[THE INVESTOR] Hotels.com, a subsidiary of US online travel company Expedia Group, is looking to step into a leadership position in Korea by investing more in technology innovation, a top executive recently told The Investor in an exclusive interview.
“We would like to move from being a challenger to leadership position. Our goal for the next 10 years is to become an industry leader here,” said Nelson Allen, general manager of Hotels.com’s Asia-Pacific region. He was in Seoul to participate in the 10th anniversary celebrations of the local unit of Hotels.com on Nov.16.
Nelson Allen, general manager of Hotels.com’s Asia-Pacific region
One way to do that is by honing Hotels.com’s technological edge to attract more mobile users in Korea -- one of the world’s most wired countries.
“We are looking at Korea as a test bed for mobile experiences,” Allen said. “About 45 percent of our transactions are on mobile devices (globally). Korea reached that point long time ago, so it is much higher than that now.”
The country is becoming an important market for online travel agencies, since the number of outbound tourists is growing. The figure increased by 18.4 percent on-year to 26.5 million last year. The company declined to state the exact figures of its market share here, but said Korea is definitely a key market among APAC countries.
One of the priority technological improvements Hotels.com is considering is in its booking system. “One time we changed the font with our Hangul (the Korean alphabet) characters, and we saw this small improvement and conversion which translated to a huge bump in our growth.”
Moreover, the company also plans to improve its services like user guides on its mobile app. He demonstrated the current guide which provides diverse information about restaurants and tourist attractions around the hotel that users prefer.
“You book the room and we’re done. That’s not the case (for Hotels.com). We are trying to add value. Our plan is to start adding these guides in Korean language,” he said.
In order to make these kinds of technology innovations, the company holds sessions several times a year to collect ideas from its employees. “Anyone in our company can participate and provide ideas internally,” said Jason Kim, representative director of Hotels.com Korea.
During the sessions, all ideas are reviewed by an internal product team. The team evaluates whether they can be applied to the actual business. One of the main criteria that the travel company emphasized, when evaluating new technology ideas, is the company’s mission to stay simple. Even though an idea is innovative, if it confuses users, Hotels.com does not apply it to the app.
Additionally, according to the company, Expedia Group has injected US$1.5 billion over the past year on technology and data. If any subsidiary brand, including Hotels.com and Trivago, successfully makes some technical advancement, the company makes it possible for the technology to be shared with all subsidiaries.
The company’s strategy in Korea comes mainly from Allen’s deep understanding of the dynamic market here. He worked at Samsung Electronics for 10 years primarily based in Korea, starting as an internal consultant in the Samsung Global Strategy Group, and later as global marketing director of its digital media division.
“If we ever thought we understood Korea three years ago, it has all changed now. We have to understand the market again today,” Allen added.
By Song Seung-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)