Expedia’s New CEO on What He’d Like to Change

Expedia

Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom speaking at an event in early 2017. Expedia

Skift Take: A lot of CEOs say they will maintain the policies of their predecessors. But when huge challenges surface, it will be up to Okerstrom to be his own guy, and chart a new course when necessary.

— Dennis Schaal

You can expect Mark Okerstrom, Expedia Inc.’s new president and CEO, to stay the course, for the most part, of his predecessor, Dara Khosrowshahi, who now has the chief executive’s office at Uber.

In a conference call wth the press Wednesday afternoon from Washington State, Okerstrom said he doesn’t have a long list of “Gee, when Dara leaves,” he’ll do this or that.

One reason is because as CFO since 2011, Okerstrom has been involved in all the big decision regarding strategy and acquisitions. So, for the most part, Khosrowshahi’s strategy has been Okerstrom’s, as well.

Asked about Expedia’s stated goal to “go global” in 2017, Okerstrom said mergers and acquisitions “are in our DNA,” and he can envision being opportunistic about them along with trying to accelerate organic growth.

A key priority is finding solutions to getting better at “solving unique local challenges,” he said, such as expanding in emerging markets such as India.

Okerstrom also sees a huge potential for growth in adding hotel inventory around the world, adding that Expedia likely has only one-third of the world’s hotels wired up.

Not surprisingly, Okerstrom said he envisions a closer relationship with Uber, which he called complementary to Expedia’s travel services, now that his boss until today takes up the ride-sharing mission.

There will be plenty of opportunity to talk to Uber’s new boss about that because Khosrowshahi will remain a member of Expedia’s board.

Whether it’s hotels, car rentals or tours and activities, Okerstrom said he’s “super-excited about the prospects ahead.”

It’s an interesting time for the online travel industry: The CEOs of the two largest companies, Glenn Fogel at the Priceline Group, and Okerstrom at Expedia, are very experienced hands at their respective companies, but newbies in the CEO slot.

They will both be tested.

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Secret Escapes Is Growing on Acquisitions and Flash Sales’ Stubborn Viability

Secret Escapes

Founded in 2011, Secret Escapes claims to offer deals of up to 70 percent off luxury hotel stays. It has sold more than 6 million room nights. Secret Escapes

Skift Take: The conventional wisdom has been that flash sales can’t be a profitable model during economic good times. The apparent success of Secret Escapes puts the lie to that notion.

— Sean O’Neill

Flash sales for travel are out of fashion in the United States. A common explanation is that the model only works during recessions when hoteliers are eager to offer discounts to put heads in beds — and when consumers are willing to be more flexible than usual about their travel plans to snare deals.

But the apparent steady growth in Europe of Secret Escapes, the London-based vacation deals marketplace, suggests that smart execution can still win the day during economic good times.

On Wednesday, Secret Escapes said it had bought all of the equity of Slevomat Group, a leading travel deals business based in the Czech Republic, with brands Slevomat.cz, Zlavomat.sk, and Skrz.cz

Slevomat.cz will produce net sales minus tax of close to $119 million, or 100 million euro, this year, the companies said. It will retain its brand.

Earlier this year, Secret Escapes was named one of the 1,000 fastest-growing businesses in Europe by the Financial Times. It says that its portfolio of brands will sell more than 6 million room nights across the world this year. In 2015, the company notched sales without value-added-tax of about $225 million, or 175 million pounds, it tells Skift.

In 2015, Secret Escapes raised a $60 million funding round that included venture capital firms Google Ventures, Index Ventures, and Octopus Investments as investors.

All of that context suggests that there is life in the members-only flash-sale concept — an idea that had a heyday in the United States during the financial crisis.

Secret Escapes plans to use “dynamic packaging,” or letting shoppers pick the exact flight or hotel they want from a menu rather than a pre-set bundle, to increase demand. The offering is only available on a smattering of its UK-based deals today, but executives say they hope three-quarters of all its packages will be dynamically created within two years.

Its chief executive and founder Alex Saint says he hopes to list the company on the public markets by 2021.

Secret Escapes has grown via acquisition. In 2013, it took over JustBook, a Berlin-based flash-sales rival that it turned into its German version of its Secret Escapes brand. In 2014, it bought Travelist, a flash-deals brand it has maintained in Poland and expanded to Hungary. In 2015, it purchased Germany’s Travista and folded it into its German brand. Today, its main revenue comes from its German and UK brands, though after the acquisition it will operate in 21 countries.

Leading Player Globally?

Secret Escapes claims to be the largest flash sales travel company in the world, overtaking TripAdvisor-owned Jetsetter and Gilt Groupe’s Voyage Privé. But none of the three brands disclose gross bookings or revenue.

The term “largest” depends on how you define the category.

Travelbird, an Amsterdam-based startup, says it is the largest deals publisher in Europe. But it has diversified toward being more of an online travel agency, with about 100 of its 446 employees being “travel advisors” who can help with booking itineraries to customers in 11 European countries. It claims to book transactions that result in 15,000 travelers being on its trips every day on average.

For its part, Booking.com claims to have 841,000 “members-only deals,” many only available on short notice and accessible if you sign in.

In the U.S., Groupon continues to sell travel via its Getaways product and says it sold $700 million in travel in 2016. Many of those deals are of the flash-sale variety. Last autumn it acquired LivingSocial, a brand that continues to offer flash-sales for travel and other products.

Relatedly, you could argue that many of the deals for sale at the last-minute by Hotel Tonight are also flash sales that are only available to people who create membership accounts, broadly speaking. It had $500 million in sales last year and is turning a profit. Revenue would be about $60 million to $65 million for 2016.

Yet it is undeniable that Secret Deals is building a business on a pure, members-only flash-deals. Its fate is far different from its U.S. counterpart Jetsetter, which was once expected to become a significantly sized travel company.

In 2015, Jetsetter decided to outsource its flash-sale business, which had once been its flagship product, to Secret Escapes on a white-labeled basis, and now uses a mix of metasearch and some selective, one-off deals with online travel agency partners like Agoda. TripAdvisor rarely talks about Jetsetter today. Flash-in-the-pan was more like it.

Travelzoo has similarly all-but-bowed out of flash sales.

While Secret Escapes (and to a lesser extent Travel Bird) are still riding high on recent venture capital raises, the companies seem to also be showing that execution can make the flash-sales model work.

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Most Hotel Apps Still Need a Radical Overhaul

Virgin Hotels

L2 singled out the Virgin Hotels app as an example of a particularly good hotel mobile app thanks to its multi-purpose functionality. Virgin Hotels

Skift Take: If mobile is increasingly becoming a more popular channel, not only for booking and search but also for in-destination travel experiences, this report is proof that hotels have a lot of work to do when it comes to their apps.

— Deanna Ting

Most of the hotel apps out there aren’t worth downloading onto your smartphones. At least that’s what researchers from business intelligence firm L2 Inc. found when they conducted a recent survey of 311 hotel brand apps.

While hotel apps are abundant, very few are considered useful or essential. “L2 research found that the majority of hotel apps don’t crack the list of the top travel apps in the iTunes App Store, nor have they even been updated in 2017,” said Michael Silverman, senior client strategist at L2 Inc. “Only 14 percent of apps reviewed ranked in the top 1,500 apps in their native categories in the past year.”

Worse yet, only “34 percent of apps haven’t been updated since 2016 and 20 percent haven’t been updated since 2015 or earlier, which we call ‘left for dead,’” Silverman added.

And while there are, he said, “a lot of interesting, in-stay experiences that some hotel apps offer — from keyless entry and ordering room service to streaming Netflix on your TV — currently most hotel apps with in-stay functionality only allow you to book your hotel reservation or message the concierge.”

Of the original 311 apps L2 looked at, only 57 percent (178) were considered to be “core apps” that handle at least one of the following functions: in-stay services, loyalty connections, and booking. Of those 178 apps, only 6 percent could do all three.

The Best & The Worst Hotel Apps

More often than not, what gave a particular hotel app an edge over others related to functionality.

“The best hotel apps that meet user needs are the ones that handle booking, in-stay experiences, and loyalty management all in one,” Silverman noted. “L2 found only 11 of these apps which, unsurprisingly, include the major hotel groups: Marriott, IHG, and SPG.”

Robert Cole, the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm, said that “having it [different functions] all together makes a lot of sense but you have all these tradeoffs, too.” Why? “Companies need to appeal to the lowest common denominator and then they often wind up with a milk-toast brochure which just isn’t very exciting or compelling or engaging, but has some base level of functionality.”

That may be the reason, he suggested, why some hotel companies thought it was a good idea to have brand-specific apps. But Cole concluded that ultimately it’s better, especially for larger players, to have apps that are multi-purpose, multi-brand, and connected to loyalty.

Cole did say that the fact that just 3 percent of the 178 core apps handled loyalty was a “head scratcher” and “a big gap.”

“If you look at all the things that hotels have been doing to get more loyalty members and get them to book direct, why aren’t they trying to engage those members through their apps?” he said “These are some concerning numbers here.”

While the majority of apps reviewed by L2 had very little functionality, Silverman did point out that two apps, in particular, had a variety of features that made them more valuable to guests.

“Aside from these all-in-one apps, the Radisson RED and Virgin Hotels apps were our favorites that featured a broad range of digital control elements, from messaging hotel staff to ordering food, either to your room or to go,” Silverman said.

Messaging, as Skift noted last year, is a function some major hotel companies are beginning to add onto their mobile apps.

Cole concurred, saying the best hotel apps he’s seen are able to do more than book a room. They’re often tied into global positioning systems (GPS), offer mobile check-in, enable phones to become room keys, and let you pick a specific hotel room (like Hilton’s app already does).

The worst apps, Silverman said, are those with the least functionality or those that are developed for a single hotel location or property. “L2 found 31 of these apps that serve as no more than digital versions of in-room hotel guest services brochures,” Silverman said. “Also, a lot of the stale or left for dead apps that haven’t been updated in 2017 are not helpful for hotel guests, as they can contain broken app elements and outdated information.”

Cole noted that a possible reason why hotels may not be updating their apps as often as they should is because it’s a big investment, especially when you’re developing apps for usage across multiple devices.

Cole also wondered if L2 had considered whether or not the apps offered the ability to seamlessly share content on social media channels in its review.

What Hotels Should Be Doing With Their Apps

In addition to cutting down on the number of apps they have and beefing up the functionality of those apps that remain, L2 said that hotel companies should be just as focused on marketing their apps as they are in building better apps.

L2 found that Apple App Store Search Ads appear against 94 percent of unbranded luxury hotel queries, but the majority of hotel brands reviewed by L2 are not yet paying for any ads, meaning it’s often harder for consumers to know that these apps even exist.

“The travel category is extremely competitive when it comes to mobile apps, and hotel brands need to step up their game,” Silverman concluded. “In order to remain relevant in the saturated travel space, hotel brands should be consolidating their apps into one per brand, updating those apps frequently, and begin buying Search Ads on the iTunes App Store.”

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A Win-Win for Meeting Planners and Sports Venues Alike — Meetings Innovation Report

Giants Enterprises

A dugout presentation at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Sports venues like the baseball stadium are becoming increasingly popular with meeting and events groups. Giants Enterprises

Skift Take: Sports venues are quickly becoming a preferred event venue of choice for groups that are looking for a memorable and unconventional meeting.

— Deanna Ting

The Future of Meetings & Events

Perhaps one of the most glaring remnants of the recent Olympic Games in Brazil are the empty sports venues dotted throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro, and it’s not a problem faced by Rio alone.

Many cities the world over are finding their stadiums and arenas are empty when they’re not hosting sporting events, let alone a spectacle as large as the Olympics.

But what if those venues could be repurposed as venues for non-sports meetings and events when they aren’t being used for competition? That’s exactly what some cities and sports teams and venues are discovering and they’re now making more of an effort than ever before to court meetings and events groups, as writer Sheryll Poe discovered. Read the full story here.

It’s yet another example of how meetings and events can benefit communities by choosing to meet in more unconventional settings.

— Deanna Ting

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Social Quote of the Week

“The 10 Best Ways to Promote Your Event Online:” https://www.eventbrite.com/blog/academy/10-best-ways-promote-event-online/ #eventmarketing via @Eventbrite

@Eventbrite on Twitter

The Big Picture

Planners Look to Sports Venues to Host Innovative and Immersive Events: The use of sports stadiums and parks for non-sporting events is a growing trend in the meetings and events industry, and professional sports teams who are eager to create additional revenue and leverage investments are promoting their state-of-the-art venues as a unique alternative for hosting conferences, trade shows, meetings, and events. Read more at Skift

How iOS 11 Will Bring AR Straight To Events: Apple iOS 11 is coming this September and augmented reality (AR) will be baked in, making it the biggest AR platform in the world. Read on to find out how that will impact events. Read more at Event Manager Blog

What Generation Z Wants From Events Now: Skift took a look at this last week, and this week BizBash takes a look at the inaugural Girl Cult festival, created by Galore magazine and Goldenvoice, as an example of what Gen Z wants from meetings and events. Read more at BizBash

Proceedings & Conclusions Arising from the 2017 IMEX Politicians Forum: “How can the meetings and events industry most effectively contribute to the development of regions and cities in a world environment where globalisation, urbanization and the free movement of people are changing the structure of society and the way we live?” That was the crucial question at the heart of the debate at the 15th annual IMEX Politicians Forum where more than 30 politicians and policy makers from around the world met with 80 industry leaders during IMEX in Frankfurt 2017. Read more at IMEX Frankfurt

Next Generation Meetings UX

Ultrasonic Beacons and Events: Ultrasonic beacons have breached the concert ticketing space, and events are next in line. Read more at Cramer

These SXSW Panel Proposals Include DC Tech Leaders: Voting is open for SXSW’s PanelPicker. Byte Back and Crowdskout are on the ballot. Read more at Technical.ly

Six Tips for Reimagining B-to-B Events From the Offbeat C2 Montreal Conference: The brainchild of Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil, C2 is an offbeat hybrid of a TED talk and a theatrical performance that reimagines and challenges the standard conference format. Read more at Event Marketer

How Event Tech Helped Turn a Conference Into a Global Movement: The 3% Conference tackled the issue of gender imbalance in the advertising industry — five years later, it has evolved into an international community that is enacting real change.
Read more at PCMA Convene

Skift Global Forum 2017

This Is Not a Freakin’ Trade Conference: Year Four: Skift has lined up one of the biggest gatherings of CEOs and founders in the travel industry, ever. Check it out, and join us in September if you can. Read more at Skift

Subscribe

The Skift Meetings Innovation Report is curated by Skift Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting [dt@skift.com] and SkiftX Editor Greg Oates [go@skift.com]. The newsletter is emailed every Wednesday.

Subscribe to the Skift Meetings Innovation Report

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Chefs+Tech: How Food Psychology Affects Restaurants Large and Small

Rey Lopez  / ThinkFoodGroup

Interior of the Pepe Restaurant concept in Washington, D.C. from ThinkFoodGroup Rey Lopez / ThinkFoodGroup

Skift Take: Restaurant menus aren’t random, they’re carefully crafted and chosen with more in mind than taste alone — especially when it comes to chains.

— Kristen Hawley

chefslogo_use-for-socialEditor’s Note: In September we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech newsletter. 

We see this as a natural expansion of the Skift umbrella, bringing the big-picture view on the future of dining out, being fanatically focused on the guest experience, and at the intersection of marketing and tech.

We publish C+T twice weekly.

Food Psychology and Restaurants

Remember that episode of Portlandia where Steve Buscemi plays a celery salesman who gets to meet the man behind bacon’s rise to menu prominence? Turns out, the story isn’t all that far-fetched — there was a bacon guy. (In the early 1920s, even). It was the early start of food psychology, fascinating manipulation and signals that shape how we eat. (In short, the “bacon guy” was a representative from a packaging company who got one doctor to ask 5,000 other doctors if a hearty breakfast was better than the traditional-at-the-time breakfast of coffee and a roll. When 4,500 of them agreed that sure, a big breakfast is great, he wrote up the results and publicized the results to newspapers around the country.) Thus, the bacon-and-eggs breakfast and food psychology came to pass.

The Ringer tells this and also the super interesting story of a modern-day food psychologist who conducted and publicized (and publicized) tons of food studies that have gone on to shape how we eat. He’s credited with suggesting those wildly successful 100-calorie snack packs to Kraft, among many other things. The story twists and turns a few times, but the ending is that many of these “studies” weren’t exactly credible by any standard, yet people went along with them because they made sense.

I’m not naive enough to believe that there’s not a ton of manipulation and food psychology behind the modern-day restaurant menu. Of course there is. Ingredients can become trendy because of taste, but also because of great marketing efforts. What’s interesting, though, is the different path that a trendy ingredient has to take to make it onto a restaurant chain menu. For an independent restaurant, adding a new menu item isn’t usually an earth-shaking change; if it looks good at the market, a chef can buy a ton of it and add it to the night’s menu. This sort of nimbleness is the backbone of farm-to-table restaurants with changing menus.

What’s harder, though, is for a restaurant with 2,000 locations — like Chipotle, for example — to add a new item to its lineup. Last year, the chain introduced chorizo as a protein option, and now it’s considering dropping the product. If you’ve been to San Francisco’s La Taqueria, a.k.a. the the spot that serves the best burrito in town according to both me and FiveThirtyEight, you know that chorizo is a menu stalwart; if it fell off, people would be extremely unhappy. Apparently, though, the ingredient hasn’t caught on as Chipotle expected given how it performed in test markets. And for any restaurant chain that values its bottom line, adding a new ingredient won’t come without significant research and testing. So: Are restaurants responding to what we want to eat, what they want to cook, or what they want us to think we want to order?

The ThinkFood Lab Is a Concept Everyone Should Get Behind

In July, José Andrés’ ThinkFood Group opened its ThinkFoodLab real-world research and development restaurant around the corner from its downtown Washington, D.C. headquarters. C+T general manager Jason Clampet was briefly in town and took a quick tour of the space with TFG employees. While the space could easily be confused with other fast-casual offerings, a number of things stood out. The menu, for one, avoids the build-your-own approach of many (if not most) new concepts. Instead it features a tiered approach that goes from familiar to more Spanish along the way, with entry points for varying levels of sophistication. Beyond the leadership of Andrés’ lieutenants, technology is clearly at the center of it all, allowing flexibility to change things based on sales or giving staff the freedom to take orders along the lines if the crowds get too big.

The main question we had walking out of the space was why more food groups haven’t tried this. ThinkFood Group isn’t a huge one by restaurant group standards. While a pop-up Cheetos-themed restaurant may get mountains of press, it possesses both the staying power and learnings of a Snapchat exchange. But a space with smart people thinking about what should go inside it and leadership that encourages a bit of vision and innovation is enough to kickstart a regional chain — or at least keep you from launching the latest big flop. Expect copy cats.

Starbucks App Success Is Its Own, Not a Lesson for Restaurants

According to Barron’s, Starbucks is teaching Silicon Valley a lesson in mobile payments, but the story here is actually that Starbucks has been able to leverage technology to add elements of excellent hospitality into a transaction that was previously cut and dry. Now, instead of ordering a blonde roast and getting out of there, they know your name and birthday plus they made it easier to pay. (I suppose you could argue the Starbucks practice of writing names on order cups creates familiarity, but it’s really just an efficiency measure. Besides, when’s the last time you heard a nice story about a Starbucks employee getting someone’s name correct?)

Last quarter, 30 percent of Starbucks orders were paid via mobile, either order ahead or in-store. Its app balances ordering, payments, loyalty, and rewards. Starbucks is a great success story because it has used technology to create good hospitality — with proven results. How close could a restaurant get to this level of hospitality by building their own technology? Plenty are trying, but Starbucks has an ideal scenario here, because loyal guests will visit literally every day for their coffee. There aren’t many restaurants that can claim the same retention. So, Starbucks gets a daily opportunity to train its guests to use things like mobile pay and rewards.

Starbucks is a big success here because its digital presence touches all parts of the in-store experience. And now, the in-store experience is shaped by the digital one, as the company is hiring dedicated staff to manage mobile orders and rethinking layouts to accommodate different traffic flow. But comparing Starbucks to other restaurant chains isn’t exactly apples to apples, because Starbucks isn’t exactly a restaurant. Instead, others looking to win on mobile the way that Starbucks has would do better to keep an eye to the full guest experience and use the brand’s digital messages to enhance in-store hospitality.

Digestifs

  • 12 reasons restaurants should offer mobile payments (It’s a projected $62 billion industry in 2017) — Modern Restaurant Management
  • Trying to understand the rise of fast casual in a fast-food nation – Washington Post
  • Ruby Tuesday tests delivery and a pared-down lunch menu amid a year of operational changes instituted by its new CEO — Nation’s Restaurant News
  • Domino’s and Ford are testing consumer response to robot pizza delivery — Bloomberg

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The Tech-Enabled Vacation Rental Company Has Arrived, But What Does It Mean?

Over the last several months, fast-growing vacation rental companies have begun to describe themselves as “technology-enabled” or “tech-enabled” in the media and in their communications. However, in an sector facing rapid innovations in technology, the differentiation between a tech-enabled vacation rental manager (VRM) and a VRM that simply utilizes technology is becoming less clear. Last month, over two hundred vacation rental professionals and […]

The post The Tech-Enabled Vacation Rental Company Has Arrived, But What Does It Mean? appeared first on VRM Intel.

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Expedia’s New CEO Is Mark Okerstrom

Expedia

Mark Okerstrom was named as President and CEO of Expedia Inc. on August 30, 2017. Expedia

Skift Take: There is only one vote that mattered in Expedia’s abbreviated CEO search — Barry Diller’s. And he wholeheartedly wanted Okerstrom for the job. No need to mess around with an interim title or to conduct the dog and pony show of a CEO search. It was a done deal. Now Okerstrom has to step up to the challenge.

— Dennis Schaal

Expedia, Inc. appointed Mark Okerstrom, its CFO since September 2011, as President and CEO on a permanent basis to replace Dara Khosrowshah, who left to become the boss of Uber.

Okerstrom was seemingly the heir apparent but it’s a bit of a surprise that the Expedia board didn’t select an interim CEO and conduct a search of internal and external candidates.

But Expedia had a succession plan and the board felt that there was no need for a search because the pick was a relative no-brainer. Barry Diller, Expedia’s chairman and senior executive, has voting control of the company.

Diller and the board didn’t consider any candidates other than Okerstrom, Diller said in the announcement.

“We all wish Dara Khosrowshahi the best good fortune as Uber’s CEO. I think we are both proud that he leaves behind such a talented organization. Our Leadership Team, over 12 strong, is as substantial a group of executives as I’ve ever worked with. Prior to Dara leaving, Mark Okerstrom was his principal partner in operating the Company – and therefore this transition is as natural as water flowing down a snow-packed mountain. There was no other candidate that the Board considered. Under Mark’s leadership, surrounded by his excellent and tenured executive team, I’m confident we’ll continue to grow and prosper.”

The dramatic turn of events unfolded Sunday night when The New York Times reported that Uber had offered Khosrowshahi the job.

In selecting Okerstrom for the Expedia CEO slot, Expedia can emphasize continuity to investors, and the company gets a chief executive who thoroughly knows the ins and outs of the company’s strategy, from HomeAway integration issues to hotel negotiations and the intricacies of websites’ sort order.

Okerstrom has been involved in every integral decision that company has made in recent years, including everything from strategy to the acquisitions of Trivago and HomeAway.

He hasn’t been a CEO before, but the thinking goes that he has been a key decision-maker at the company for several years, and has a strong bench of company leaders to call upon who run its various business units, ranging from John Kim at HomeAway to Johan Svanstrom at Hotels.com.

In making the announcement — Skift learned of the decision 20 minutes before the press release went out from other sources — Expedia said Okerstrom will join the Expedia board alongside Khosrowshahi, who will retain his Expedia director’s post, as well.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference in February, for example, Okerstrom addressed Expedia’s warm and cold relationship with Google, the company’s push into vacation rentals, and Airbnb’s impact.

He’s also someone who Expedia chairman, senior executive and controlling shareholder Barry Diller is familiar working with.

Okerstrom has worked his way up the ranks since he joined Expedia in October 2006 as vice president of corporate development. He has served as CFO since September 2011. In addition to balancing Expedia’s checkbook, Okerstrom is responsible for mergers and acquisitions and the company’s global strategy.

The six-year Expedia C-suite executive takes the reins of a company that has had some struggles integrating acquisitions over the last year and a half, and must regain its momentum in the face of the much-larger Priceline Group continuing to do its thing.

Okerstrom’s Note to Expedia Employees

Shortly after announcing the change in leadership, Okerstrom sent an email to employees. The email reads:

Team Expedia,

Well well! These have been an eventful few days haven’t they!

By now I am sure that you have seen the news that I have accepted the role of President & CEO of Expedia, Inc. Having worked side by side with Dara for the past (nearly) 11 years, I know better than most the size of his shoes – big! He is a strong, visionary leader, has been a great mentor to many of us (me included), and I count him as a real friend. Somehow saying the standard “Please join me in thanking Dara and wishing him the best of luck in his new role” doesn’t quite cut it, does it?! So let me just express (on behalf of all of us), a heartfelt thanks to Mr. Dara Khosrowshahi for the tremendous legacy he has left us all. Uber is a very fortunate company.

Looking forward, let me start by saying that I am honored and humbled to have been entrusted to lead this great company of ours through its next phase of growth. We find ourselves in the enviable but equally daunting spot of being in a stronger position than perhaps we have ever been. Yet, we face competitive pressures as fierce as ever and see so much opportunity for improvement and growth ahead. Go Global, Go Faster, and Simply Do Better for Customers, Partners, Employees and Shareholders. So much more left for us to do together!

So what can you expect from me and for Expedia, Inc., going forward? In short, I would assume largely a continuation of the strategic course we have been on. I have been intimately involved in shaping the strategic and financial direction of this company for the past 11 years, so I actually do not have a long list of “Things to do completely differently when Dara leaves” burning a hole in my pocket. What I do have is a passion for listening, for learning, and for organizational and self-improvement. I have a deep curiosity for understanding how we can continue to be a better tech company and most importantly how we can more aggressively innovate to provide even more valuable products and services to our customers and partners alike. So in the near term…you will probably see me asking a lot of questions, listening and no doubt making a few mistakes here and there (apologies in advance J).

I am fortunate to be surrounded by the strongest Travel Leadership Team I have ever seen at Expedia, Inc., and objectively one of the strongest and deepest executive teams out there. The entire TLT, without exception is an extraordinarily committed bunch, who are all in this for the long haul. That said, though we are proud of how far we have come over the past decade plus, in true Expedia fashion, I can assure you that we are all hungry to be better….to truly reach the moving goal posts of realizing our full potential as a company. I believe in this company and I believe in you – I always have. And I know from watching Expedians in action over the years that, together, when we chart a clear course, stay focused and execute – we are a force to be reckoned with in the world of technology and travel.

I look forward to speaking with you all soon and I am super excited for this next chapter. Thank you in advance for continuing to make Expedia such a special place.

Mark

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United CEO to Donate Heavily to Help Employees Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Bloomberg

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is pledging as much as $1 million of his own money to match donations to the company’s employee-relief fund in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Bloomberg

Skift Take: Oscar Munoz will donate up to $1 million of his own money to match employee donations. During a crisis, it’s nice to see a CEO step up to show how we’re all in this together.

— Sean O’Neill

United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz is pledging as much as $1 million of his own money to match donations to the company’s employee-relief fund in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CEO encouraged workers to contribute to its United We Care fund for storm-stricken employees in a letter Monday, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

“We are all in this together, which is why I will personally match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million,” Munoz said, according to the letter, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg.

The Chicago-based airline and its customers have also raised more than $1 million for a broader public relief effort for Houston, which included a $200,000 contribution by United, said Maddie King, a spokesman for the company.

The carrier’s hub at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport has been closed since Sunday and is likely to reopen Thursday afternoon, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

United Continental Holdings Inc. was formed after a merger with Houston-based Continental Airlines in 2010.

This article was written by Michael Sasso from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Pot Tourism Draws Backlash From Residents in Small Alaska Tourist Town

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Residents of Talkeetna, Alaska, are voicing their opposition to the town’s new retail pot store. Pictured is a section of Talkeetna’s Main Street. Tony Cyphert / Flickr

Skift Take: Human instinct is often to rebel against change without considering how change can sometimes be a very good thing. With Talkeetna and other towns in similar positions, residents and business owners should think about how pot tourism can complement and augment their bottom lines rather than extinguishing it.

— Dan Peltier

The presence of a marijuana retail store has caused a deep divide in this quirky tourist town, where hundreds of visitors roam the streets daily browsing in art galleries and souvenir shops housed in historic cabins.

Most of Talkeetna’s stores line the two long blocks that make up its Main Street, where tourists, many who arrive in Alaska on cruise ships and are bused about two hours north from Anchorage, wander into storefronts like Nagley’s General Store for ice cream or slip through its back door for a cold one at the West Rib Bar and Grill.

At Main Street’s opposite end, near a river park where visitors snap photos of the continent’s largest mountain, is Talkeetna’s newest venture into the tourism trade. The High Expedition Co. is a nod to the rich mountain climbing history of the eclectic community purported to be the inspiration for the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure.”

Talkeetna’s first marijuana retail store is causing a rift not seen in other tourist-dependent towns in this Libertarian-leaning state, where marijuana had a casual acceptance long before it became legal. But even here, like in many pot-legal states, some towns have opted out of sales, fearful it might invite crime and other evils.

In Talkeetna, some shop owners — the ones who built a multimillion-dollar business from the steady stream of mountain climbers who use Talkeetna as a staging point for treks up Denali — say this one shop could ruin the tiny town’s historic atmosphere and harm business like the eight or so stores that serve alcohol along Main Street could never do.

“I don’t think he belongs in downtown Talkeetna,” Meandering Moose B&B owner Mike Stoltz said.

Joe McAneney co-owns the High Expedition Co., which opened in mid-May. “The sky hasn’t fallen on Talkeetna, the sun is shining, and this is now the most photographed shop in town,” he said.

Grabbing the attention of amateur shutterbugs is a small “Cannabis Purveyors” wooden sign on the store’s deck.

McAneney has been working to open the shop nearly since the day in 2014 that Alaska residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. He and a partner bought the cabin that was originally built for Ray Genet, an early Talkeetna climber and guide who died in 1979 on Mount Everest. McAneney worked with Genet’s family and has incorporated a small museum dedicated to Genet and Talkeetna’s climbing history. But even that association led to some disdain.

“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.

His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.

State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.

“There are people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.

Opposition mounted as the issue went before state regulators, where a stream of residents unsuccessfully called into the Anchorage meeting to oppose the store’s license.

Among the biggest issue for critics is the lack of places for tourists to puff the marijuana they buy. Smoking pot in public is illegal and that led to fears the nearby river park would become the place to partake.

Alaska State Troopers say there were no citations issued for anyone consuming marijuana in public in Talkeetna from April 1 to July 1, the same as last year.

But opponents argue Talkeetna is lawless, with the closest trooper an hour away. “What are we supposed to do?” asked Stoltz, the bed and breakfast owner. “Are we going to take the law into our own hands? Duct-tape him?”

Stoltz said the very presence of a pot store will harm business in the historic town, where residents make a year’s living between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“If we lose our tourism, we lose what Talkeetna is,” he said. “We’re not catering to stoner tourists. To me, that’s the conflict with Joe.”

Seeing a pot shop on Talkeetna’s main drag didn’t bother 65-year-old Jeff White, visiting from the Louisville, Kentucky, area.

Talkeetna has the artsy feel of a tourist town in Colorado, which also has legal marijuana, he said. “This goes with that vibe, and I think that’s fine.”

One resident dismisses the idea that the pot store is giving Talkeetna a black eye. But it is dividing the town, Christie Stoltz said, noting the chasm has reached her home. She’s the daughter of Mike Stoltz, the B&B owner.

“I feel like it’s generations — the older generation versus the younger generation,” she said.

For some, marijuana was never an issue, Deyoe said, and it pales in comparison to a controversy last spring when the borough proposed leveling trees over an area about the size of eight football fields for an expanded parking lot for summer use.

“I think the community council got way more letters on that than they did in reaction to the marijuana shop,” she said.

 

This article was written by Mark Thiessen from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Pittsburgh Airport Is Letting Non-Ticketed Visitors Through Security to Make the Place a Destination

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Pittsburgh International Airport is letting visitors past security to shop, eat, and meet or drop off loved ones at the gate. Cocoabiscuit / Flickr

Skift Take: As long as the non-ticketed visitors don’t add to wait times for passengers, this sounds like a good opportunity to boost revenue and customer satisfaction while keeping security precautions in place. But it would be hard to see the idea working at airports that deal with bigger crowds and smaller spaces.

— Hannah Sampson

Whether or not you’re getting on a plane, you may soon be able to get in a TSA line — just to eat the pulled pork mac ’n’ cheese at Iron Chef Michael Symon’s namesake restaurant in Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).

Thanks to a new program starting on Sept. 5, non-fliers will be allowed to roam beyond security at PIT as part of a test the airport developed with the Transportation Security Administration’s sign-off. Visitors who check in at a dedicated counter on the airport’s third-floor ticketing level and show a driver’s license or passport can receive a complimentary “myPITpass.” Anyone on the no-fly list will not be allowed, and everyone will still have to go through TSA’s standard security procedures—just like travelers with a regular boarding pass.

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, parents of unaccompanied minors and the children of traveling elderly at the Pennsylvania hub will be able to see them to the gate and keep them company until boarding.

“This is one of the top five requests I get any time I give a speech,” said Christina Cassotis, chief executive of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which oversees PIT. “This is a very unique community in that you have a lot of meeters and greeters, people who drop off and pick up loved ones,” she told Bloomberg.

For Cassotis, the move signals “a return to the good old days” before 9/11, when anyone could show up with flowers to pick someone up from the gate.

But a lot has changed since the good old days. For one thing, security requires far more thorough screenings. And whereas PIT was built as a major hub for US Airways, it now operates as an “origin and destination airport,” where people begin and end their journeys but rarely transit through on connections.

PIT’s history as a former hub explains its vast proportions: a “Center Core” has more than 100 retailers including a Furla, Brooks Brothers, and Hugo Boss. There are also mini-museums—one from the Carnegie Science Center and one commemorating Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—and a recently revamped kids’ zone, created in partnership with Carnegie and the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. And the airport is home to more than 30 restaurants, ranging from fast-food and quick-service classics to, yes, restaurants by celebrity chefs such as Symon.

Until 9/11, the Pittsburgh airport was a popular hangout. “A lot of people remember when this airport was built 25 years ago, being able to come here on a Friday night for dinner,” Cassotis said. “It’s endearing, it’s genuine. People really like it.” But then TSA ratcheted up its standards; non-travelers were no longer welcome.

Locals would still come here for dinner if they could, claims Cassotis. And she has proof: Over the last three years, the airport has run open house nights once a month, each with a thousand attendees. “The shops and restaurants do well,” Cassotis said of the open houses. “Those days are very good for our bottom line.”

PIT’s expansive facilities are also what make this test program viable. In its heyday, in 2001, a prime year for PIT, the airport counted 9.9 million “enplanements,” that is, passengers boarding planes. In 2016, it clocked just 3.9 million—a decline of 61 percent. “An extra 1,000 people here doesn’t make it feel crowded,” said Cassotis.

For the time being, the program only allows non-traveler visits from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“Our biggest push is the morning rush,” said Bob Kerlik, vice president of media relations for Pittsburgh International Airport, “so by limiting the hours until after 9, that ensures that we’re not adding to the security line. The last thing we want to do is make security lines longer.”

He says the airport will monitor the length of security queues, and only issue myPITpasses if the lines are moving along quickly. If congestion forms, it’ll halt the distribution of myPITpasses to prioritize ticketed travelers.

At the moment, the program is not part of a larger, national program, said TSA spokesperson Michael England, although it’s not hard to imagine other airports lobbying for a similar program if PIT’s pilot turns out to be a success. “This is an agreement between the airport and local TSA officials,” he said. “For the time being, there are no plans to offer this at other airports.”

The TSA will not be hiring additional personnel to accommodate the program, nor does it anticipate that there will be an impact on checkpoint times. “The public will be strictly vetted and screened as if they were boarding a plane,” England continued. “All rules for carry-on luggage will also apply to those receiving the myPITpass.”

It remains to be seen if airports with out-the-door security lines, like New York City’s JFK and Chicago O’Hare would welcome the prospect of increasing volume by any amount. And in cities like those, where restaurant and shopping options are plentiful, it remains to be seen if locals would welcome the prospect of visiting an airport for fun. But not Pittsburgh.

“This airport is the pride of the community,” said Cassotis. “Why not let people pass through and enjoy it?”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Nikki Ekstein from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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