navigation technology to give travellers an easy way to research, filter and book rooms relevant to their location from a mobile device.

While the use of smartphones is high on these shores, the company has also observed two distinct trends in booking behaviour in the UK, where Expedia launched in 1998.

Mr Durchslag says the British are now more "price conscious because of the recession" and it has also seen more travel within the UK.

For instance, in the first quarter of this year, Expedia UK experienced a 96.4% leap in searches for destinations on the outskirts of Glasgow and an 80.7% rise for the Cotswolds.

But Expedia's US parent does not break out specific revenues or profits for Expedia so it is unclear how its UK business is performing. For the Expedia brand globally, hotel gross bookings rose by 9% for the quarter to 31 March, but this was behind Hotels.com's 39%, Egencia's 41% and other brands up 22%.

In the long term, Expedia is well placed to keep growing in a global market where travellers will book a third of sales online by the end of 2012, according to Phocuswright.

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