A Tech Company with a Passion for Travel: Orbitz’s Hari Nair Visits JWU

Hari Nair, Vice President and General Manager of Orbitz.com and CheapTickets.com

“My parents would be so proud people actually showed up to hear me speak!” Hari Nair, vice president and general manager of Orbitz.com and CheapTickets.com, joked before snapping a selfie on the stage of Schneider Auditorium.

Nair joined the Expedia, Inc. team—which owns Orbitz and CheapTickets, as well as several other brands—in 2002 and is currently responsible for overseeing retail operations and profitability of the business, brand strategy, marketing efficiency and customer lifecycle management. He visited JWU’s Providence Campus as a Distinguished Visiting Professor (DVP) of Hospitality, and spoke at length about how technology is impacting modern travel.

Expedia controls 40-50% of the online travel marketplace, according to Nair, due in large part to customers’ growing levels of comfort regarding e-commerce and Expedia’s multi-brand, multi-product, and multi-platform approach.

“People are very comfortable making purchases online,” Nair said. That’s one of the reasons the travel industry has continued to grow. “But mobile is the new online.”

According to Nair:

  • 62% of cellphone users made a mobile purchase in the last 6 months
  • 67% of cellphone users engaged with online travel in the last 6 months
  • 50% of Expedia’s users interacted with the company via a mobile device

This change has required Expedia to reexamine their platform, placing a heavy emphasis on user experience. “Experience matters. Ease of use matters,” Nair said. “You need a multi-device strategy that allows users to pick up on one device where they left off on another.”

Nair believes Expedia is also successful because they’re a culturally conscious company. “A user in Japan is going to have a different experience than a user in Portugal, who is going to have a different experience than the user in Kansas City,” Nair said.

They’re also not afraid of change. “When we first launched a site in Brazil, we couldn’t understand why we weren’t successful,” Nair said. “Then we realized Brazilians prefer to pay in installments when making a large purchase. Once we implemented an installment payment program on the site, sales increased by 300%.”

Hari Nair, Vice President and General Manager of Orbitz.com and CheapTickets.com

All of Expedia’s sites are constantly going through A/B testing, changing everything from font size and color to page layout. “The site is different every day,” Nair said. But this isn’t always necessarily a good thing.

“We fail. A lot. But we fail quickly,” Nair said. “We’re not afraid to fall and stumble. We throw a bunch of stuff out there and we see what sticks. The goal is to get more done and to get better at it.

“Whatever you do, get better every day,” Nair said. “I don’t remember what I did last year. I don’t remember what I did last month. But I do remember what I did yesterday. Do it better. Become an unstoppable force."