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Despite its role as the world’s most popular social network, Facebook has yet to push deeply into online travel booking after a few false starts. But a new executive appointment, which has yet to be reported by the media, shows Facebook could soon push into online booking in a serious way.
Former online travel executive Nikhilesh Ponde has been serving as Facebook’s head of global travel strategy since July, according to LinkedIn. Facebook has confirmed his hiring.
Ponde has held a variety of roles at Expedia Inc., including at online travel agencies Hotels.com, Expedia.com and Hotwire. He served as director of mobile marketing at Expedia from August 2012 to April 2014, and as senior director of mobile, social, and partner marketing for Hotwire from May 2014 to January 2016.
Most recently, Ponde was vice president of digital marketing for Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce site.
“In previous roles, I ran Hotwire’s mobile, social and partner marketing teams, launched & scaled mobile marketing for Expedia Worldwide, and led growth operations for Expedia’s Global Marketing Org — a business which drove billions in annual travel bookings across various direct-response customer acquisition channels [sic],” reads Ponde’s profile on AngelList. “I have also led the creation of new online businesses end-to-end — ideation, financial modeling & strategy development, implementation, and consumer launch.”
This experience dovetails nicely with the potential for Facebook to further develop Facebook’s online travel strategy with an eye on becoming a more robust booking platform, particularly on mobile channels.
Facebook has dabbled in travel bookings over the years, with numerous airlines and hotels introducing booking options on the platform, but it hasn’t really turned into much.
Ponde also brings a lot of marketing acumen to Facebook, which has been building its travel advertising vertical. Many travel companies are putting more spend into Facebook advertising, although Google’s grip in travel advertising has basically gone unchallenged for now.
Facebook’s head of travel Christine Warner told Skift earlier this year that mobile is the primary focus of the company’s travel efforts.
“The world has shifted to mobile,” she said in March 2017. “I’m not sure how familiar you are with some of the stats, but anecdotally, there are more mobile devices in the world than there are people. If you’re talking about mobile technology in a mobile world, you have to take Facebook and Instagram into account. In our recent announcement, we shared that we reach over 1.8 billion people every month, and 1.2 billion of those people are coming back to us every day.”
As Facebook’s head of travel Warner oversees sales for Facebook’s travel vertical, a very different role than head of global travel strategy which has more to do with marketing, according to a source. The two will likely work together to further develop the social networking giant’s mobile travel strategy.
Facebook already offers a suite of tools for travel marketers from hotels, destinations, and airlines to reach users and influence their travel buying decisions. Various hotel and airline brands have sold their products through Facebook’s platform in the past, but such efforts have tailed off over time.
Facebook’s previous head of global travel strategy, Lee McCabe, left the company in July 2016 after nearly four years in the role for a vice president of North America role at Alibaba Group. Before joining Facebook, McCabe was Expedia’s senior director of market management.