Behind The Smokescreen: Josh Belkin

Behind The Smokescreen: Josh Belkin
January 27 18:51 2016 Print This Article

The Small Business Journal had the privilege of speaking with Josh Belkin, Vice President and General Manager at Hotels.com North America, about some of their marketing strategies they use, and how the hotel industry has dramatically changed.


JAY: Josh, you’re the Vice President & General Manager of Hotels.com North America.  Can you describe your role to our audience?

JOSH: I lead the US and Canada businesses including overseeing financial plans, operations and online marketing. I also drive our brand marketing activities, including the award-winning Obvious Choice campaigns featuring our biggest fan, Captain Obvious. By the way, if you’re looking for a dose of humor and inspiration, check out Captain Obvious on YouTube and Twitter!

JAY: That leads me to my next question. We’ve seen a lot of companies use many ways to get their message across.  Handy for him, the Obvious Choice campaign and Captain Obvious have become really successful for Hotels.com. How did the idea come about and what’s next?

JOSH: The idea for The Obvious Choice ™ initially came from our US creative agency of record, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and follows the premise that if you’re looking for a dot com to book hotels, then Hotels.com is your obvious choice. The creative strategy light-heartedly brings to life a funny character, Captain Obvious ™ that has existed in pop culture for decades. Through various marketing channels like TV, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as partnerships with entertainment companies, we’ve been able to creatively expand on Captain Obvious’ wit and personality to further explain why Hotels.com is The Obvious Choice.

It’s been a fun journey with The Obvious Choice and Captain Obvious since our launch a few short years ago. Response has been strongly favorable with us picking up several awards like a Bronze Cannes Lion in 2014 and the Harris Poll Brand of the Year award in 2015. Looking ahead, you can expect to see The Obvious Choice campaign in traditional and not so traditional media, and our biggest fan Captain Obvious will certainly be on point to offer an “obviousism” at just the right time.

JAY: What’s the general picture of the online travel industry? (size, potential)

JOSH : Travel is a $1.3 billion industry, yet less than half of travel purchases are made online. This presents lots of opportunities for online travel agencies and start-ups to grow with the market.

We’ve amassed more than 17 million verified guest reviews on our site from people who have actually stayed at the properties. One great feature is you can filter our reviews by trip type, i.e. Family, Romance, Business, etc. which gives travelers a good indication of what they might experience during their stay. We recently recognized thousands of properties on our site for receiving guest review ratings of 4.5 (Excellent) to 5.0 (Outstanding), so shoppers can easily identify the top guest rated properties to make the best choice for their needs.

Given the importance of alternative lodging, on November 4, 2015, our parent company, Expedia, Inc. and HomeAway, Inc. (a vacation rental marketplace based in Austin, TX) announced that they have entered into an agreement under which Expedia will acquire HomeAway, including all of HomeAway, Inc.’s brands. This deal is now complete.

JAY: When it comes to travel deals, discounts and offers, what does Hotels.com provide?

JOSH: One of the key differentiators at Hotels.com is our industry-leading loyalty program, Hotels.com® Rewards. The program is simple: you book and stay 10 nights over time and get one free*. Program members may choose from a variety of accommodation types on our site to collect and redeem complimentary stays. Additionally, loyalty program members can get more savings on thousands of great hotels with Secret Prices which provides discounts below public rates.

We also offer a Best Price Guarantee. If you find a lower rate for the same hotel, for the same room type and stay dates, we’ll match that price. Plus, we don’t charge any credit card, change or cancellation fees.

Each week we offer special deals in hotels at top destinations worldwide. For example, email subscribers receive advance notices of sales and mobile app users have access to last-minute deals.

JAY: Please share with the audience, how can consumers (business and leisure) find the best value?

JOSH: We hear from our customers all the time that hotel amenities like Wi-Fi, free breakfast and free parking are top priorities in their travel. You can easily filter hotels by accommodation type, amenities and themes.  And, in terms of value, no matter the purpose of your trip, Hotels.com offers thousands of deals each week on our global websites, mobile apps, call center and via social media.

JAY: Today we are seeing companies like AirBnB which is probably best described as the hotel Uber. At the same time hotels are campaigning trying to get customers to book directly with them and not use sites like yours. What does Hotels.com offer in the vacation rental market that they can’t get elsewhere?

JOSH: Hotels.com is an accommodation expert. We were founded in 1991 (as Hotel Reservations Network) and took reservations by phone. We’ve now grown to more than 85 websites, operating in over 70 countries. Amongst the hundreds of thousands of properties available on our site are global chains, independent boutique hotels, resort properties, vacation rentals and alternative accommodations. So wherever you’re going, and whatever type of accommodation you’re looking for, we have you covered!


Josh BelkinJosh Belkin is the Vice President and General Manager at Hotels.com North America, part of Expedia Inc. He leads the U.S. and Canada businesses including driving online and offline marketing activities, overseeing financial plans and operations, and strategy for North America. He joined Hotels.com in 2012, and most recently was Senior Director, Global Retail Merchandising. Josh has a B.A. in Economics from Tufts University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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