Global Newsmaker: Alison Couper

The Hotels.com global communications director tells PRWeek what the key challenges facing the travel industry will be.

Alison Couper
Alison Couper

What have you seen as the biggest challenge in terms of your role at hotels.com / Expedia over the past few months? And how have you risen to this challenge?

One of our constant communications challenges is the changing environment in which we operate - whether natural or man-made. On the consumer side we are dealing with disrupted travel plans to Bangkok, flight amends due to strike and the ash cloud, passengers still in resort as there are no flights leaving, and other passengers arriving to fill hotel rooms. On the supply side we are always working to help our hotel partners on Hotels.com and expedia.com who have additional capacity for whatever reason - for example TripAdvisor has announced three months free business listings for hotels, inns, B&Bs and other hospitality providers in the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida hardest hit by the oil spill. This is where a network of hand-picked PR agencies throughout the world really comes into its own, we can react locally as part of a global strategy.

How has your role evolved over the past few years with the rise of digital and social media?

Absolutely, social media is now a key part of the communication mix and a vital channel for dialogue. In fact two of the world's top 5 websites are social media sites and they are growing fast - youtube.com and facebook.com. However, social media is not purely a channel it is a vital element within key business functions in Hotels.com for marketing and communications - it drives brand awareness, engagement, traffic generation, reputation management, buzz and influence and ultimately increases Google juice. For operations it assists with customer care and support, issue management and also gives vital insight. For product development it helps with crowdsourcing, user generated content (UGC) and application programming integration (API). Good corporate communications is intrinsic in each of these elements and the ability to influence and integrate internally and externally in an organisation is key.

What are the biggest challenges facing the travel industry in the coming months?

The biggest challenge is to be ready for whatever natural or man-made challenge occurs next. One minute we are receiving lots of great deals from Iceland due in part to their economic situation, the next we are assisting thousands of passengers impacted by the ash cloud. The key is to be extremely well linked up in the company, from operations assisting travelers, to content informing all parts of the travel process. It is nimbleness, best prices, rich engaging content on trending topics and excellent service that will win through in this age. Travellers still see holidays as a right, and even during the global recession people still took holidays, they just amended their destinations and lengths of stay. It is the largest industry in the world and one that will continue to grow, as will the technology and media we use .

What are your media must-haves?

All the obvious ones BBC, CNN, New York Times, Linked-in , The Week, various trade blogs, tweets and online publications. Anything really that keeps me up to date globally with the online, retail and travel world .

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