Expedia lures with best price pledge

US online travel agent marks opening of HK site with fare guarantee and 99pc discount offer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 10:31am

The world's largest online travel company Expedia launched its Hong Kong site this month with a best price guarantee: should a customer find a better price online for the exact same trip within 30 days, Expedia will match the lower rate and also hand out a HK$500 voucher.

The company is also celebrating by offering a 99 per cent discount promotion for this month.

For the month of July, one person will be chosen each week for the month of July among Expedia newsletter subscribers to get the discount on their next booking.

For now, the website is only selling hotel rooms. The flights booking function will be ready next month, the company announced. Full packages including car rental and cruises will be available.

"The prices that you see are real-time prices," says Kathleen Tan, Expedia Asia's chief executive. "Sometimes you see an advertisement for a flight fare and you call but they say they don't have that anymore because it's not real time."

Tan says travellers want control over their itinerary.

"If you book a package through an agent, sometimes you don't even know which hotel you're staying at," she says. "They'll tell you it's a four-star hotel but they won't commit.

"People find booking online is very convenient. You can choose where you want to stay. It's really all at your fingertips and it's very transparent."

Expedia's free mobile app allows users to book travel plans directly, in addition to hosting reviews and storing the user's travel itinerary.

The focus on technology can be traced to its past as a subsidiary of Microsoft.

"We are in a different league than Zuji," says Tan, referring to the rival travel booking site. "They're here much longer but the key difference is we are always focusing on user experience.

"When we put a merchandising banner up, we'll be doing tests. If I put a price and a picture, I can see who responds better? What is the booking experience like?

"I've already gotten feedback on something from a colleague and we are adjusting.

"We are a true tech company. All of our engineering is done in-house. If you don't have that, you're just a marketing company. It's not a third party writing the program."

The mainland is off the agenda for the time being. Tan says they have their hands full with Southeast Asia. She also says that while everyone wants a piece of the mainland market, Expedia wants to make sure it is ready to take on a market of that size.

Expedia also faces stiff competition from mainland sites such as Tuniu, Qunar and Ctrip.

The American company, which is headquartered in Washington state, is now in 11 Asian countries. The Hong Kong site follows launches in Singapore and India last year. Its next stop is Taiwan.