Expedia plans hub in N.O.

The Expedia family of travel booking websites plans to make New Orleans a regional hub.

Its new office in downtown New Orleans could have six employees by year’s end.

Ted Bogan, who has worked with Expedia Inc. since 2012 and in New Orleans since last year, was until recently its only local employee. He’s now the senior market manager who will lead the local team in forging relationships with the hospitality industry to offer package deals through Expedia’s websites.

Expedia Inc. is the parent of Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com and about 170 travel websites.

Bogan said the company’s mission is in line with marketing efforts from the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which involve “selling the whole city” and not just focusing on the French Quarter.

Among the international visitors Expedia intends to target are those from Australia and New Zealand, where Bogan said the company has been “investing big” with advertising and website campaigns featuring New Orleans-based packages.

Convention and Visitors Bureau research shows Britain, China and Brazil have consistently sent the most overseas visitors to New Orleans. Australia is considered ripe for potential visitors. “They’re increasingly interested in New Orleans,” Bogan said.

Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, cited Commerce Department numbers that show nearly 28,000 Australians visited New Orleans in 2012. Last year, the total climbed to at least 35,000, she said.

In 2013, Australia jumped from No. 15 to No. 9 according to the CVB’s count of international visitors to New Orleans. The bureau’s research shows Australians tend to visit three to five destinations when they travel to the United States, and their average stay per city is from four to five nights.

“We have an opportunity to capture some of that,” said Priez, who will be part of a trade group’s trip to Australia this summer to call on tour operators in Sydney and Melbourne.

Expedia in New Orleans will attempt to link with more hotels, tour companies and other tourist attractions, Bogan said. Recently, it teamed with City Sightseeing New Orleans to offer visitors the itinerary option of tours on its double-decker buses.

Michael Valentino, whose family owns the local City Sightseeing business and five New Orleans hotels, said visitors who book their bus tours through Expedia websites receive a 50 percent discount from the regular price.

“Expedia gives us reach to people who have made hotel reservations and are already planning a visit,” Valentino said. “There aren’t much more fertile markets than people who are planning their travel itinerary.”

Expedia’s new hub office is launching as the city’s tourist trade enters the sluggish summer season. Bogan said there will be particular attention paid to filling guest rooms from Sunday through Wednesday, typically the slowest part of the week for hotels, which will mean better package deals for travelers.

As a hub, the New Orleans office will establish partnerships in Mobile, Alabama, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. The entire region was previously handled through Expedia’s Dallas office, Bogan said.