Expedia transforms travel in Asia through technology
By Chong Jinn Xiung November 21, 2018
- Takes a test-and-learn approach to solving problems with data
- Experimenting with new technologies to engage with users
ARE you ready to pack your bags and travel during the year-end holiday season? While planning a holiday can be fun, the process of booking it can be complex. Consider the multitude of different flights to search for as well as the accommodation and activities that need to be booked.
According to travel technology company Expedia, it is helping travellers plan smoother journeys by tapping into its vast library of travel data, sorting through millions of flight options and narrowing it down to a few relevant ones within seconds.
During a recent media briefing in Kuala Lumpur, global head of mobile apps marketing and APAC head of marketing Gabriel Garcia (pic, above) explained that the company has a scientific approach to business that uses a test-and-learn methodology. In essence, they collect information and construct hypotheses that are tested and retried to gain the best insights.
“Our data scientists and engineers are focused on machine learning algorithms and building our customer data models. We identify patterns, analyse the results and pass that knowledge back to our customers for them to make the right decision,” he said.
Very much like scientists, Expedia likes to base its findings on actual data gathered from experiments. The group launched its first innovation lab in Singapore last year to complement the two other labs located in London and Bellevue, Washington where it is headquartered.
A photo of a lady fitted with all manner of sensors sitting in a cubicle captures the method Expedia’s innovation lab deploys. Using electromyography (EMG) and eye-tracking technology, researchers can track the emotional responses of participants based on what they are seeing and see what affects their booking decisions, be it in delight or frustration.
According to Expedia, it often conducts these researches externally and has accumulated more than 10 years of data revealing travel patterns and performances.
Expedia said it understands that each market is unique and has vastly different characteristics. Users in Asia in particular, primarily interact via mobile apps, something that is less relevant in Western markets for example.
Based on the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Tourism Highlights 2018, Southeast Asia enjoyed the highest growth of all the Asian subregions, with an additional nine million international tourists in 2017. International tourism receipts in 2017 numbered at US$390 billion, up 3% from the year before.
According to him, Expedia’s mobile app opens new ways the company is able to interact with its users including serving them push notifications with details on the status of their flight, notifying them if there are any delays and even guiding them on when to arrive at the airport and how to get to their departure gate,” he said.
Beyond enhancing their app experience, Expedia is not shying away from experimenting in Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies to engage with the growing number of millennial travellers. “We know that more than 50% of millennials would value having a VR experience that would help them decide where they go. Many like to experience a destination before they go,” said Garcia.
He adds that in the field of AR, Expedia is experimenting in using the camera on a customer’s smartphone to help customers calculate a bag’s size to find out if it fits in the overhead bin before they get to the airport.
As part of enhancing its mobile experience, Expedia is looking at other ways of engaging with its users. This includes using artificial intelligence to create better chatbots that work on their official accounts across multiple platforms such as Facebook Messenger, KakaoTalk and Line. With it, they are able to request for information, ask for recommendations and book directly via the chatbot.
“More people are comfortable booking on their mobile device. The number is growing as people in Asia typically don’t interact via a desktop as mobile is their first touch point with the Internet. It is increasingly becoming an approach that is driving the way we develop our products,” said Garcia.