Expedia recently signed an agreement with Tour East Thailand that creates a partnership with the inbound tour company and allows it to sell tours and transfers, ultimately in all major tourist destinations in Thailand.
It’s the first agreement of its kind outside of the US where Expedia launched its “Local Experts” program in 2013 that acts as a concierge for travellers booked through Expedia.
Tour East Thailand’s Business Development Manager Nick Critelli explained, “This is B2C [Business-to-Customer] reaching out to Expedia customers who book just flights and hotels and then travel to Thailand.
“Expedia Local Expert allows us to build an activity itinerary for travellers with an insider’s perspective… This includes organising a wide range of activities such as ground services, tours and excursions, restaurant bookings, attraction tickets and promotion of retail outlets.”
Tour East adopts Expedia branding for its outlets and shops, even down to staff uniforms and signage at courtesy desks in hotels.
“It gives us the ability to use the Expedia Local Expert [ELE] brand to open branded, tour counters, service centres and shops… In Phuket, we have already opened a ELE store in Banana Walk on Patong Beach,” Mr Critelli explained.
“We have staff in Expedia uniforms visiting clients, leaving welcome packs, selling our activities and working with hotels to open desks.
“The passengers that we can now serve come from all brands of the Expedia group including Hotels.com, AirAsia and Wotif… Tour East is the exclusive partner in Thailand for this new business.”
Designated Expedia Local Experts gain immediate access to all Expedia customers once they book a hotel, or flight, to a destination. It allows them to send a welcome greeting, or call them to offer additional in-destination services, or provide information.
In the US, many hotels outsource their concierge services to ELE representatives who earn commission off any in-destination products they sell. In Thailand, Tour East will staff hotel courtesy desks to serve Expedia clients.
A check of Expedia’s booking website shows the in-destination content offered by ELE is filed under “Things to Do”.
In Samui, most of the tour and attractions bookable under “Things to Do” are products offered by Tour East. Just one product showed on the first page from another local Samui attractions company
Expedia Local Expert Vice President and General Manager Eric David said, “We are extremely excited to introduce it in Thailand as we continue to expand our global footprint. We have been conducting business with Tour East Thailand, the market leader in the tourism sector in Asia for the past few years, and believe they are the right partner to run this program starting in Phuket and Bangkok.”
He reaffirmed Tour East Thailand’s exclusive role would include offering hospitality hours and full service concierge desks throughout Expedia’s hotel network.
“While there may be several companies providing transfer and activity services to our guests, Tour East Thailand will remain our sole and exclusive in destination operator,” Mr David explained.
Although the link-up with a inbound tour company is new for Expedia outside of the US, Thailand’s travel industry is no stranger to tour firms offering courtesy desks at hotels.
World Travel Service, a leading tour company pioneer in Thailand during the 1970s to 1990s invested heavily in hotel courtesy desks that sold in-destination tours to independent hotel guests, at all the country’s top tourist destinations including the capital Bangkok.
Today’s independent travellers book flights and hotels online and as Expedia expands bookable content to in-destination tours it needs a local expert on the ground.
“Things to Do” is a lucrative sector of travel that so far has been largely beyond the reach of OTAs, but that is now changing as they expand to inclusive holidays.
For inbound tour operators that are seeing their group tours from Europe decline, they can recover business through programmes such as Expedia Local Expert by offering in-destination service, either online, or face-to-face once the independent traveller arrives.
– Don Ross