Expedia’s climb in Canada has been remarkable.
Fifteen years ago, Expedia.ca was just coming into existence. Most Canadians looking for hotels at the time used something called a land-line telephone at home to book hotels or even went without reservations and cruised the highways of Canada and the U.S., or the streets of Europe, looking for flashing vacancy signs in hotel windows.
Now, Expedia.ca is the largest on-line travel service provider in the country and does $12 billion gross in business in Canada per year; a target they reached back in 2012. From zero hotel properties and zero airlines in 2000, they’ve now reached 400-plus airline partners and 365,000 (take or give) hotel properties around the world, said Sean Shannon, managing director for Expedia Canada and Latin America.
That’s pretty impressive.
(FULL DISCLOSURE NOTE HERE: I write two blogs a month for ExpediaCA, focussing on destinations around the world.)
Back when Expedia.ca was coming on stream, most Canadians used desktop computers to book their holidays. Then it was laptops. Now, one in five Canadians is using the free Expedia app to book on their mobile devices.
The places we travel also has changed somewhat. Shannon said Asia-Pacific destinations are getting a lot more attention these days, with interest in South Korea on Expedia.ca up a whopping 70 per cent over this time last year. Japan interested has gone up 50 per cent, as has interest in New Zealand, he said.
“More and more Canadians are getting comfortable going to that part of the world,” Shannon said.
On the other hand, it’s mostly the old standbys that are popular in Europe and North America. In Canada, the most Expedia.ca bookings are for Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, followed by Edmonton, Calgary, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Banff, Quebec City and the Okanagan Valley in B.C., which is gaining a lot of momentum with new flights and tons of new restaurants and wineries.
In the U.S., the top three are Las Vegas, New York and Seattle (a bit of a surprise), followed by Orlando, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale and Orange County, California. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three for Florida and three for California).
In the rest of the world, the top 10 are London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Amsterdam, followed by Cancun, The Riviera Maya, Dublin, Venice and Florence. That gives Italy three of the top 10.
The big talk at a Tuesday night event at CHILL Ice House in Toronto (where you can sit on ice-carvings and view ice sculptures in a room that’s set to -5 Celsius, but with a warm room attached) was on Expedia’s mobile technology and their new loyalty program for frequent users.
The mobile app for Expedia.ca was launched back in 2011, allowing folks to book trips in as few as four steps. Many Canadians use the service, Shannon said, but most seem to use it for booking hotels that night or perhaps the next. It’s a cool app that sends you notifications if your flight has changed times or if there’s a new gate, and it also can tell you what carousel at Pearson allegedly has your baggage.
They only recently launched Expedia+, their new loyalty program. It’s a big advantage for consumers, Shannon said, because they can earn points with the airline, points with their credit card and then added points with Expedia +.
“It’s a triple dip,” he said.
Members get one point on every $5 spent on flights, two points on every $1 spent on hotels, two points on every $1 spent on packages with a hotel, two points for every $1 spent on activities, two points for every $1 spent on select car rentals and one point for every $1 spent on flight + car packages. Shannon said a family of four booking a $3,600 trip with a car, activities and hotel for Orlando would end up with 7,200 points, worth $50 in Expedia+ dollars to use later. Two people spending $1,750 on a trip to Las Vegas with air tickets, a package and shows would collect 3,500 points, worth $25 in Expedia+ dollars.
It’s not a huge amount, but Shannon said it’s competitive and also pointed out those points come on top of what a consumer could get with a credit card and for an airline alliance such as One World or Aeroplan.
As well, Shannon said Expedia+ members who book their trips using the mobile app will get triple the number of Expedia+ points.
“We want to reinforce the habit” of using the mobile app, he said. “We want to encourage lots of use.”
The triple points incentive should help, but Shannon said that offer probably won’t be in place forever.
(In this case, being an early adopter of technology could pay off. I suggest anyone my age contract out with their son or daughter, or perhaps exchange taking-out-the-garbage chores for an Expedia app and booking lesson. The rewards could be significant.)
Members need to keep their Expedia+ profile active by booking every 18 months, Shannon said. If that’s the case, the points won’t expire. As well, he said there are no blackout dates for using Expedia+ dollars.
In addition to earning points, members can gain status (the three tiers for membership are Blue, Silver and Gold) and thus earn such perqs as free WiFi or a room upgrade. They also get Expedia’s price guarantee, which promises that consumers will get a lower price for a hotel if the room rate drops before midnight the day prior to arrival.
Shannon said other on-line travel providers have loyalty plans, but that he doesn’t think any are as comprehensive as those of Expedia+.
“Hotels.com, which we own, has a loyalty program but it’s only for hotel rooms,” he said.
Shannon touched on a variety of topics at the Expedia.ca party in Toronto. Asked about the influence and rapid expansion of Air BnB, Shannon pointed out that Expedia has a partnership with HomeAway that allows consumers to book vacation rentals.
Shannon said Air BnB has of course caught their eye.
“It’s certainly a developing area and one we want to participate in. But in a way that makes sense for us.”
Asked later about Canadian travel habits, Shannon said right now folks are booking a lot of ski trips to Tremblant, Whistler and to Alberta. But he’s also seeing an uptick in interest to resorts in the interior of British Columbia.
“The facilities are fantastic,” he said.
Asked about Latin America, Shannon said he hasn’t seen a lot of interest yet in Canadians wanting to visit Colombia or Chile. But he suspects that will change with time.
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