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With 85 global websites, over 25 million app downloads and 12 million user generated reviews Hotels.com, an Expedia Inc. brand, is one of the world's leading online accommodation booking websites with over 300,000 listings ranging from international chains and all inclusive resorts to local favourites and bed and breakfasts. For the millions of people who use the service every year, though, it represents something much more important – the start of their holiday.
There are very few experiences that rival the excitement of spinning thorough a candy box of holiday destinations, the anticipation of booking your perfect holiday or the exhilaration and freedom you feel when your booking is confirmed.
Today, Hotels.com employs armies of energetic and passionate travellers and adventurers whose sole purpose in life is to ensure that you have the experience of yours.
So, in the spirit of the company, it was with great delight that Thierry Bedos, their global CTO, told me that they’re reinvigorating their inspirational and art-filled Technology and Innovation Center at the EMEA headquarters - that they share with their parent company in Islington, London - and that they’re on a hiring tear. But, these will be no ordinary hires, because this is no ordinary opportunity.
Life without the screen
The customer is at the heart of everything that the company develops and aspires to develop, but while many of London’s developers and tech talent head for jobs in Shoreditch or Croydon, they’ll be limited to experiencing the products and services they create through a screen - albeit a high definition one.
Thierry wants to remove the screen, proposing that new products and services should be inspired by experiences and insights from 'out there' not 'in here'. And this outside-in culture, so often missing in many other companies and industries, is one that I for one would encourage more companies to adopt if they hope to adapt and thrive in the new world we all find ourselves racing towards.
Innovation in a vacuum rarely creates blockbusters - arguably it’s never created a single one - so this outside-in strategy where the world is both your playground and your laboratory opens up a multitude of exciting creative possibilities, such as the ability to use augmented reality to overlay digital information onto the world around you.
Want to translate a sign that’s written in Mandarin into English by waving your smart phone at it? Done. Want to call someone in Japan but don’t speak the language? Then just call them, speak in your native tongue and natural language processing in the cloud will translate everything you say with 99% accuracy. Want a virtual guide to take you on a tour of the city? It’s an app download away and when you combine this with the wealth of other technologies, such as sat navs, 3D satellite imagery and review sites it’s unquestionable that technology is helping us have richer holiday experiences.
Combine this with a passion to disrupt, a sense of fun and exploration and a culture where pushing the boundaries is the status quo, and you have a company that can truly offer new recruits and their customers the experience of a lifetime.
Two worlds merging
In many respects Hotels.com epitomizes just how far technology has come in the past decade, and how far it’s going to take us. Companies that were originally constrained to the web are now increasingly able to extend their influence and reach into the real world, blurring the lines between the physical and digital.
In the past, unless you were selling and shipping a physical product, your ability to have a lasting engagement with your customers beyond their interaction with your website was difficult at best. But the mobile and social revolution, and the emergence of new trends such as Driverless Cars, the Internet of Everything, Smarter Cities and Emerging Technologies such as Augmented Reality and real time Natural Language Translation, are helping brands like Hotels.com create new, exciting services that redefine the customer experience.
Think of all the stress and friction that you would have traditionally faced when booking and going on holiday and you realise just how frictionless your holiday experience is becoming. It has never been easier to experience life as a local but arguably the real magic is the fact that the technology is now, for the most part, transparent – just the way it should be.
Thumbing through reams of holiday brochures has been replaced by mobile search. Spending hours in front of sales assistants has been replaced by sofa surfing. Complex booking procedures have been replaced by buy and click. Checking airline information, hailing a taxi to the airport and check-in are all available via on demand apps and that’s before you’ve reached the airport lounge.
Then, once you’re on holiday, technology will help you navigate the city like a local, help you find the best restaurants, hail taxis, access your hotel room using keyless entry, video chat with loved ones back home, transfer money, settle bills and translate everything under the sun, written or oral in real time at the click of a touch screen and it’ll even help you order a piña colada by the pool. The only thing it won’t do, fortunately is help you drink it – yet.
Hotels.com is about one thing and one thing alone: helping you get the most from your holiday and the world we live in, whether you’re trekking through the Amazon rainforest or chilling out by the pool.
It’ll be exciting to see how many of London’s young entrepreneurial developers and technologists take up the travel ticket and break out from behind the screen to create the next generation of new and exciting services that help us all realise the holiday of a lifetime and I haven’t even discussed the potential of virtual reality, voice driven personal assistants or robot butlers… who thought that working for a travel tech company could be so entertaining?