Washington-based online travel booking giant Expedia announced it would begin accepting bitcoin for payments on 11th June, and in a new interview the company confirms that its first foray into the ecosystem is already a success.
Speaking to CoinDesk, Expedia's executive vice president of global product Michael Gulmann declined to release firm figures regarding the total bitcoin sales the company has seen so far, but reported that they have exceeded estimates.
Gulmann told CoinDesk:
"We did some estimates based on the size of Overstock and the size of Expedia, and came up with our own estimates of what we could expect, and we're meeting and exceeding those."
Further, Gulmann moved to dismiss suggestions that Expedia may simply be testing bitcoin as a payment method, and that it doesn't yet have plans to integrate the payment more broadly. He stated that hotel bookings were rather a logical starting point for adding bitcoin due to the fact that the offering accounts for the lion's share of the company's sales, adding:
"Certainly, there are people who want to book airline tickets with Expedia, but it made sense from a technology standpoint, from a business standpoint and from a customer demand standpoint to jump out with hotels first."
Gulmann went on to suggest that, should it have been considering bitcoin payments as a trial, it has already received the feedback it sought.
The announcement that Expedia would accept bitcoin through Coinbase added yet another billion-dollar company to the ecosystem, providing new evidence to support Coinbase's prior assertions that as many as 10 companies of that size could begin accepting bitcoin in 2014.
Global hotel expansion
To date, Expedia only offers bitcoin payments for hotel bookings to US customers, and only as part of its 'Pay Now' payment option for which it accepts payment on behalf of the customer. This allows the company to offer bitcoin payment services for all 45,000 of its hotels, "in one fell swoop".
But Gulmann suggested that the company is likely to extend the payment method to its other offerings, including flight bookings, car rentals and more.
He implied the addition of the company's bitcoin payment option for all global hotel services could be the next step in expanding the service, stating:
"I think we've already seen what we've needed to see, now it just comes down to timing. The primary [goal] would be to get it up globally for our hotels."
This would require the addition of the payment option for hotel bookings on all or a greater number of the company's global sites.
Expedia also offers a 'Pay Later' option for hotel bookings, in which customers can select to reserve lodging with its services, but pay proprietors directly on arrival. In this case, Expedia does not facilitate payment, so its bitcoin services are not applicable.
Gulmann also provided an insight into whether he feels bitcoin would be suited for wider use in the travel industry, given that credit cards not only successfully target the industry through rewards programs, but may also come with additional insurance options.
He said that he suspects that bitcoin's lack of these features would not be a deterrent to customers, saying:
"We've never seen the form of payment to be something that the customers use as a way to protect themselves. [...] It's not something that we've heard, or that is a big concern right now."
He added that bitcoin buyers can take advantage of the company's additional insurance packages for hotels in order to add protection.
Any bitcoin refunds will be handled by Coinbase, according to Expedia's terms and conditions. Refunds are issued for the USD value of the booking, and are converted into bitcoin based on the exchange rate set by Coinbase.
No more dangerous than cash
Gulmann also indicated that the decision for Expedia to take bitcoin was not without its resistance internally, though he likened the discussion to the one happening more broadly around the globe.
The Expedia executive said he worked to educate those in the company who might have been influenced by bitcoin's sometimes negative media perception, saying:
"I explained it and what it really is. The simplest analogy is, it's no more dangerous than cash. Cash is more anonymous than bitcoin at the end of the day."
He further stated that bitcoin makes sense for Expedia given that, beyond providing travel services, Expedia is also a technology company.
"It was the perfect combination of the ability to do something really, really interesting from a technology standpoint, work with our hotel partners, really close that gap between customer demand and helping fill hotel rooms for our hotel partners," he added.
Images via Expedia