Skift Take

Is Airbnb going to eat Expedia's lunch? The brand name Vrbo, really? Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom faces some real challenges as the online travel agency pecking order will likely be disrupted in coming years.

Travel's most forward-thinking insiders will gather September 18–19 for our annual Skift Global Forum in New York. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

Skift Global Forum 2019 will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. This year's Forum speakers include CEOs and top executives from Booking Holdings, Delta Air Lines, Expedia, Air France-KLM, Marriott International, Amtrak, and many more.

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Whoever has the most toys, or in this case short-term rentals and hotels, wins.

Well, that may be a tad simplistic but Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom, in discussing some of the challenges of the company’s rebranded lead vacation rental brand, Vrbo, believes that the breadth of inventory choice, along with perfecting the customer experience, will be big factors in sorting out winners and losers.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be all about who has the most choice, best prices and the best user experiences in choosing and booking the places for you to stay while traveling,” Okerstrom told Skift.

Okerstrom provided his thoughts on short-term rentals, the evolution of the way customers pay for their reservations, and the future of travel and Expedia Group’s role in it as a prelude to his on-stage interview at Skift Global Forum in Manhattan next week.

Come See Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom at Skift Global Forum Sept. 19 in NYC. Get Tickets Now

Following is an interview with the Expedia Group CEO:

Skift: What’s Expedia Group’s vision for the future of travel and how can you lead or facilitate it?
Mark Okerstrom: It’s been just over 2 years since we declared three major strategic pillars for Expedia Group: being more customer-centric, being more locally relevant on a global basis, and speeding up the pace of execution and innovation. Teams across Expedia Group have been collaborating more than ever before to ensure we deliver on these themes and pass the benefits along to travelers and partners.

In the end, the travel experience is still highly fragmented and can be frustrating and complex. We here to clear the way. The future of travel is about us bringing the world within reach by delivering customer and partner-centric, locally relevant products that break down the barriers that stand in the way of travelers experiencing and enjoying travel end-to-end … and at the same time helping the world of travel partners reach those travelers with their offerings. We want to be the World’s Travel Platform. Period.

Skift: What role would new payment systems and possibly cryptocurrencies play in that evolution?

Okerstrom: Offering a vast and diverse amount of locally relevant payment options has always been a key part of our playbook. Just as our customers have come to expect that they’ll be able to find the hotel, flight, car rental, cruise or other experience of their choice on our platform, we always want to ensure that they have that same type experience when they choose how to pay. And that’s why we process tens of billions of dollars worth of payments across all of the major card providers and networks, including over 25 alternative payment types.

We are constantly adding new options to our payments platform as we continue to monitor adoption rates of alternative payments, including cryptocurrencies, across the travel industry.

Skift: In industry discussions about alternative accommodations, everyone seems to be talking about Airbnb and You’ve had some problems with Vrbo: Is it being left behind?

Okerstrom: At the end of the day, it’s going to be all about who has the most choice, best prices and the best user experiences in choosing and booking the places for you to stay while traveling. Expedia Group is a trusted platform for our customers and partners — offering diversity and scale on both ends — and Vrbo and alternative accommodations play an important role in this.

Our customers look to us for a diverse amount of options so they can find their perfect match. And partners, like property managers, look to us to reach a diverse amount of customers at scale. We are pleased with Vrbo’s evolution and confident in its long-term growth opportunity, especially in international and urban markets. That’s why we continue to invest in the brand as they become the go-to place to book accommodations for friends and family travel. They’re integral in ensuring we deliver on our promise of being the World’s Travel Platform with the most choice and diversity in the industry.

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Tags: alternative accommodations, cryptocurrencies, expedia, homesharing, mark okerstrom, sgf2019, skift global forum, vrbo

Photo credit: Mark Okerstrom, the CEO of Expedia Group, believes his company has lots of tools to be a winner in accommodations. Adam Shane Productions / Expedia Group

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