Singapore: Expedia Innovation Lab opened in Singapore – Expedia’s first in Asia and its third in the world, after Seattle and London.
While not as grand and large as the one in Seattle, the Singapore lab is a strategic investment by the world’s largest travel company with $72b of gross bookings to not only drive consumer research development in Asia Pacific but also be the beachhead for mobile innovation and deeper understanding of consumers in a region that will influence global travel trends more and more.
The Innovation Lab was first created in Seattle in 2010 to give a more scientific approach to research, using cutting edge technology such as eye tracking and Facial Electromyography, which was added five years ago, inspired by the game Candy Crush.
“There was a lot of delight and frustration with the game,” said Arthur Chapin, senior vice president & chief product officer at Expedia Group. “And we thought we should apply this to travel – testing visual delight is not commonly done in online travel.”
With EMG, small sensors are placed on the cheek and eyebrow of test subjects, and the sensors record tiny changes in the user’s facial muscles. Expedia’s researchers then track the changes in the EMG readings to understand the real-time impact that the experience is having on the subject as the person navigates the booking process. When paired with eye-tracking, researchers will be able to get a precise read on exactly where the user was looking and what actions they took as a result.
This scientific method is at the core of Expedia’s test-and-learn approach, with 1,450 tests (based on traveller insights) implemented in 2016 (up from 1,375 in 2015).
Said Chapin, “We will be recreating the same capabilities in Asia with a focus on mobile. It was difficult before to track mobile but now we can do it.”
It comes as no surprise that the Innovation Lab in Singapore will have a heavier focus on mobile given that Asia leads the way in mobile adoption.
According to figures shared by Jonty Neal, CEO of Expedia Asia, mobile room nights in the region grew more than 65% in fourth quarter 2016 and Asia sees more mobile than desktop visitors. “Mobile is growing four times faster,” he said.
Globally, 45% of traffic to Expedia is via mobile and 1 in 3 transactions are booked via mobile.
Neal said that lessons learnt in the Singapore lab would prove useful to Expedia globally as “there is a high chance that the next customer will come from Asia”.
In town to grace the opening of the Innovation Lab, Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO of Expedia Inc, reiterated that over the next 10-20 years, the success of Expedia will depend on its success in Asia.
He expects Asia to grow higher than the global average of 21%. “After the US, APAC is second and in time, it may come to rival the US in size in the next 10-15 years.”
He noted that by 2030, two thirds of the world’s middle class will be in Asia and consumer are making the transition from searching for retail branded consumer goods to unique experiences.
“Travel is the best experience in the world. People are valuing stuff less, they are valuing experiences more. We think that as an experiences, travel company, we will be foremost in consumers’ minds.”
Recalling the first time he met the founders of Expedia, when he was a finance person, he said, “They were speaking about changing the world, I didn’t understand that.”
Clearly he does now, saying at the media conference, “Travel is a force for good in the world. Despite what our President believes, the more travel there is, the better, the more we realise our commonality, the more we respect each other. We are about making it easier, safer and cheaper for people to get to places and that’s about changing the world.”