Katja leads Hotwire’s Supply Strategy and Operations Team and spends most of her days analyzing booking trends and driving revenue-growing projects. She works with her team on building a reliable operations process, supplier marketing strategies, a solid data and connectivity infrastructure, and oversees the creation of enablement tools for our Sales Teams. She has extensive experience from account management in EMEA, to commercial negotiations on the B2B, Airline and TMC side. When she is not on the phone or diving into reporting, Katja is usually breaking a sweat at various boutique gyms in the Bay Area, sipping a cup of tea or volunteering at local charities.
What brought you into the world of travel?
I actually studied Marketing and International Business. After my studies I organized sales trips and engineering trips for my company at the time. I was exposed to travel which I really liked and was using various sites and was using cost analysis so then I went to a sales role recruiting students for a Master’s Program. This was where I really learned dealing with objections and hard sales. I really liked sales and found a role at Hotwire in London and it was where all my dreams came together. I could combine travel and sales. I’ve been with Expedia Group for almost seven years and spent some time at EAN (now Expedia Partner Solutions) learning both the hotel side, corporate side and now back at Hotwire, the internal side. Funny enough, there’s just as much sales in internal negotiations. I enjoy that because you have long-term relationships internally and I feel I can be very authentic and direct in building those partnerships.
What do you like about industry?
I like the bottom of the iceberg. Of course what you see on the site are shiny cool things and how we help customers find what they’re looking for – but what I really like is the spiderweb of things that need to be done in order to get there. Numerous teams collaborate to get that one deal on the site – this is really what interests me. You have the sales team, tech team, product team, marketing, and more. All together we bring together this product which I think is truly remarkable. I love that and ever since I started with Hotwire’s Supply, Strategy, & Operations team about 1.5 years ago, this has made me more curious, seeing how relationships in that spiderweb really come together – so what you don’t necessarily see on the site is what excites me most.
How about an area of opportunity for the industry?
Surprisingly, it can be very traditional and slow-moving. The hotel industry is super old and getting mindsets to change can be difficult. Car is also very hierarchical but there are fewer players and more flexibility. Car seems more advanced in their technology and how they think. They have a strong willingness to take risks and try something new – versus in hotel it’s common for people to err on the cautious side. To advance we need to go against the stream sometimes and prove there is a better way by challenging the status quo. Maybe by getting out of your bubble like at conferences similar to HEDNA. One quick glimpse beyond can really energize you and potentially change your perspective. I think that is what the entire industry needs a little bit more of. There’s a big world outside even the industry that we don’t pay enough attention to.
What is one of your favorite places to stay?
The best hotel I’ve stayed at is the Wynn in Las Vegas – for multiple reasons. When I checked-in the room was so large, I was excited I was upgraded! Later I found out – this is their standard room – it was massive and everything was brand new. It’s gorgeous, very trendy, minimalistic style. The first time I stayed there was 2015 and I keep going back.
What industry trends are you watching this year?
People sense where there’s money, right? So it’s not a surprise that transport and ancillary services for add-on are growing. Companies are identifying what their core services are and what non-core services they can add. There are so many startups in the industry that effectively sell content, passes, and attractions as a simple API integration, so I think we’ll see a lot more of that. More sites are also trying to tap into transport instead of just hotel and vice versa. I think they sense this is where the money’s at and where they’re not servicing the customer yet. Ancillaries overall is where I anticipate the industry is going to go.
Supply data and connectivity are two domains your team owns —
What interests you in connectivity?
If you have all your ducks in a row, connectivity can be your money maker. Stable connectivity architecture is the bread and butter. If you don’t have that, then it’s a bottleneck. It touches so much: pushing inventory to the site to ensuring the bookings go through and having an error-free (or close to error-free) environment. Every day in connectivity there’s a chance to optimize because the landscape is ever-changing. I also like how close we at Hotwire are to our connectivity partners. Whether it’s with our core connectivity or smaller channel managers. I see so much willingness on both sides resulting in a true partnership. We all realize we both need each other.
Do you think people realize how important connectivity is?
For some people in the industry, connectivity is not exactly at the top of the to-do-list. It’s needed and great when it’s there but nobody pays too much attention to it because it’s expected to run flawlessly in the background. When there’s an issue, all heads are turning and it can be hard to figure out what the root cause of a sudden drop in transactions is. That’s why I’m so excited we own that on our team because it’s such a central function and a very niche domain – it’s thrilling to have expertise there and to be able to offer that to partners who don’t have connectivity in their day-to-day.
How does your team leverage data to empower our supply team and partners in the industry?
It’s two-fold: First, determine how can we leverage the Expedia Group platform instead of recreating the wheel – so smart sourcing for both the foundation of data and extraction to build a meaningful picture by working with analytics, product, BI, and more. Once we have the data we still need to process it and visualize it to make it useable. Data alone doesn’t tell a story. What my team does is helps build that story to see what is the appropriate call to action. What can we extract from that data and what should we do both from a historical and forward-looking perspective? We build the data to enable the supply team, but also to ensure it surfaces on the website which is why hygiene is so important and our processes are well thought-out.
How can hotels stay relevant?
Consider adding a variety of services to your hotel in order to sell in the maximum way. So make use of OTAs, your loyalty program will likely help you, and look at those around you – experience matters. You can add outside services and you can use your conference rooms when they’re not booked and have a comedy show or a mixology class in your bar during the weekday when it’s not as busy. You need a 360 strategy to attract customers for multiple reasons. You see it especially in cities – hotels aren’t just hotels, which is great because they have a pool you want to use even though you’re not a guest or a Michelin star restaurant in the lobby where people go for the experience — not because they are limited by surrounding options. To be successful you can’t just stand by. This is why properties add free WiFi and parking and are pet-friendly, along with other amenities because they know they might not be able to entice all customers with their rooftop bar, but they can play with that value aspect of the property and provide service holistically. It’s all about, what can you add to entice customers to stay here.
What initiatives are you excited about at Hotwire this year?
We are one of the oldest players in the industry when it comes to opaque (almost 20 years next year)! We have solid data and insights – we’re working on the best ways to get that to partners to leverage. Data and how we bring that to partners is our unique opportunity and I’m so excited about some of the changes and advancements we’ve made and are working on for pricing reporting. We have nearly 20 years worth of data that we can bring to partners and can advise on which makes us stand out.
I’m also excited about some of the gamification pieces that are being added to the site, whether that’s through brand, marketing, or through product, we’re creating an experience for customers to enjoy. You get confetti when you book with us – that’s what the booking process should be – a celebration of travel. It makes the experience of booking more active and less passive. We want users to be engaged and experience a high-level of personalization that speaks to them.
Where does Hotwire fit into the Expedia Group story?
Every brand at Expedia Group (EG) has their unique place and identity. Hotwire will always be a niche channel which we’re proud of. We’re doers, and we work hard, figure out solutions. We have low hierarchies so it’s easy for anyone to get an idea heard and make things happen. I’m happy that EG still sees us as innovative, and opaque — this is our pole position. There’s never a question of if other brands are too similar to Hotwire. We’ve maintained this unique position since we joined and there’s no question in the EG platform of where we belong.
When should hotels use us?
The perfect answer would be always. The realistic answer is we are that flexible player – we are always there and can shift when you need us. The more we hone in on partner goals and have really clear cut objectives, the better we can service a hotel. Last-minute is one of our big areas of strength, but partners use us in any time of need. We are that trusted partner. Our flexibility sets us apart. We have so many incremental customers that are loyal to Hotwire thanks to our deals provided that hotels would not have seen otherwise. We offer you customers that are actually new and a chance for you to win them over. This is a marketplace not many OTAs can provide. Many times we’re just seen for monetary value – we help with RevPAR and ADR which are great but we bring a greater holistic value too.
What sets Hotwire apart?
I like Hotwire because it’s easy. I don’t need a manual to see how to use the site and this saves me time as a customer. I don’t need to compare pool sizes or the particular cafes the hotels have – I just want to book something quickly in my desired area within my budget. Hotwire helps me with that. How quick and simple it is to book something on Hotwire is remarkable. When you look at some airlines and meta sites it just takes forever. “Do you want to confirm?” Yes. “Are you sure you want to confirm?” Yes. “Please click three times here if you want to confirm.” Okay… eventually you’re clicking around ten different sites for additional services. Just cut some of the steps and streamline it. We pride ourselves in having three steps and pages. Search page, Results page, and Details page, and then you’re booked.
Similar to what we offer customers we offer to supply partners; it’s easy. We don’t ask for a ton of rate plans or room types. If you want to sell rooms quickly you can be set-up within a few hours in many cases. Also our face time. When a partner calls us or emails us, they are not just a case number. They have a name, we have a relationship with them, and they have a relationship with us. That extends through our supply team but also our partner support. Partners know if they have an issue they will get an answer from several people on our team. That sets us apart because you don’t want a million friends. You want a few good friends. We are that friend to partners and they can trust us.