Nearly 300 CEOs gathered last week in Palm Springs at the Destinations International CEO Summit, which we were thrilled to have in person again. Among many of the illuminating speakers was Ariane Gorin, President, Expedia for Business at Expedia Group.
Here we share additional perspective from Ariane that builds on what she shared in her keynote, which included a insightful conversation with our event emcee Mark Jeffries. Ariane shares her experiences and learnings from 25+ years in technology sectors, including nearly 10 years in the travel industry (which among other things has consisted of overseeing a global workforce and ecosystem of travel suppliers and destinations during a pandemic). She also shares why she believes destinations are at the heart of travel, and her perspective on how a shared commitment to both leading with empathy and insights will help the industry rebuild, enabling us to withstand future uncertainties and emerge on the other side even better.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for destinations as they look to come out of the pandemic?
We are more resilient. You can all be proud to have weathered the pandemic storm. We became more agile; we evolved with each new health restriction and used our ingenuity to help our industry survive. Summer 2022 will be the busiest season ever for leisure travel. Destinations have an opportunity to capitalize on the pent-up consumer travel demand by focusing on experiences. Despite higher prices, people have pent-up savings and are not just dreaming of travel, but planning and booking trips. Our latest quarterly Travel Recovery Trend Report (Q4 2021) showed sustained demand for long-haul destinations – travelers are continuing to look for and book destinations further afield for leisure.
While business travel and conventions are still lagging, we expect that too to return. Like leisure, it just might look different, with different use cases. As companies prepare to return to the office and evolve remote work policies, employees are looking to make greater use of their vacation time and, in some cases, combine work and play – what we call bleisure travel or flexcations. Recent Expedia Group research shows that 56% of those who often work remotely will take a bleisure trip in the next six months. Reconnecting with the people that matter and finding meaning in experiences is fueling the desire to travel again. Our recent research showed that nearly a third (32%) of people said visiting family and friends was more important than getting the best deal for their first trip.
You say that destinations are at the heart of travel. What do you mean by that?
Destinations play an important role in bringing all tourism stakeholders together. DMOs are at the heart of travel and THE heart of travel. You are a trusted source of information for travelers and your local communities. It is through your stewardship that communities can solidify their economic position and increase their vitality, providing opportunity for all within a destination. In times of crisis, travelers turn to DMOs for valuable and timely information. Whether it is health, weather, experiences, activities, sustainability commitments or even conflict-related, travelers and travel partners rely on you for clear communication and information.
What’s your top piece of advice for travel and tourism leaders as they look to rebuild?
Two pieces of advice:
- Put the traveler first, and everything else will follow. Travelers have huge choice in where they can go on their next trip, and also where they’ll book it. Destinations have to stand out. Understand the traveler. Seek data and insights to help you understand the needs of the post-pandemic travelers and what fuels their desire to explore the world. Travelers are looking for inspiration. Shift from pandemic to endemic.
- At Expedia Group, we’re putting travelers and the traveler experience at the heart of everything we do – this will make our industry healthier than it’s ever been. It’s no surprise that the pandemic highlighted customer service issues across our industry. We’re keenly focused on improving service and the product experience for all travelers, everywhere. We’re creating experiences that really cater to traveler wants and needs – that proactively anticipate changes, will delight them along the way, and that get smarter with every interaction to provide personal, customized support across every step of their journey – including getting a better app experience. Overall, travelers are looking for easier, safer, and more complete experiences.
Looking out beyond the pandemic/recovery, what other trends do you see for travel?
Sustainability is an urgent global issue that must be addressed across multiple industries and governments – including travel. Your visitors know this and will increasingly vote with their feet. We see travelers increasingly making choices to more sustainable options and so many hospitality and transportation businesses, along with destinations, lead the way on sustainable initiatives. According to our study, nearly 3 in 5 travelers are willing to pay additional fees so that their trip can be more sustainable, indicating that they consider environmental consciousness to be worthwhile. For this reason, it makes sense for DMOs to highlight environmentally friendly practices.
Another trend that is top of mind for many leaders, both in and outside of travel, is the current state of the labor market. We can’t ignore the labor impact in the industry – women make up 39% of global employment but during the pandemic accounted for 54% of overall job losses. We’ve seen around the world that women have dropped out of the workforce at a far faster rate than men, and estimations are that we’ve lost 40 years of progress. This is particularly true in travel. Women make up more than half of the tourism workforce at a global level (54%), (UNWTO’s Global Report on Women in Tourism, Second Edition), but are often concentrated in low-skilled or informal work and have fewer opportunities for education and career development. Travel is 10% of world GDP and created 1 in 5 jobs between 2015 and 2020. We in the travel industry can lead the world in reversing that trend.
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Are you seeing ways that the travel industry is coming out better than before?
We see a shift—and a positive one—on a heightened focus on Inclusion & Diversity in our industry, both in traveler trends and in companies in the industry. We know from our research that people want to go to a destination and book with providers that match their values, including diversity and inclusion, and expect companies to take a stand. We are proud to be among the more than 2,000 companies that signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge and committed to mobilizing the travel industry toward actionable steps to promote diversity and inclusion, as well as Destinations International Equity, Diversity & Inclusion CEO Pledge. We also have reinvigorated our Inclusion Business Groups across Expedia Group with fully supported and engaged executive sponsorship and membership. These groups are focused on advancing inclusion, awareness, development, and belonging for underrepresented identities at Expedia Group. Along with many of you, we face staffing challenges. We’ve found that early talent programs actually address staffing challenges and diversity. We’re more thoughtful about our location strategy as well. Our approach to I&D is top-down, with mix of bottom up and employee-led efforts interwoven throughout the company and culture. To that end, we are committed to building workplaces that prioritize and value a sense of belonging, respect, and equal opportunity – as well as sharing the resources, learnings, and best practices with the industry and our partners. We recognize we serve our travelers, partners, and communities best when we represent the diversity of our travelers and work as allies to create an inclusive culture both within Expedia Group and the broader travel industry.
Sitting across all aspects of the travel ecosystem, what surprises you the most?
Not really a surprise, but a delight…is the resilience of our industry. The sheer human need for connections. When people couldn’t do it internationally, they traveled more domestic. When during the strictest lockdowns they couldn’t travel at all, they did virtual tours. And of course demand has bounced back so quickly…but traveling is part of the beauty of human existence – we’ve always done it.
How do you motivate teams, especially in times of great—and potentially lengthy—adversity?
First, give them a sense of purpose and clear direction on what needs to be done. When there is a rallying cry—a purpose—people perform at their best. Over the last couple of years the rallying cry has been saving our companies, saving jobs, taking care of travelers…and I think the biggest of them all is the value that travel brings to the world, and that we all get to work in this amazing industry. And this allows us to do the impossible, to break down barriers in organizations.
Second, communicate, communicate, communicate. Especially in times of uncertainty, leaders have to be present – whether on zoom or in person.
Third, be honest, and if they chose to opt out of our industry, then support them to do so.
Finally, take care of yourself.
Any words of wisdom you’d like to share with other leaders?
One of my favorite quotes, and one I’ve thought a lot about, is “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Travel has always been complex. If any of us in this room didn’t like complexity, I expect we’d be somewhere else! But we all believe in travel, and that travel is a force for good. I encourage all of us to keep thinking about and taking the necessary actions to make our industry successful. Have those tough conversations, challenge yourself, your peers and your partners across the industry, and let’s hold each other accountable to be the best we can be.
Because the more we deliver exceptional travel experiences, the more people will travel.
Looking ahead (already!) to the next year, what are you excited about most?
Reconnecting with the people that matter and finding meaning in experiences is fueling the desire to travel again.
Our research shows that nearly a third (32%) of people said visiting family and friends was more important than getting the best deal for their first trip.
My sister’s quote: “travel more because more travel = more memories.” I’m excited to create more memories with my team, my friends, my family…and to do the same for others.
For more insights from Expedia Group, download the Q4 2021 Travel Recovery Trend Report.