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Q&A: How Expedia?s mobile focus has catapulted it to top status

Expedia?s dedication to connecting with consumers weekly via social media channels and growing focus on smartphone and tablet applications have contributed to its status as the juggernaut to beat in the mobile travel sector, suggesting that the brand will continue to move from strength to strength in 2015.

Earlier this week, Expedia revealed its acquisition of fellow travel brand Orbitz, adding onto its growing umbrella of brands which also includes Travelocity (see story). The company is ramping up mobile moments by leveraging its brand in an accessible way that resonates with many on-the-go travelers, especially millennials.

Jerald Singh, head of mobile product at Expedia, spoke with Mobile Marketer about Expedia?s mobile milestones, social media strategy and dedication to augmenting its users? experience across all digital channels.

Can you share a mobile milestone that you reached in 2014 that you are proud of?
We?ve reached many mobile milestones in 2014 that we?re proud of, but one of our favorites for the year was the launch of our new tablet app in September. Unlike most tablet apps (which are really just modified versions of existing apps for other devices), we designed ours specifically for tablets and with lean-back browsing in mind to create an optimal searching, booking and planning experience that mimics the way we naturally think about the travel planning process.

We did this by streamlining and simplifying the search process, combining hotel and flight into a single search field that allows travelers to jump right in and start browsing immediately instead of having to first determine exactly where, when, how and with whom they?d like to travel. In addition, the app features beautiful, curated collections of destinations from around the world to help inspire our consumers ? which means that to use our app you don?t even need to know where you?d like to travel.

Since launching we?ve found that users are spending more time in the app ? browsing and enjoying ? are coming back more often, and are booking longer stays.

Have you had any challenges with any mobile approaches?
We?ve been lucky to learn a lot through the launch of our new tablet app. While our single search box simplifies the overall research process, we?ve seen that customers simply aren?t used to searching for travel in such a streamlined way after years and years of having to answer multiple questions (traveling where, when, for how long, and with how many people) before they could even begin the travel planning process.

So there?s been a bit of a learning curve there, but we?re always learning from the feedback we receive and are continuing to make constant design updates to help provide our users with the most seamless experience possible on this new search interface.

Which of your mobile strategies have produced the best results? Which have resonated most with your customers?
We?ve realized that people rarely sit down at their computers anymore. Instead, today?s modern travelers use every device they have to interact with us when searching, planning and experiencing travel.

We focus on creating new apps and experiences designed for these ?mobile moments? to best serve our customers when they need us most. Our focus is first on connecting the mobile ecosystem for a truly seamless user experience across all devices, and then moving from a pull to push-based strategy with new features like live mobile itinerary updates, which our customers are responding to very favorably.

Expedia communicates with fans frequently via Twitter

What are the utmost important features that a customer looks to when deciding to book via a travel and hospitality app?
We?ve found that customers are above all looking for a seamless and accessible user experience, no matter how they choose to interact with us. One of the most important feature of our apps is that users logged in on their mobile devices can pick searches back up on their desktops when they get home through our Scratchpad feature.

In addition we?ve learned that people love to be surprised and delighted in unexpected ways when using a travel app. Little personalized touches, like remembering users? searches with our Scratchpad feature and sending them updates on the best time to book or reminding them what gate their flight is departing from through live mobile itineraries, all add up to create a memorable experience from planning to booking and beyond.

Have you found that social media is an optimal channel at creating and maintaining conversations with customers?
Definitely! We?re always using our social channels as a way to interact directly with our customers. One of the best examples of this is our themed weekly Twitter Chats, where participants are asked questions relating to a specific travel theme ? such as luxury travel, budget travel, and travel planning ? and can respond in real-time., allowing us to maintain an open dialogue on what?s important and relevant to them.

In addition, we have a huge community on Facebook and have been working with the social network in new and innovative ways to build unique experiences for our users, and have been testing out promoted Pinterest pins.  We also offer consumers our own Viewfinder blog, where travel experts from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives share travel tips and tricks from their own personal experience, which has allowed us to really build a social community of our own.

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York