Photo: Getty / Valentinrussanov

Expedia is switching up its strategy as consumers start to plan trips again.

The Expedia Group travel booking company is updating the experience of its app and websites to focus more on working with consumers on their trips, rather than just focusing on the volume of bookings. It also plans a global ad campaign to support the repositioning starting this week. 

The new brand positioning includes the tagline “It matters who you travel with,” which illustrates Expedia’s desire to be more of a travel companion that can support travelers to get more out of their trips. The company said it will make its largest marketing investment in five years, but wouldn’t specify how much it will spend. 

The change comes after the coronavirus pandemic caused one of the toughest years ever for the travel industry. According to figures from the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending dropped 42%, or $500 billion, from 2019 to 2020. Spend totaled $679 billion in 2020. International travel plummeted 76%, while business travel fell 70%, it said. But as more consumers are vaccinated in the U.S. and restrictions ease, travel looks poised to make a major comeback: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC last week that the company will need millions of new hosts to meet demand as travel picks up again.

Expedia says it conducted research into what customers want in a travel company. Some of the updates include new packages that bundle flights with accommodations and activities with upfront total pricing, or an updated virtual agent that will help travelers, for instance, with health and hygiene information about hotels. 

“Expedia was founded in 1996. And that was an amazing moment, because what it did was, it turned every traveler, every consumer, into their own travel agent, and it was incredibly empowering,” said Shiv Singh, senior vice president and general manager of Expedia Brand.

“It was a year of reckoning for the travel industry, because travel just literally fell off a cliff,” Singh said of 2020. “But … it served as a moment for us to dig deep and understand and study and learn more about our consumers in a way we never had to need to in the past.”

Singh said the company recognizes travel is becoming more of a conscious choice for consumers, one that is appreciated rather than taken for granted. The company also found in its study that the stay-at-home period has made consumers want to travel more. They’re yearning to get out of the house as long as they feel safe and comfortable doing so. And he said that customers are more sensitive to the kinds of experiences they have, both as it pertains to health and safety and in having memorable experiences. 

Singh said the company recognizes not everyone is ready or desiring to travel. 

“We know thanks to Covid, expectations around travel and what it means to be the ultimate travel companion are different, and we want to serve that whether you’re ready and it’s safe to travel tomorrow morning, or whether that six months from now,” he said. “And whether that’s for a vacation to a beach, or a business trip, whatever it may be.” 

The company is marking the repositioning with a global ad campaign, including a U.S. television spot starring Rashida Jones. The company worked with Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi on the campaign creative.