After the big numbers it’s time to look after the travellers

Now in his third year as Expedia Group CEO, Mark Okerstrom joined PhoCusWright founder Philip Wolf at ITB for a conversation about the company, the travel industry and where it may go next.

ITB delegates heard extraordinary numbers achieved by a company that is now in 75 countries with brands including Expedia, Hotels.com, Expedia Partner Solutions, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, CheapTickets, ebookers, CarRentals.com, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Wotif, Egencia, HomeAway and a majority stake in Trivago.

Founded in 1996, Expedia was initially a division within Microsoft operating solely as an online travel booking service. The company has since grown to become the world’s leading online travel agency that attracts 700 million visitors every month and serves two million corporate travellers, one million properties and 500 airlines.

WHAT IS THE FIRST THING THAT PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY GET MONEY? THEY GO TRAVELLING

Before Expedia and other online booking services came on stream “the traveller was being served by a travel agent”, Okerstrom said. “Good agents would ask questions, make recommendations and follow up with the traveller after the experience. Our rst 20 years was about building traffic and building platforms. The next 20 years are about doing the work that an agent does and looking after the traveller.”

Expedia is also about living up to the promise of the internet, he said. “You know when Tom Cruise is walking through the mall in Minority Report and all the ads on the screens around him change to suit his pro le as he goes? Well we can do that now,” he said. And the untapped potential is huge. “There is no more global an industry than the travel industry. And what is the rst thing that people do when they get money? They go travelling.”

But building – and operating – the right platform is “hard”, he said. “Airbnb has built an incredible business and a brand that stands for something.” What of rumours that Airbnb might start an airline? “Well with an airline you have to work with different groups of people, some of whom you might not want to work with,” Okerstrom said. “And there are 15 billion ight searches worldwide per month. Something like that needs a huge infrastructure”.


Photo: Mark Okerstrom (left) with Philip Wolf