Travel Weekly was lucky enough to be invited to Expedia’s conference Explore 22 in Las Vegas where the travel company announced some incredible new additions to its platform.
During the trip over to Vegas, we sat down with Expedia’s senior VP for strategic travel partners, Greg Schulze, to chat about everything travel.
Check out this interview below for an insight into Expedia’s new updates, cruising’s big return, how travel agents can maximise their business, and how Expedia has changed over the past two decades.
There’s been some massive announcements made over the past couple of days. What are you most particularly excited about?
The big theme that I’m excited about is the way we work with our travel partners. I talk every day with our airlines, our other companies, our hotel chains, and the conversation has definitely shifted to be much more understanding about what we’re both trying to achieve, and to work together to deliver a great travel experience. I think that’s really putting the traveler to the center, meaning we work in an industry that has the opportunity to bring joy.
When you say, “putting the travellers experience at the center” what are some specific steps that you in your job would do to ensure that this happens?
Quite a bit. My team works with these travel providers to deliver that experience to our customers, and to ensure that we have the information that we need, that we’re giving them that we’re giving travelers everything they need to make an informed choice about what they’re purchasing. Once they make that purchase, to ensure that they’re ready for the trip if something goes wrong, we want to make sure we can help them right away.
And of course, over the last two years, in particular, we’ve had to do a lot on behalf of the traveller to make sure that they were taken care of. Being able to work with our travel partners to ensure that we have the right policies that we give all the options to travelers to make sure that they are making an informed choice.
Can you tell me about some specific plans that Expedia has for the extract the Australian market?
One of the great strengths of Expedia is that we do have a lot of amazing brands, and some are local, and some are more global. In Australia, we have a great local brand of Wot If, but we also have Expedia hotels.com. We have vacation rentals in the Australian market so it’s super interesting for us, because of course, especially over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge domestic market with almost entirely domestic travel.
Australians love to go travel afar; to come to Las Vegas is not a challenge for an Australian, it’s not easy. That’s really where Expedia excels because we bring the world to Australia. Well, we both bring and give Australian so many options for travel, but we also bring a lot of people like myself into the great country.
So, what opportunities is Expedia offering for travel agents, and maybe specifically travel agents in Australia?
So what you saw over the last couple of days is that we’ve really worked to make our technology more extensible and to the benefit of the people I work with and the car rental companies and for them to be able to use our technology in new ways not just to reach demand.
But it’s the same with travel agencies, both big management companies as well as small storefronts. They can use different pieces of our technology. So we have a travel agency technology program that allows you, if you wanted to start a travel agency before you have Expedia and all the technology that you would need. We also work with some of the big local travel agencies in Australia to ensure that they have the right hotel supply all around the world.
What did the pandemic teach you in terms of working at Expedia, and how have you used these lessons to guide you as you go forward?
I was living in Singapore when the pandemic started which was January. We had become so accustomed to traveling very frequently from Singapore and the change really made us appreciate the privilege that we have to travel around the world, and to see different places and connect with different types of people.
So I certainly appreciate that more. We also are a company that’s headquartered in the United States. So with a 15 hour time difference, I learned how to manage in a remote way during the crisis and that required late nights, a lot of late nights and then we all adapted to work in rhythm that uses technology. Fortunately, none of us lost our humanity and once we could do it safely, we started meeting together in person internally, and then externally with partners, and my team spends most of its time with our partner, our travel partners.
As soon as we could we were together in person, because we see the importance of that personal connection. That really just drives home the really the fundamental, the heart of our business, which is connecting people.
You’ve said you’ve been Expedia for 17 years. Can you tell me something about the way that Expedia has changed over time that you like, find interesting, or find quite notable.
Before Expedia, I was at American Airlines and I worked with the online travel agencies which were very new at the time in the late 90s. But I was fascinated by the opportunity, because they were reaching customers in new ways and they were presenting information in ways that we just hadn’t been done before.
So the internet obviously changed everything about the way travel sold. I joined Expedia because I saw that opportunity and Expedia, of course, did very well and grew. But along the way, a lot of the travel partners began to feel disconnected. It was no longer a partner, it was more of a competition. I’m very happy to say that over the last few years, that’s dramatically changed to where we’re working very closely with airlines, big hotel chains, and cruise lines to help each other to grow the industry and deliver amazing service to travelers. I think what you see here is that there’s space for this industry and for all of us, and we all do certain things well and we should really, really focus on that which we do best.
Are there any new or developing partnerships that you are particularly excited about?
On the top of my mind is what we call optimized distribution and you saw it on the screens of friends for Marriott. There’s this product which helps them reach new user demand in a way that allows them to continue to really tailor the product in the way that they want it to be sold and that helps them just ensure that travelers get the right content or the right information about the rate are what they want them to be.
It gives our hotel partners a new level of control that they just didn’t have before and we’ve seen, we’ve done a lot of study a lot of analysis on this and the wholesale industry has about 20 per cent waste, where either the prices aren’t right or the content is not right and we lose sales. This optimises distribution and addresses loses.
What are some specific ways that new optimising will cut out the 20 per cent of waste?
It provides a single access point for further rates. So the hotel chain can file their rates through our technology, and we use our partner network, more than 20,000 agencies around the world then have access to those rates and when we just make sure that they have the right content for sale to the travellers. There’s a dramatic reduction in the misuse rates as well. Marriott has seen an 80 per cent reduction in misuse of rates. This was a big industry issue.
What is Expedia and the cruise brands it partners with doing to calm people’s nerves about cruising and promote it as a good and safe holiday experience again?
I was actually just on a cruise with my family and it was an amazing experience. The cruise lines and the cruise industry went through a very challenging year and a half with almost no sailing during that time and the industry was willing to invest heavily in making sure that the product was safe and that they had all the processes in place to ensure that the travelers could go on board with confidence and that they knew that they were going to be safe.
If there was a problem that everyone knew how to deal with it and that’s what has been delivered. It took a long time and that was very painful for the industry. But cruising is booming now and people are ready to get back on our ships. The bookings are stronger than ever and Australia is a terrific market for cruising.
But is there a particular cruise or itinerary that you think is your favourite?
I mean, the best thing about cruising is that if you have a bad experience on a cruise holiday is because you chose the wrong ship in the wrong itinerary. There’s something for everyone and my family, interestingly, we went on a cruise when my kids were four and six and we did a Disney cruise and they had a terrific time.
As they got older, we did the Mega ships where there were waterslides and they loved it. My wife and I will probably take a nice maybe higher end cruise for the two of us or maybe a river cruise in Europe, which are fantastic or the fjords of Norway.
There’s definitely something for everyone and I am fascinated by the small luxury ships and in our industry, the hospitality industry, I don’t think anyone does service better than a high end cruise.
Cruising has a bit of a reputation for being targeted towards older people. How does Expedia try and debunk that stigma and market toward all demographics?
There’s a stigma, but the data doesn’t support it. I’m not going to quote the data exactly, but it does show that we sell to all generations and there’s maybe a bit more on the older demographic but an equally large young demographic, and we’ve been doing a lot to build that customer, especially our online sales.
So we have stores, Expedia cruises sells In Canada and in the US, we have 250 stores, and then we have online, in the US, in Australia. That online tends to be a bit more of the younger demographic but again like I said before, it depends on the type of ship and the cruise line – they do cater to different demographics.
We have these huge announcements that just came out – let’s say, a year from now, maybe in terms of cruising, do you have any particular predictions about how Expedia will be functioning and do you have any comments about how people’s attitude to travel will change in a year from now?
So we’re already seeing this incredible boom in travel so our expectation is that it will continue. We’ll see people enjoying connecting in real life and having those experiences in new places. Our hope is that a lot of what you saw today will really transform the way our travelers experience their holiday.
So it’s in some cases small things like making sure that you know what’s included in your hotel rate, or your cruise, your cruise booking, it might be making sure you buy the plane ticket at the right time. We’re going to help you understand the best time to buy and then layer on top of it things like our loyalty, the announcements on the loyalty program so we really do think that as customers come back to travel, that they’re going to find it to be a really amazing experience. We need to get people out there to experience it and then we’re confident that as people come back into travel they’re going to have a better than ever experience.
So how do you think these new updates in the company will help travel agents to best like maximise their own business?
The global inventory that we have, the technology that we’ve invested in is all available to travel agents. We’re constantly working on improving our our agent, platform so you’re gonna see continued innovation there. But the the big message not just for travel agents, but for any of our partners is that all the investments we make in technology will be to your benefit. We’re we’re building in a way that’s extensible and we think if we can put the traveler at the center of this, the industry will all do well.