Expedia has big Asia travel plans

by Kazuaki Nagata

Asia’s Internet-based travel market, including in Japan, is growing rapidly and the world’s largest online travel agency said Tuesday it wants to cultivate it further.

“The travel market in this part of the world, in Asia including Japan, is now about to the point where it’s almost as big as the United States or Europe, and it is growing much faster than any of these other markets,” said Scott Durchslag, who oversees the worldwide Expedia brand business at U.S.-based Expedia Inc., during a media event in Tokyo.

He said that for Japan he wants to expand bolstered hotel-airline combination tours and 24/7 telephone customer support.

In terms of size, online activities account for only 24 percent of Japan’s travel market — small when compared with the U.S. and Europe, Durchslag said.

He said he sees great potential overall in Asian travel and growth potential for Expedia.

“Being able to deliver more local experiences in the major markets that are participating is a key driver in that growth,” Durchslag said. “Japan is a critical to that.”

To strengthen the service for the Japanese market, the company started 24/7 telephone service for travelers in Japanese. Rival firms’ call centers can’t make this boast, according to Expedia.

The firm also began offering what it calls its Dynamic Tour, in which customers can find a variety of travel options via an online search, putting them in touch with some 70,000 hotels in 30,000 cities. By purchasing accommodations and flights as a package, customers can save up to ¥25,000.

Expedia, which was established in 1996 and also runs travel businesses under different brands like Hotels.com, has been growing worldwide; it posted about $25.9 billion in sales last year.

The company, active in Japan since 2006, has been growing steadily in this country, according to Dan Lynn, who manages the Asia-Pacific part of the business. He said the company grew by about 50 percent from 2009 to 2010 in terms of sales.

Lynn said the company aims to keep the growth rate in Japan high for the next two to three years and is eyeing improved services for mobile Internet users, such as those who use smart phones.