May 07, 2021 at 09:01AM

As the threat of the pandemic recedes, as we move toward actually, physically, getting around again, it’s safe to say that travel will rebound.

PYMNTS’ own research has shown that roughly two-thirds of consumers long to see friends and family more; roughly a third are looking forward to international travel.

But as pent-up demand snaps us back into airline seats, into hotels and in pursuit of leisure time spent away from Zoom calls, the ways in which we think about travel are ripe for change, Shiv Singh, senior vice president and general manager brand Expedia at Expedia Group, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.

Travel will become a “more conscious act” he said — one that we won’t take for granted in the ways we once did, he said. Those of us with kids may be more aware that there are only so many summers in place before those kids head off to college, desiring to spend the holidays with friends or romantic interests. Even business trips may get a bit more planning and foresight.

No matter where we go, or why, we’ll want to pack more into our days and nights.

The connected economy, where the lines between physical and digital realms are blurred, is perfect for removing the frictions in the planning, the escaping, the enjoying … and getting home again only to be thinking of … where’s next.

Expedia may have democratized travel, and the ability to reserve and make purchases with technology. In the process, the traditional travel agent model got stood a bit on its proverbial ear. But sometimes disruptive business models can take a cue from the very parts of the vertical they’ve disrupted.

Thus, the recently-announced redesign of Expedia.com seeks to streamline the end-to-end experience as travelers book and experience their trips. It’s a bid to help travelers maximize time and get the most value-add from what they spend, said Singh.

The data that flows across Expedia’s platform makes it possible to marry both worlds — self-service (browsing and booking) and the high-touch attributes of traditional travel agencies — in a way that brings consumers through a digital front door and keeps them within the company’s ecosystem.

Singh remarked that Expedia may have gotten “too transactional” and that the rebranding represents “a new chapter” for the company, anticipating what consumers will expect — and need — from the travel platform.

It’s a paradigm shift away from Expedia’s roots as a reservation engine and as an aggregator. In terms of new offerings, Singh expanded on the April announcement of a new itinerary experience that allows travelers to track all the details of their trip in one place through the app.

“From a brand standpoint, we recognize that with travel being a more conscious, more thoughtful act, we want to support and must support the traveler,” said Singh, adding “not just at the point of purchase — where of course we make our revenue — but from the point of inspiration.”

Hence the tagline for the firm: “It matters who you travel with.” Along with the branding and the new tagline, said Singh, Expedia’s own product offerings are being retooled with the connected economy, and efficiency, in mind.

The Living Itinerary 

Singh pointed to the availability of “a living itinerary within the app.” The dynamic itinerary, he said, eliminates the typical (non-Expedia) experience of scrolling through emails for reservations and confirmation codes. In the itinerary, he captures all the changes users make as they book, or are on, their trips.

And, he added, once people have made the leap and are on their journeys, “we want people to get the most out of that trip. People don’t have enough time in their lives … so we’re going to make recommendations.” Expedia, he said, also will bundle the most popular destinations and activities on a route, with upfront pricing.

Regardless of the industry, said Singh, insurance can be irritating at best, frustrating at worst — and almost always, in terms of what is covered and what is not is … opaque, to put it mildly.

“We’re putting it all in English language, easy to understand, easy to digest. So you know what you’re getting,” he said. He noted, too, that Expedia is building out functionality that will keep users conversant with what their insurance covers in the event of unforeseen or unplanned bumps on the trip — eliminating the frictions that can interfere with the travel experience.

He offered a hypothetical: The return flight is canceled. Expedia will send the traveler an alert illuminating what the insurance covers, and how to submit a claim — what documents to upload and what steps to take.

Support during the journey, he said, also includes — across lodging and air — side-by-side comparisons between different hotel properties.

As Singh noted, the typical traveler may compare prices at two different properties or brands, not noticing, perhaps that the cheaper listing has “fine print” that includes the fact that that there may be no breakfast included, no early check-in, no access to the swimming pool, for example. Expedia, he said, is uniquely positioned to list those details, and help consumers make up their minds with more data in hand.

“It’s not about the cheapest price, it’s about the best value,” he said, adding that “people are comfortable with paying a higher price point if they get better value.”

The Rollout 

Some of the new features are live, some will be rolled out over time. The attributes shopping, said Singh, is already live here in the U.S., as is an initial version of the living itineraries. The “alert” based features (such as have been tied to insurance) will be available in the coming weeks and months.

Expedia is also revamping its loyalty program, said Singh, which would allow tens of millions of travelers who were not enrolled in the company’s loyalty program to begin earning points.

As Singh said of the expanded platform, features and loyalty offerings, extending well beyond the booking process: “We’re in your pocket when you’re on that trip, when you’re thinking about new things to do, or when you need support. That opens up so much more value that we can provide,” he told Webster.

Expedia’s SVP Singh: We Want To Be The Travelers’ ‘Point Of Inspiration’ …

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