The Abu Dhabi skyline The Abu Dhabi skyline

Cyril Ranque, the president of Lodging Partner Services for the Expedia Group, met exclusively with Hotelier Middle East recently to talk about the group’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa region for the past seven years.

Ranque, who is responsible for overseeing Expedia’s lodging supply relationships and operations globally,  joined the Expedia Group in 2006 and managed its hotel chain partnerships in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific (APAC), then the lodging and transport supply business in Asia Pacific, before heading the lodging Global Market Management group prior to his current role.

Expedia Group Lodging Partner Services (LPS) is responsible for sourcing lodging supply that reaches travellers in more than 70 countries through all of the Expedia Group brands.

It was about seven or eight years ago that we opened the office in Dubai,” he says.  “We have four offices now, so we've expanded in Amman, Jeddah, and Cairo. Ranque revealed that they have around 6,000 hotel partners in the region, and are continuing to sign up more properties.

“The goal really is to give them [hotels] visibility to all the travelers that we have around the world. Our job is to give them exposure, educate them on online distribution and about the specific tools and products we have to make them more effective.”

Ranque revealed that LPS has about 6,000 hotel partners in the region, and is continuing to sign up more properties. “The goal really is to give hotels visibility to all the travelers that we have around the world. “Our job, is to give them exposure, educate them on online distribution and the specific tools and products.”

Story continues below

The kind of hotels LPS deals with are across the board, according to Ranque, who stressed the importance of having a balanced product that appeals in “broader in terms of its attraction to world tourism, especially to Chinese, Indian tourism, which is becoming massive here now.”

Big hotels or big brands tend to have access to a lot of corporate functions, a lot of revenue management tools, marketing savvy and marketing departments. “They have dedicated resources to do everything they have to do. What we're doing is leveling the playing field.”

Therefore, LPS is building tools that are “extremely simple to use for small hotels but which put them in a competitive position versus the big guys. “In revenue management, we have a great tool called Rev+ which essentially provides any hotel, visibility on demand in their market, their competitive pricing versus their ‘compset’ in a real time manner, forecasting compression in the market, recommendations on pricing. These are usually services that only the big hotels have access to,” he said.

Many hotels say that they are different. Ranque disagrees with this. “When you're a hotel, you usually have consistent problems around the world. One thing that we did for hotels here in this region is localize the tools that allow the hotels to interact with our Marketplace called Expedia PartnerCentral. “It wasn't in Arabic which meant that it was only easy to use for those who were fluent in English or in other languages, but not in Arabic. The right-to-left system is a little more complicated, technically, to handle. We just rolled it out, which allows hotels in the region to manage the normal turnover that they have of employees, which happens in every hotel in the world, and still have them operational in one day if you want versus having to pick people who are fluent in English.”

One area that is much talked about in the region is the oversupply of the market, which Ranque says is happening in Dubai in particular, but which is not the case in Abu Dhabi. To counteract this he says that hoteliers need to be very smart in using data to adjust pricing, to and promotional targeting campaigns, and so on.  “Unless you have visibility on what's going on in the market, you're kind of shooting in the dark, or even worse, you're working out revenue management based on last year's data, which is pretty much irrelevant when a lot of supply has been added to the market,” he says.

Therefore, he believes that Rev+ will ensure the company is in a unique place, where hoteliers of all segments can find up-to-date, live market demand data and competitive pricing data to allow them to be smart in their pricing and promotional capabilities. Nobody offers that, not even our competitors. “I think that, in an oversupply market, it will be a key differentiator and hopefully something that will allow the most engaged partners to really benefit.

In terms of different types of hotels – budget hotels, mid-scale, independent hotels or luxury chains – Hotelier wanted to discover which segment holds the largest market share within Expedia. “I'd say we're pretty much representative of the market because the way we look at building the supply is that we essentially sign up the properties that customers want to book,” he says.

Because LPS caters to all types of customers and segments, Ranque said they have value for all of them. “We sell a lot of five-star properties, and a lot of budget properties too.”

In terms of some of the trends that hoteliers in the region should be looking at, Ranque said the data LPS has gathered is very encouraging. “I know because I look at the market level, and so our numbers are very high growth.

Ranque thinks the region is becoming more of a global hub, and less dependent on European traffic which is good.

“In promoting the region, I think when you look at what the government is trying to do such as taxes being lower for tourism, and visas on arrival or 48-hour transit visas. These are all great things to promote the destination. Now, granted there is supply also coming at the same time, but the environment is well-laid out for more growth in the future,” he says.

Other trends related to Expedia, according to Ranque, are that  there are more apartments, residences or houses to cater to  new travelers who travel in groups “for which the hotel products sometimes is either too expensive or not really convenient.”

It is not difficult to see how Google is competition for Expedia, since Google offers a broad range of services such booking flights, hotels, or finding places to rent.  “Google is a great marketing partner for us. We pay them a lot of money,” says Ranque.

“Speaking about what makes them different from Google, Ranque pointed out that Expedia is a travel agency. “We take care of our customers, and we have at least 10,000 customer service agents that are talking to customers every day around the world solving their problems with their flights, with their car rentals, their hotel, or helping them find the best option. In short, real people talking to customers.”

"On the other hand, in my team, we have close to 6,000 people working with other top partners, to help them maximize the exposure of their properties online and across the world. So, we actually have people that are working with the two constituents of the travel ecosystem, customers and partners. Google is a pure technology company. It's not in their DNA to talk to customers or talk to partners if they provide technology solutions.  We think that by being a real travel agent, helping the supplier, helping the consumer, we have a definite competitive advantage there, but they're doing great products. We advertise on their platforms, on all their products in fact."

Ranque just wants it to be a fair-playing field, competitive playing field where everybody is allowed to promote their product.

Ranque went on to describe Expedia's  mission. "The Expedia Group wants to be the world's travel platform, and when we say that, we mean  we want to bring the world within reach, to remove friction for consumers and for travelers, remove all the barriers that make travel complicated for consumers. We just want it to be a fair-playing field, competitive playing field where everybody is allowed to promote their product. Again, we're building a marketplace, so the platform where partners and consumers meet. Our job is to do this. Our job is not to operate hotels. We have partners that do that much better than we do.