Expedia transforms travel through technology
By Digital News Asia May 3, 2017
- Expedia invested US$1.2 billion in technology in 2016 to deliver personalised experiences
- Nearly one third of transactions, over 65% of hotel room night bookings came via mobile platforms
AT THE launch of Expedia’s Innovation Lab for Asia located in Singapore, Expedia revealed its focus on transforming travel through innovation and application of technology.
The transformation of travel for Expedia is not just about making the average experience better with every single click of the person before, but through analysis and data insights, also improving each person’s unique experience. By understanding the data-driven insights, this can be done quickly and seamlessly.
“Expedia’s global success comes from a culture that values innovation and investment in technology. The key differentiator is that we do every single improvement based on powerful data insights. It has been our driving force for the past 20 years.
“We invested US$1.2 billion in technology in 2016 and with our 2,000 engineers and 700 data scientists we deliver personalised experiences that come with more choice, flexibility and savings for both our customers and partners”, said Expedia group Product and Design senior VP Arthur Chapin (pic, above).
“We are already preparing for the time when machines will be able to not just analyse but also understand when to act on real-time data. The companies that are going to win in the end are those that structure themselves to prepare for these changes, act on them and be first to market”, he added.
Expedia sees a big opportunity in mobile. The company saw 180 million downloads of its mobile app in 2016 with nearly one third of all transaction and more than 65% of hotel room night bookings coming through mobile platforms in 2016.
The other areas of interest to the company are Messaging, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning but it is the confluence of all these that Expedia believes will be where the magic happens.
“People don’t travel to go to a place, people travel for an outcome and the next big thing in travel will be a better use of information to make the travel inspiration and booking experience more personalised and predictive in real-time”, enthused Chapin.
Test and learn
Expedia places great emphasis on addressing the question on ‘what have they solved for their customers’ which is very much done around a hypothesis and test world – referred to ‘test and Learn’ internally.
This has changed the way the company thinks about innovation, having moved from four release cycles per year to weekly releases allowing for an agile development.
The company performs more than 1,500 tests a year and it believes that even if half of them fail, that still equates to hundreds of wins. This culture has been credited with company’s increased innovation.
Expedia Best Fare Search is the company’s complex algorithm that has been perfected over the past 10 years. It filters from millions of options to 10,000 most likely booked flights, then reduces down to 1,600 most relevant options in three seconds. Every search is taken as an opportunity to understand search patterns better and allow to surface to the user better, faster and better-priced routes.
Over the years Expedia has made a significant investment in data science in areas of selection and personalisation. Aside from employing 700 data scientists, the company deploys selection algorithms as a “learning to rank problem”.
For example, the travel graph tracks the billions of searches done on the Expedia websites and the hotels that were clicked and purchased.
This is then combined with all kinds of information about the hotels – from pricing for that specific stay to popularity, star rating, location, segment preference and more.
Depending on the feature in questions, a number of cutting edge algorithms are used - from simple regression models to complex ensemble models using “boosting” methodology and various clustering schemes.
The traditional web interface for travel relies on customers coming to Expedia with some of their questions already answered. It’s a format that hasn’t fundamentally evolved in years.
Chatbots are potentially the next evolution in discovery, able to answer the real questions travellers have, such “where should I go,” or “what hotel is best for kids”.
With a chatbot interface currently available in the US and the UK, Expedia and the travellers have an opportunity to interact in a more open-ended and natural manner.
Rather than customers having to input line-by-line the details about a trip, chatbots allow for customers to ask and then answer questions in more open, conversation-like method. This helps alleviate the risks of over- or under-personalising content.
- Scratchpad: Since travellers make searches across smartphones, tablets and desktops, noting down prices and comparing to find the best deal, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to start all over again if the search could not have been completed in a given time. Expedia created Scratchpad - an intelligent personal assistant, to solve this problem. Simply login and whatever device you are searching on, all your searches will be saved. More importantly, they are automatically updated with the latest prices.
- Price Trends: Appearing as a new visual graph in search results page when customers are logged into their Expedia account, Price Trends is a continuous shopping tool that aggregates pricing data for a specific destination based on recent user searches and analyses high/mid/low points by range over the last 14 days to show deeper insights regarding how the current flight price compares to recent historical data.
- Price Prediction: This feature draws from Expedia’s huge volume of historical travel data and real-time insights regarding airline inventory and industry booking trends, Expedia’s Price Prediction feature surfaces actionable recommendations for travellers indicating the best time to book based on how prices for a given flight search are expected to increase/decrease over time.
- Real-Time Reviews: Real Time Reviews are triggers sent to customers when their flight has landed or when various stages of their hotel stay are complete (ex. after check-in and at the end of their trip). With this feature, Expedia partners, can track Real Time Feedback and if it’s negative, they have an opportunity to fix it before it becomes made permanent online, creating a win-win for both the travellers and the providers. Currently, there are more than 8.7 million Real-Time reviews.
Expedia Innovation Lab
Expedia Innovation Lab for Asia is located in Singapore. It deploys electromyography, real time eye tracking and a slew of software, which when combined with real-time questions to the user, uncovers emotional responses such as delight or frustration – that are used develop new products and the way users interact with Expedia.
This is the third Expedia Innovation Lab for the company; one is its Bellevue headquarters and the other recently launched in London; and the first for Asia Pacific.
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