Adrian Peter Tse
Jun 4, 2015

Marketing on mobile's leading edge: ecommerce strategies from

HONG KONG - Increasingly in Asia, online travel agencies (OTAs) live and die by their ability to encourage transactions by mobile users. Campaign Asia-Pacific talked to Nelson Allen, APAC marketing director at, to learn about the Expedia-owned brand's strategies.

Nelson Allen, marketing director,
Nelson Allen, marketing director,

According to, which was acquired by Expedia in 2001, 25 per cent of customer transactions took place on a mobile device in 2014. In Hong Kong, the OTA saw a 130 per cent increase in the demand for mobile transactions in 2014.

“The travel booking industry has traditionally been through physical travel agencies,” Allen said. “While a lot of people still book through these agents, mobile penetration in Asia has accelerated travel ecommerce.”

Over the past few years, has focused on building a brand for the digital age, one that users can trust to make their online bookings. “Our goal has been to create an OTA platform that is super easy to make bookings on, while giving people the confidence to actually book online,” Allen added.

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To date has had over 40 million app downloads worldwide and works closely with app stores across global markets. As an ecommerce brand, is digital marketing-led and works with a number of digital marketing agencies in local markets across Asia.

“We’ve focused a lot on driving app downloads and we’ve had a lot of success with push notifications,” said Allen.

The brand’s mobile site and other digital communications also centre on driving app downloads by offering incentives to do so, such as discounts, content and extra functionality such as “deals near you” which uses mobile GPS to serve users deals based on their location.

“‘Deals near you’ has gone hand in hand with the rise of ‘stay-cation’ bookings,” Allen said.

Key to the brand’s strategy has been partnerships and deals with over 200,000 properties and affiliate networks that allow the OTA to gain exclusive prices that feed back to its loyalty program, called Rewards. recently revamped Secret Prices, one of the programs key features, changing core mechanics around its points system.

“Typically with loyalty programs, members acquire points. Personally I’ve never understood points because they have no clear value,” said Allen. Instead, Secret Prices utilises a more concrete metric that makes the point system more transparent and significant for users: they are simply told how many free nights they will get with every transaction they make.

In Asia, is also engaging in more user research to understand user needs such as what they demand from their travel and accommodation experiences. These insights may open up new opportunities for content marketing.

“The challenge for us now is cross-device and platform advertising,” said Allen. “We have marketing leads in 14 of our core markets in Asia and a centralised team in London. Each market is very different. In China we use a lot of WeChat, while in Korea we even run TVCs—and again the aim is to drive people to mobile from there.”

With a growing analytics team, data-science is a crucial part of the OTA’s operations.

“We can see a lot of opportunities and trends, for example a lot of Asian customers are now travelling to a lot of tier 2 cities and even places like Iran,” said Allen. “With all this data, we have the opportunity to be more innovative and to create better offerings.”


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