Orbitz CEO plans to revolutionize hotel sort — holy Hadoop
When you get Barney Harford going about his pet project, turning around Orbitz Worldwide, he talks so fast that he seems to forget that sentences have periods on the end for a reason.
In the middle of an interview, he’ll almost sprint over to his laptop a few yards away to retrieve a slide about Ebookers’ room-night growth trending skywards.
But where Harford, CEO of Orbitz Worldwide since 2009, gets really passionate is when he starts discussing the 750 terabytes of unstructured data which Orbitz has collected on consumer trip-planning behavior.
The database, created using Apache Hadoop open source software and built around a cluster of 100 servers, is known around the office as the EFX database, with EFX standing for “every friggin’ X.”
“We are parsing every session,” Harford says, meaning Orbitz is collecting and analyzing unstructured data on every aspect of consumers’ trip-planning behavior, providing a highly detailed portrait of everything they like or dislike about landing pages, hotel photos, maps and the checkout process.
Harford says Orbitz can analyze hotel landing pages and why a PPC lead converts into a hotel booking or doesn’t convert and then “funnel them towards the best-converting hotels.”
So, picture what this means.
Orbitz can develop a Recommended Hotels module, which produced a seemingly impressive 7% interaction rate.
In addition, Orbitz can tell whether you access its sites via a PC or Mac and, with Mac users booking hotels with average daily rates about $20 higher than other bookers, the company eventually plans on providing a different hotel sort to Mac users versus PC owners, Harford says.
While that type of hotel sort is in the longer-term plans, Harford says this quarter Orbitz will start testing personalized hotel sorts, leveraging its database of consumer trip-planning data, based on whether you are looking to travel with your family or solo.
Harford believes that Orbitz Worldwide has more consumer trip-planning data than any company in the world and, after doing some testing on Orbitz.com, will use it to introduce variations of what he terms a “ground-breaking” personalized hotel sort on other Orbitz Worldwide sites throughout the year.
All of which, he believes, will be expedited by the five-year, $145 million project to put all Orbitz consumer brands on a global technology platform. The platform migrations are slated to be completed sometime in the first quarter of 2012, Harford says.
Harford firmly believes that Orbitz will make strides based on its digital prowess.
“We are very clear,” he says. “We are a technology company and we have some of the best technologists and data scientists in the industry.”
In that regard, Harford says Orbitz developers are on pace to issue 800 code releases in 2011 using “fully decoupled architecture.”
“We are encouraging our developers to release code every two weeks,” Harford says.
Of course, Orbitz Worldwide faces some stiff challenges, including its effort to play catch-up in hotels, to get more international and to deal with its Travelport parentage and mountain of debt.
In the third quarter of 2011, Orbitz Worldwide’s gross bookings edged up just 1% (compared with 56.2% for Priceline and 11% for Expedia), while OWW’s net income slid 27% to $11.2 million.
Orbitz Worldwide is banking on its global technology platform and site-optimization efforts kicking things into gear, and its private label business, including a second half of 2012 partnership with American Express, has been on a roll.
Asked whether transforming Orbitz Worldwide has been a more difficult task than he expected when he was brought in, Harford said: “Certainly there have been a few more speed-bumps that we encountered along the way than I envisioned up-front. But there also have been a bunch of opportunities that I had not envisioned.”
Although Ebookers, which now accounts for 22% of Orbitz Worldwide’s total revenue, is making some strides in European hotels from a relatively small base, it really isn’t in the conversation when discussing global hotel powerhouses such as Priceline, with Booking.com and Agoda, and Expedia.
Booking.com’s growth has been “very impressive,” Harford says.
But, Orbitz Worldwide — fortunately — doesn’t have to beat Booking.com, he argues.
“We can do great as a business while Booking.com does extremely well,” Harford says.
And, Harford firmly believes that wielding 3,000 terabytes of consumer trip-planning data by 2013 will help during (data)-crunch time.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.