Ariane Gorin, president of Expedia Partner Solutions, talks to BBT about harnessing technology and battling the gender gap
While Expedia is a household name, and Egencia and Traveldoo are well known in the business travel sector, Expedia Partner Solutions (EPS) is a less familiar moniker. However, with partnerships with 70 TMCs, many travel buyers unknowingly will be customers of this B2B brand.
The Expedia Group created EPS by combining Expedia Affiliate Network and Expedia Global Partner Solutions in 2017. Ariane Gorin, EPS president, recollects: “When Mark Okerstrom took over as chief executive [of Expedia Group], he said, ‘We’ll operate one platform, there’s no need to have two B2B brands.’ So today we have EPS.”
Gorin describes her role at EPS as one that “resonates”, as she can combine her passions for technology and travel. She has worked in a range of B2B roles since joining Expedia in 2013. “I had been at Microsoft ten years when I was approached by Expedia… and I love travel and technology,” she says. “Technology underpins change and growth, and I thought if I can join a technology company that’s in the vertical of travel, that’s great. That resonated with me.”
EPS acts as a gateway to Expedia’s huge vault of accommodation (500,000 properties and counting). It also whitelabels the hotel booking websites for Delta Air Lines and Norwegian, among others. Last year, it launched “Rapid” – an API that plugs its properties into agencies, including TMCs, to cover the booking journey from search to shopping to payment.
It’s called Rapid because, Expedia claims, it is a “quick, light API product”. It has also recently, for want of a better word, culled the number of technology partnerships it has, from hundreds down to nine, via its Certified Technology Partner Program.
With all the talk of how online booking tools used by corporates need to offer a consumer booking experience, to keep employees engaged and in policy, the speed aspect is one that will likely resonate with TMCs as they seek to improve the OBT user experience.
Gorin says Expedia’s in-house research revealed that 68 per cent of business travellers book half or more of their travel outside approved tools. “We work with TMCs on end-traveller needs, and integration into online booking tools,” she says. “The integration into a TMC is complex, but if you get it right, there’s a ton of opportunity. Make it a great API. For example, is the online booking tool defining geography correctly? What do TMCs need? Look at hotel instructions; how do you transmit the check-in process?”
Meanwhile, with her Microsoft background and as a member of Expedia Group’s Travel Leadership Team, Gorin has her eye on artificial intelligence (AI). Research from the Business Travel Show revealed buyers are yet to be convinced by next-generation technology; half said bots, blockchain and augmented reality would have minimal to no impact over the next few years, while just 18 per cent said AI had the potential to “revolutionise” travel.
“AI can be the answer to many problems,” Gorin argues. “What data do I have? What are the patterns? What decisions can I make more efficiently? For example, if 20 per cent of hotel room searches are sold out – then let’s take them out of the system, but show vacant hotel rooms that are nearby. Also, what are the issues that drive calls to agents? Mark [Okerstrom] said, ‘Let’s put the Agent back into OTA.’ Let’s use natural language processing; find out what questions people are asking? For TMCs, it’s really, how do you automate?”
She adds that travel managers should also ensure their apps “add value”. “Make life easier, allow keyless check-in... and when it comes to wellbeing, can you receive alerts that may signal traveller burnout, or that they’re thinking they are going to quit?”
Support for employees
Another of Gorin’s passions is fighting for gender equality. She cites a recent PwC report that revealed in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors just 15 per cent are women.
Last year she was shortlisted for the Women in IT Awards. “I was honoured to be nominated for the Business Leader of the Year category. It’s great to have these [awards] if they promote roles of females in technology. I’m a believer in balanced teams; we’re not there… but I’m hopeful we will be in ten to 15 years.”
Of the 12 members of Expedia Group’s Travel Leadership Team, Gorin is one of two women, along with Neha Parikh, president of the Hotwire brand. However, 54 per cent of her Executive Leadership Team are female, and Gorin is introducing initiatives to support employees returning to work after maternity or paternity leave.
Accommodation and data connections may be EPS’s core product, but Gorin does not underestimate the human side of her business. “Travel is a force for good. It connects people, but it can be frustrating,” she says. “So how do you make travel beautiful?”
It’s a question most buyers and TMCs probably ask themselves on a regular basis as well; constantly assessing ways technology can help them find the answer.
Ariane Gorin is president of Expedia Partner Solutions
. Prior to joining Expedia in 2013 she spent ten years at Microsoft. Previously she was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. Gorin has an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and sits on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s advisory council. She lives in London with her family.