Partner spotlight: Priceline is poised for travel resurgence

Because Affirm counts many leading travel brands as partners, we’ve had a front-row seat to shifts in this industry during the pandemic. This blog post is the first in a series that looks at how these brands adapted and what insights are moving their business forward. 

Many of us will remember 2020 as a good year for online businesses. What about those in the travel industry? I spoke with executives at Priceline—a leading online travel agency (OTA) for deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars—on what they learned in 2020 and how they’re laying foundations for a successful future. 

Thank you to Jacobus Kok, Product Director, and Maryellen D’Aiuto, Vice President of Digital Marketing. Below is an edited version of our conversations. 

Stacey Paul: Looking back on 2020, how do you assess the impact from the pandemic? 

Jacobus Kok: Generally, we saw a trend towards people going shorter distances. Road trips were popular this year, with hotel stays and rental cars being a component of many of those trips. With flights, we saw a big drop early on, but over time it’s gone back up.

How did the coronavirus crisis compare with what your business experienced during the Great Recession? 

JK: During that crisis and the pandemic, travelers looked to do more aggressive price-shopping. These periods make many people more price-sensitive, and that plays to our strength. Our focus is to be the best travel deal-makers in the world and have the very best prices. And that's where we bring value that really benefits customers. 

How has Priceline adapted to changing conditions from the pandemic? 

Maryellen D’Aiuto: At Priceline we've always prided ourselves on being a nimble team that’s able to pivot and change very quickly. I've been extremely impressed by how quickly and successfully our team was able to shift focus when the pandemic hit to deliver incremental product enhancements and services that customers needed. 

For example, we launched new content in our search tools to provide better visibility into cleaning protocols across rental cars and hotels. Another example was placing a bigger focus on ease of access to alternative accommodations to help customers looking for rental properties. 

There was also a significant ramp-up in customer contacts in March and April. Our team was able to build out new online and self-service tools so customers could easily make adjustments or cancellations to their bookings without waiting in long queues for callbacks or on hold. 

How has Affirm helped your business, especially now? 

MD: There are so many pieces that go into providing the best deals and options for our customers. And I think Affirm fits into that perfectly by helping us provide another option for payment flexibility. It opens up an opportunity for customers who may not have been able to take that trip or be there for a particular moment to have a chance to do so. 

JK: Using our A/B testing platform we’ve proven that we're getting incremental new customers who wouldn't have booked with us if we didn't offer Affirm. So that's the biggest benefit—growth in the business. 

I think part of that stems from providing the ability to book a trip without having to pay immediately. That can be a big hurdle for customers. But Affirm makes it much easier for them to decide to take a trip with a smaller impact on immediate cash flow. 

Partnering with Affirm can also unlock business value by opening up or expanding market segments. It’s been interesting to see our demographic performance with Affirm, especially their strength in the millennial and Gen Z markets.

What also makes Affirm unique, in my view, is that it really is a partnership. There's a lot of feedback and input from both sides, and that helps drive better results. 

What are you watching for in 2021? 

MD: So much of what's going to happen is dependent on the vaccine. It's so important for customers to feel safe returning to traveling at a broader scale. We also want to make sure that we're building all of the right products and offers that can help them save—like our new Priceline VIP loyalty program, which provides the opportunity for customers to maximize savings and rewards. 

JK: I think once this pandemic is over there’s going to be a huge sigh of relief, and everybody can get back to traveling after being locked in for so long. And I think that's going to really impact our business. Now our focus is just to be ready for that to happen.

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