What’s twenty percent of multitrillion dollars? Whether it’s ten or twenty quazillion is immaterial since we’ll never see the likes of it.
The figure is quoted by Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia Group, to Skift’s founder, Rafat Ali, as the revenue the big four OTAs - Expedia, Booking.com, Airbnb, Trip.com - make in the online travel market.
The occasion was a fireside recording between the two men on the growth opportunities in travel, namely those of the large OTAs.
Ali opened with a direct question: “Is the exponential growth of online travel over?”
Kern responded: “The easy money of ‘we’ll just be online and we’ll just collect everybody who has decided to book online’ has certainly lessened over time.”
“[The] tendency when people are nervous … they want an actual agent to talk to. And we power thousands and thousands of travel agents with our product. As online products get better and better, which gets dismissed, we are heavily invested in service technology and capabilities and have invested even more so.”
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but so far I am not in love with Peter Kern. He acknowledges that people are nervous. Points there. And that nervous people want an agent to talk to. More points. However, his tech isn’t being recognized (so tempted to insert a boohoo) and, more importantly, the implication is that improved service technology is the answer for nervous bookers.
Oxymorons aside, the point of the Skift podcast was to discuss growth by looking over the global travel landscape and defining opportunities. In this case, what makes up the the eighty percent not controlled by the big four.
Historically, Expedia has had a voracious appetite for growth fuelled largely by mergers and acquisitions. Kern said M&A is no longer the primary strategy.
According to Kern: “The other eighty percent is small people, small players, direct, airlines, hotels chains. It’s an opportunity for us.” Adding “not for us to steal the business, but from our perspective, to participate in the business and help those partners drive their businesses. It’s an opportunity for us.”
“I think there’s huge opportunity, you just need to innovate the products, innovate the business model over time and we think, I don’t know about exponential…but I think there’s plenty of growth, you know, for all of us.”
It is the opinion of this author that the word “us”, in the context above, has a very limited membership. Although one can hope that Expedia’s growth plans would entail providing technology which would streamline some legacy platforms held together by tape and staples, a fraction of those trillions could trickle our way more easily. When speaking publicly though, you might want to remember not everyone is on the multitrillion dollar scale, Kern.