Expedia places premium on innovation as US$1.6 billion acquisition closes

John Kim, Senior Vice President of Global Products, Expedia explains the importance of staying relevant in the ever-crowded travel tech space…

“The travel game is tough,” admits John Kim, Senior Vice President of Global Products, Expedia.

Speaking with over 17 years of air miles under his belt as a digital media executive, Kim is acutely aware of the growing commoditisation of the travel sector, leading to $686 million worth of Expedia spend during the past 24 months as the company battles for market supremacy.

“If your business operates within the realms of the internet, then Research and Development is the lifeblood of how you win,” he says.

“We’re continually investing in improving our technology capabilities because if you’re not doing it, somebody else will do it for you.”

For Kim, the company’s recent acquisition of travel website Orbitz Worldwide for US$1.6 billion this month, also highlights another side of the travel giant, showing a commitment to cementing its place at the forefront of the industry.

Attracted to the Orbitz Worldwide business because of its “strong brands and impressive team”, Dara Khosrowshahi, President and CEO Expedia, believes the acquisition allows the company to deliver “best-in-class” experiences to an even wider set of travellers all over the world.

Echoing Khosrowshahi’s comments, Kim admits that serving the needs of the travel market is a tough job, requiring of healthy blend of innovation and progression, evidenced perfectly by the company’s growing R&D spend and its willingness to gobble up emerging talent when required.

“It’s imperative to keep making these investments,” adds Kim, who has a deep domain expertise in online and mobile search, local, advertising, analytics, gaming, and social media.

“The competition is incredibly fierce and we have a tough job as there is a lot at stake.

“Travellers are very demanding and everybody knows from personal experiences that organising vacations can be incredibly difficult and stressful, a lot can go wrong and there’s a million things you feel can be done better.”

Alluding to the company’s Expedia App for iPad and Android tablets, released in September last year, Kim aims to transform the way people will "discover, plan and book trips on tablet devices.”

“As we started thinking about the new tablet experience, we wanted to build a product that complemented how users engaged with tablets and set out to make our app the starting point for travel inspiration,” Kim adds.

“We wanted to build an experience that was aligned with how users think about their trips holistically while giving them the power tools (like filters) that they’ve come to grow and love on desktop.”

Despite technological advances, Kim again acknowledges that travel planning has become increasingly difficult with customers conducting more searches across more devices but not getting to their destination (or booking) any faster.

“Rather than force users down a specific path to look at hotels or flights separately, we wanted to provide them with a more holistic way of planning their trip,” he explains.

“We believe that people are ready to discover and experience travel in a more connected way.”

Big Bets…

Single Search and Federated Search - Expedia’s two innovative ways of improving travel bookings.

“The tablet is inherently a browsing device,” Kim says. “It is as much about entertainment as it is about utility.

“With that in mind, we wanted to build an experience that allows users to begin exploring as quickly as possible.”

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