david-doctorowThe online travel booking space is increasingly competitive one and platform agnostic. From a marketing perspective does that mean these are good times or bad for travel booking?

It’s a great time for travel booking now that there are so many more touch points for people to dream, research and book.

With the increasing number of devices, consumers move from phone to tablet to laptop and back again – a habit we’re seeing grow in the travel world.

People are applying more effort and more than half of people today use multiple devices to book.

But this proliferation of screens means path to purchase is no longer as straightforward as it once was. So what does this mean for the travel industry?

It means travel providers have to create more meaningful ways for people to have quick access to the content they need at the moment they need it.

Device sizes, resolutions, input modes and network connection speeds create infinite permutations for how travel sites will be presented, so the travel industry has to move quickly to create unique experiences for each device that feels connected, consistent and informational without being annoying.

In September Expedia launched a travel planning and discovery tablet app, intended to create a “lean-back” experience for users. Why go this route? After all, isn’t Expedia just a booking tool?

Industry data shows that 40 percent of people include tablet browsing when they select a destination, and we know firsthand that travelers today want to explore, research and buy while sitting on their couch or at a coffee shop.

The problem to date, is that no one has created an experience actually built for the very device that’s best suited for that type of activity.

Instead of delivering a ‘Frankensteined’ mobile web experience or blown-up version of the smartphone app, we set out to build a tablet app completely designed around how customers naturally think about travel.

Traditionally, people have more than 20 different decisions to make before they even begin their travel search, but that doesn’t work for the way people browse on tablets.

Our new app removes those barriers, freeing the need to have all the answers upfront, and allows people to dive right into the casual type of browsing and exploring that happens while sitting on the couch in front of the TV.

Expedia's new app is optimized for tablets and geared at inspiration and discovery as much as booking. Image via the Expedia blog.

Expedia’s new app is optimized for tablets and geared at inspiration and discovery as much as booking. Image via the Expedia blog.

In a recent blog post, Expedia’s Senior Director of Marketing, Sarah Gavin wrote that the travel industry has entered a cross-device push era in travel. Can you unpack that for us?

A few years ago, we were all talking about the rise of the mobile phone and how that has impacted travel and that trend certainly continues to play a huge role in how consumers experience all phases of travel.

But it’s not just mobile and desktop and it’s not as clear-cut as this idea that people book big trips on desktop and last minute trips on phones.

Hitlist is an app that finds the best flight bargains and sends push notifications to users.

Hitlist is an app that finds the best flight bargains and sends push notifications to users.

Now we’re seeing a new era of cross-device push, where people move across multiple devices to plan, book and then ultimately take their trip. And with the advent now of push notifications, we’re seeing the opportunity with this explosion of data across the internet for retailers and travel providers to push to the consumer data and information that’s hyper relevant to that consumer.

So, we’re going from single device pull to cross-device push, and we think this is a really, really significant change in the travel industry.

With wearables, for example, this translates to offering the most timely, relevant data at a glance. We don’t expect someone to book a hotel on a watch, but they do want to know if their flight is delayed and where their gate is.

Across the industry though, other travel companies we are watching will likely start to dip their toes in the water and explore push capabilities and we’re already seeing this with various airline mobile apps.

The travel industry is facing even more disruption from the so-called sharing economy – what’s your take on this expanding market? Do you view the Airbnb’s of the world as competitors?

We’re certainly keeping an eye on the Airbnb’s of the world. As far as their effect on the travel and hotel business, we have yet to see anything truly significant at this point. The hotel business is booming right now and our business is growing faster than it ever has.

It’s definitely a trend we’re keeping an eye on, though, because we are building a business for five to ten years from now. So in response to this we’ve established a great relationship with HomeAway.

So now if someone visits Expedia and runs a search for destinations that tend to be more vacation rental driven, say to Orlando, and there is a long length of stay, Expedia will offer vacation rental inventory powered by HomeAway.

We really believe this can be a complement to our business as we expand the amount of vacation rental inventory offered to the consumer.