Six years after uniting the Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia brands within Expedia Group, the company is now undertaking the grand experiment to differentiate their value propositions and target markets. If it doesn't work, brand consultants never get tired of offering their advice.
With 10 or so online travel agency brands in the fold, Expedia Group is busy redefining and distinguishing them to focus on key customers, and to avoid too much unproductive overlap.
That’s one reason Expedia Group recently relaunched Orbitz with a focus on the LGBTQIA+ market. It’s part of Expedia’s larger effort to retool its patchwork of online travel agency brands, all of which came its way through acquisitions over a couple of decades.
Whether it’s online travel agencies or hotel brands, differentiating content and target audiences is a challenge for businesses across the spectrum, whether it be in travel or other industries.
“We’ve relaunched our Orbitz brand with a focus on LGBTQIA+,” Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern told investors last month. “And that’s sort of, again, a push as we try to differentiate brands and really focus each brand on who their market is.”
Orbitz, which has a history of LGBTQ advocacy and claims to be the first online travel agency to mention “gay travel” on its pages in 2002, got a revamped pride microsite in April, just in time for Pride Month in June. Travelers can search for hotels on Orbitz that signed an inclusion pledge.
Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group described the Orbitz relaunch as a “first” in terms of a general-purpose online travel agency focusing on LGBTQ customers as its primary audience.
“That is a lightening bolt,” Harteveldt said. “We’ve never seen anyone take a mainstream brand and refocus its marketing toward the LGBTQ community.”
But the extent of that focus and its duration will be a work in progress. The default hotel search on Orbitz isn’t LGBTQ-specific; travelers navigate to the pride microsite to search for LGBTQ-welcoming hotels.
“Orbitz will need to market this aggressively enough so the message breaks through the clutter,” Harteveldt said.
The Orbitz relaunch did indeed come with a modest ad campaign.
“We did a lot of qualitative and quantitative research last year leading up to the launch of ‘Travel As You Are’” and the insight that drove this campaign was a simple one: For so many LGBTQIA travelers, feeling safe and accepted is still the exception, not the norm,” an Expedia Group spokesperson said. “As an online travel provider, we’re providing information and resources that help travelers experience the world on their terms. And as a brand, it means being their advocate and showing up for the causes they care about.”
Noting that the “LGBTQ community is often invisible in travel marketing,” Harteveldt like the inclusiveness, timing, and lack of specificity in the Orbitz ad campaign theme, “Travel as you are.” With people thinking about and traveling again, Orbitz was smart to launch the ad campaign when it did, he said.
When it came to TV advertising in June, though, Expedia Group’s priorities were with Expedia.com, Hotels.com, and Vrbo, according to iSpot.tv. In addition to these three brands, Booking Holdings’ Priceline, and also Airbnb, ranked among the top five online travel websites in advertising spend — Orbitz wasn’t among them. Orbitz didn’t publicize potential spend through other channels, nor the overall cost of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the group’s flagship Expedia.com brand recently carried out its largest marketing campaign in years to recast itself as being targeted in part toward “trip maximizers.” In Expedia lingo, that means “the traveler who wants to be engaged by possibilities, but now more than ever, needs to be supported throughout their journey,” according to the company.
Sister online travel agency Travelocity is committed to a new focus on U.S. families with young children, including targeting Hispanic families with Spanish-language TV spots.
Rachel Shin, a Travelocity, spokeswoman, said the company doesn’t consider the brand tweaks a full-fledged rebrand. “We don’t envision alienating any of our existing consumers but instead are working to streamline and refocus our communications strategies to better resonate with family and Hispanic family travelers,” Shin said. “Our overall goal is to become the most trusted and family friendly travel site.”
This means that Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, once bitter rivals but now grouped under Expedia Group ownership, all got brand tweaks to varying degrees. This is happening about six years after they were united.
In addition, Expedia’s Cheaptickets brand is currently being tweaked to emphasize students and younger travelers because, after all, younger people tend to like “cheap.”
Expedia positions Hotels.com, with a rewards program that grants a free night for every 10 stays, as being for frequent travelers, and Vrbo’s sweet spot is for complex family travel, predominantly for stays in whole-home vacation rentals.
Differentiation Hotels Versus Online Travel Agencies
In some ways, it is easier to differentiate hotel brands than online travel agencies, Atmosphere’s Harteveldt argued.
Hotel properties have geographic restrictions written into their contracts, he said, so Marriott International’s Renaissance and Sheraton properties theoretically wouldn’t be vying for the same customers in a given location, Harteveldt said.
But, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, and Hotels.com don’t have contractual barriers that would prohibit them from stealing each others’ customers.
With their products having overwhelming overlap, Expedia Group is hoping that marketing and a renewed focus will be difference-makers.
Photo credit: A non-binary person in a taxi cab as part of Orbitz's new LBTQIA+ 'Travel As You Are Campaign.'