It's rare to have an Expedia CEO speak so candidly about Google's threat to his own company. After all, Google knows how to punish companies when it wants to. Given Barry Diller's recent statements, and Okerstrom's view, there must be a lot of concern in Expedialand behind the scenes.
Who is Expedia Group’s most important competitor? It must be Booking Holdings, right?
No, said Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom, it’s Google.
Answering questions in a media briefing Thursday at the company’s Explore ’18 conference in Las Vegas, Okerstrom said, “The internet has been littered with the bodies of companies put out of business by Google.”
Okerstrom said Google’s key advantage is the prominence of its search engine, and the grip it has on consumers with people turning to Google for answers to myriad things.
As for Booking, Okerstrom said he’s not as worried. Expedia Group has many things that Booking Holdings doesn’t, he said, citing a loyalty program; a corporate travel business; the ability to book flights, hotels and cars all in once place, for example.
Okerstrom said he does have great respect for Booking. However, several Expedia officials Wednesday characterized Expedia as the world’s global travel platform, and Okerstrom compared it with other global platforms, including Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Okerstrom noted that Expedia spends billions of dollars marketing through Google annually, and he considers Google a great partner. However, Okerstrom said, “we have to be very watchful about what they are doing.”
Google has been very active in recent years building its own travel offerings, including for flights, hotels and tours. It often biases search results toward its own products instead of giving competitors equal access. In addition, Google is getting much more active in facilitating hotel bookings right on Google without customers having to navigate away to a hotel or online travel agency site.
Asked whether Expedia is following through on the call of its senior executive, Barry Diller, to push for regulating Google, Okerstrom said no, Expedia is not following that path.
Instead, he said, Expedia’s Google strategy is to build better products and serve customers better than Google does. For example, Okerstrom said Expedia is working with airlines to solve the problem of flyers having to spend hours on the phone during travel disruptions.
Expedia has tested blockchain
In other news, Okerstrom said Expedia has tested blockchain for various applications, including automating the way Expedia takes orders, receives payments, and sends confirmations.
However, Okerstrom said Expedia found that it was more expensive to use blockchain than to perform these functions using its own systems. The question, he said, is whether blockchain will ever be less expensive.
VRBO Is Testing Voice
Okerstrom revealed that one of Expedia’s vacation rental brands, VRBO, is testing enabling consumers to use their mobile phones to verbalize a question, or text one, about a specific property. For example, does the vacation rental have a pool.
“We are training our algorithms to respond to these questions and putting answers on the details pages,” Okerstrom said.
One resource Expedia has is years of customer service voice recordings to understand what the query means and how to answer them.
Okerstrom said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Expedia provide this kind of technology to hotel partners within 10 years.
That’s all part of Expedia’s drive to make itself an essential technology partners with hotels instead of merely competing with them.
Photo credit: Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom sees Google as the company's most important threat. He's pictured speaking at an Expedia partner conference in Las Vegas December 5. Adam Shane Productions / Expedia Group