October 2018 | Interview: Mario Ribera - Vice President for Latin America, Expedia Group
Vice President for Latin America, Expedia Group
1- How would you define Expedia Group?
Expedia Group is, above all, the number one travel platform in the world. We are a company made up of 23 brands with global relevance and reach that boost the travel industry through technology. In 2017 alone, we have invested 1.46 billion dollars in technology and content and almost 4.6 billion dollars in marketing, to radically revolutionize our business model so we can be the leading technology provider in the industry and provide our hotel partners all the tools and products that offer approved technology solutions to improve their business.
2- What is the importance of Latin America within the company’s global plans?
The Latin American markets are very important to Expedia Group. Tourism in the region is in a stage of healthy growth and our team strives every day to support our hotel partners to amplify their exposure in our portfolio of brands, while boosting an increasing demand for their properties. We work with hotels of all sizes and owners with business models of all types to increase tourism in all markets. Whether Latin Americans traveling within Latin America or international travelers traveling to Latin America. We have a team of experts based in countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic and Argentina, who are responsible for meeting the requests and needs of each of our partners in each of the markets in which the company is present, from major cities to the smallest towns.
3-Which are Expedia Group´s the main markets and destinations within the region?
In Expedia Group we work to attract the best international travelers to all Latin American properties, but we also seek to promote the tourism of Latin Americans traveling through our region. Our main markets are in countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean islands, but we are also seeing significant growth in South American countries such as Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia and of course Brazil.
4- What is the profile of the traveler using Expedia Group’s services?
Demographics vary depending on each of our brands and include differences in sex, age and family income. For example, 59% of Expedia.com users are men, 41% are women, and 59% are 25-54 years old. With respect to brand reach in Latin America, our Expedia brand (Expedia.com) receives about 608,000 visitors in Mexico, 179,000 in Argentina, and 1 million in Brazil. In the case of Hotels.com, these figures reach 1.7 million in Mexico, 276,000 in Argentina, and 1.4 million in Brazil.
On the other hand, a recent study developed by Expedia Group Media Solutions, our branch of business marketing, indicates that Latin American travelers who use our services are very aware of the scope of their budget and prioritize experiences and activities.
We know that 6 out of every 10 people who travel in Latin America are generally not clear about which destination they will choose when traveling, while almost 50% of them always look to OTAs as a source of inspiration to find the information needed to book their trip.
Additional data indicate that 64% of Latin American travelers prefer to travel within their own country than to travel to other countries, and 75% of Latin American travelers use their mobile devices during the inspiration-seeking process to find their next customized travel experience. Finally, a very relevant piece of data from this study revealed that 69% of Latin American travelers choose to stay in a hotel when they are away from home.
5- What changes or trends have you noticed in this profile in the last years?
At Expedia Group, the main trend that we are observing is the trend of travelers for what we call the “personalization of travel experiences”. To be at the head of what travelers are looking for, we have to research, test new formulas and rely on the data we know, to know our users more and more. Expedia Group’s objective is to break down the barriers and anxieties generated by travel and, above all, to reach a day in which we can know exactly where people want to travel, before they themselves know and simplify and streamline the process of booking a trip, both for our hotel partners and for our users.
That’s why technological innovation has become a fundamental part of Expedia Group and the reason why in the last two years alone we have invested 2.7 billion dollars in technology and make improvements and changes in our platforms, approximately every 24 minutes on average.
6- What are the innovations and trends that you anticipate for the sector in the near future?
When we think of the travel industry, we think of the 3 Ms, which are: Mobile, Messaging and Machine Learning. Machine learning is a powerful and positive disruptor. It allows for personalization like we’ve never seen before and ultimately this will have an impact on the way people book a trip, but it will also have an impact on the way properties personalize their offer to travelers.
At Expedia Group we are developing advanced algorithms and dynamic models using machine learning to optimize our fraud prevention and detection efforts. Artificial Intelligence, which is the next step on the scale, is helping us to improve our cloud infrastructure and optimize our performance during traffic peaks on our platform.
On the other hand we know that mobile devices play a very important role in the economic landscape. They are expected to generate 5% of global GDP by 2020. Specifically in the travel space, searches on mobile devices are increasing worldwide: 47% in Europe, 40% in Asia and 34% in Latin America. Data from a recent study that we conducted revealed that 1 out of every 3 reservation transactions are made through a mobile device and this penetration is a global phenomenon.
Chatbots are potentially the next evolution in the discovery of answers to real questions that travelers have, such as: “where should I go on vacation” or “what is the best hotel for children”. Today, they’re already making it easier to book hotels and even when you’re already on the property and want to make a spa appointment or get to know local points of interest, bots can instantly help improve the guest experience.
Finally, voice control is a change in the game as well. It will be a new way to interact with guests. Google and Alexa are here to stay. Already there are more than 8 million people who have an Alexa device and its uses are already beginning to be seen in the travel industry. One of our most important brands, Expedia.com, already has an Alexa-compatible app and travelers can book their hotel, buy their flights or rent a car with it.
7- What is the benefit of the platform for hotel partners?
Expedia Group’s main commitment is to put our strengths to work for our hotel partners, to drive the travel industry together with our partners, so they can generate more revenue and attract new customers. Distribution is how we evolve as a company, but today we are using the power of technology and our culture of testing and learning to identify and generate new strategic initiatives that meet our partners’ business and customer acquisition objectives. One example is the white labeling process on Expedia Group’s platforms and the associated networks we have created with partners such as Marriot, Barceló and Bahía Príncipe. We also offer our hotel partners access to the largest and best traveler network in 200 points of sale, 35 languages and more than 75 countries. We seek to level the playing field for large or small hotels, with our global reach. We give them access to more than 675 million unique monthly visitors, who visit our more than 200 websites around the world. And contrary to what many think, a recent study we conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics shows that travelers who book through an OTA spend approximately 17% more when they arrive at the hotel where they are staying; so we are not only attracting more, but better customers for our partners.
8- What do you think are the next challenges for Expedia Group?
The travel industry is undergoing a huge transformation towards the digital and that is why not only us, but all tourism professionals must be prepared to face the technological challenges that are approaching.
For that reason, in Expedia Group we want to work hand in hand with the travel industry and stop being seen only as an OTA, to become a strategic partner that brings value to hoteliers. Our investment in technology and marketing and the attention of our local teams are our main value proposition for our hotel partners. We have 189 billion rows of data including consumer behaviors and transactions, which we scientifically process into ideas to help our hotel partners get more demand from their extensive exposure on the different websites of each of our brands.
9- What social network do you use most often and why?
Like Expedia Group, which was born inside Microsoft, I have a technological background too; but above all, I have a background as a traveler. I was born in Bolivia but I studied in the United States and have lived in many different places in the last years, so it has always been important to keep in touch with my family and friends and social networks have been one of the tools that have made this contact easier. Professionally, I also try to monitor Expedia Group’s social networks for Properties for Latin America, because it is also another way to network and build professional relationships with our industry partners. For those who don’t yet, they can follow us on the main social networks:
10- When you travel for pleasure, where do you choose to stay: hotel or alternative accommodation?
As I said before, I travel a lot and I like to travel a lot. I do it frequently around Latin America and I always try to have different stays, in order to know all the offers existing in the market. Sometimes I stay in hotels and other times, I also like to know the alternative accommodations that we have listed in our brand HomeAway.
Both the demand for hotels and vacation homes are growing in percentage in Latin America and considering that the global travel industry generated 5.3 billion dollars last year, the growth opportunities are still very big for all players who are part of this business.
11- What would you highlight from your experience as a speaker and sponsor of SAHIC South America 2018? In your opinion, how does this type of conference contribute to the hotel industry?
It seems to me that SAHIC is a unique event of its kind, because it allows us to connect with a very special audience of investors, owners and partners of hotels from all over South America, in order to put on the table the topics that are truly relevant for everyone. At Expedia Group we try to participate in all possible forums where we can share with our hotel partners what we mean when we say that we make our technology, data and marketing machinery available to the hotel industry. In addition, all the tables and panels of SAHIC had first class guests and for my team and for me it was very enriching to listen to our hotel partners and other members of the industry with whom we work together to talk about trends, challenges and above all, opportunities to collaborate and build together for the benefit of all.
Mario Ribera serves as Vice President for Latin America for Expedia Group.
In this role, Ribera leads Expedia’s market management organization and lodging business in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is responsible for building and sustaining Expedia’s leadership position with lodging partners in the region, through marketing and distribution on more than 200 websites and in more than 75 countries worldwide. Ribera is also responsible for managing the creation and execution of marketplace initiatives to drive long-term relationships with hotel partners.
Prior to joining Expedia Group, Ribera served as a senior executive with Microsoft where he oversaw Xbox global audience marketing, Xbox Live Latin America and various mobile products. He also chaired the Mobile Marketing Association in North America and was an investment banker at Morgan Stanley New York and Argentina. In addition to his role with Expedia Group, Ribera serves on the Board of Directors of Social Venture Partners International, a global venture philanthropy network focused on solving critical social problems.
Ribera received an M.B.A. from Stanford University and B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Having grown up in Bolivia, he is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
To contact Mario Ribera: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Expedia Group, visit: expediagroup.com