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CMO50 2022 #26-50: Philippa Durant

  • Name Philippa Durant
  • Title APAC activation director
  • Company Expedia Group
  • Commenced role July 2020
  • Reporting Line VP North America and APAC
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 400 staff, 2 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Travel and tourism
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    In mid-2020, immediately after the first lockdowns ended in many Australian states, Expedia Group pushed ahead with a Stayz campaign called ‘#roadtripledge’, designed to get Australians travelling and supporting regional Australia again.

    “We were one of the first travel brands back in the market after restrictions eased, all while we were still navigating significant change and uncertainty, both as a team and at a broader macro level,” the group’s APAC activation director, Philippa Durant, recalls.

    “For the team to deliver a successful campaign in those circumstances was exceptional and I learnt lessons on teamwork that will stick with me for a lifetime.

    “My team collaborates with and influences many different stakeholders in the business on a daily basis. One big thing I stand by is to always ask the question – be well informed and have your data ready – but always ask.”

    Innovative marketing

    It’s clear post-Covid and domestic travel have, by necessity, dominated the work and ways of work embraced by Durant’s team. “The impact of the pandemic on travel was significant and constant agility was essential over this period,” she says.

    “Bringing the traveller to the centre of the conversation and understanding what they wanted and needed to feel reassured to travel, once government restrictions lifted, became our focus.”

    As Durant points out, in 2019, the Australian travel market split evenly between domestic and international travel. When Covid-19 hit and Australia locked down, international travel and interstate travel disappeared immediately. This was clearly a challenging time for the tourism industry.

    Leading the team responsible for activating in markets across South APAC, Durant helped bring different functional skills, including brand, PR, social media and partnerships, together to deliver for the traveller then and there, as well as in the future.

    “Our task was to keep the team engaged and focused while also finding opportunities for Expedia Group brands to be top of mind when local domestic travel resumed,” she says.

    A key step was bringing teams together to pivot and focus on domestic and intrastate opportunities in the Australian market. Durant coached, sponsored and led creation of a domestic focus program to optimise the complete traveller journey for key destinations within Australia.

    The first step was partnering with the traveller insight team to source insights on key domestic destinations and traveller groups. “We built out extensive personifications and traveller journey maps so we understood intimately who our travellers were, and what had changed during Covid-19 for them,” Durant says.

    These insights helped Expedia innovate around key opportunities. “We worked with marketing channels to brainstorm big ideas, backed by our data and insights, to build both demand generation and supply programs,” Durant says. Winning ideas were activated in a multi-channel marketing program to grow share in key destinations over this period.

    This domestic destination focus grew to represent a hefty share of gross booking value in 2020 and 2021, and generated double-digital growth during this period.  

    Customer-led thinking  

    A winning idea to come out this program was recognising the pet owners holiday journey. As Durant explains, with limited travel options and a domestic lens placed on travel in Australia in 2021, the team saw new traveller needs and opportunities arise.  

    “During the pandemic many Australians became new pet owners, which led us to focus on a key sub-segment of the market: Travellers who wanted to holiday with their pets, once travel restrictions lifted,” she says.  

    This led to the formation of the ‘Take my Pet’ program. It was clear Australia had not only closed international borders, but on many occasions, state borders were closed too, meaning intrastate increased significantly. But pet ownership jumped too. Australian already had one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world and post-Covid, almost 70 per cent of the population now owns a pet.  

    “People wanted to take their pets on holidays – ‘pet-friendly’ searches increased as people looked to take dogs in particular away with them,” Durant says. “Our task was to make Stayz and Wotif the brands travellers identified with pet-friendly domestic travel.”  

    Actions taken included influencing the global brand team to run a Stayz TVC featuring a dog, and a relevant call to action for pet-friendly accommodation. The PR and social team launched a Stayz Dog Friendly house activation, integrating across multiple marketing channels. Several dog-friendly partnerships were stuck, and Durant’s team worked with the partner success function to run insight-based workshops educating holiday homeowners on the benefits and opportunity in accepting pets, as well as how to display pet-friendly accommodation onsite.  

    The initiative paid dividends, notably significant search lifts, booking value in pet-friendly properties increasing.  

    More recently, and as data showed consumers starting to travel overseas again, Durant’s team is focused on brand Expedia as the travel expert providing for all their travel needs.  

    “As they return to international travel to spend time with loved ones after so long away and explore the places that have been inaccessible for the last few years, we are making sure we adjust to the new world on travel,” Durant says.  

    Leadership impact  

    Durant was dealing with all this pivoting while also coping with the ramifications of a new role. Due to internal change, her position two years ago went from leading marketing for the Stayz brand, to influencing to get the best marketing outcomes for the South APAC markets across Expedia Group brands.  

    “This was a major change for me and at times it has been challenging, but it has also been one of my greatest learning periods,” Durant says. “This role change, coupled with the impacts of the global pandemic on travel, has been significant. However, I am proud to say despite this turbulent time, the team has banded together to deliver for our travellers.  

    “This could only happen because we went back to basics and built a brand new extended virtual team and culture across the South APAC business.”  

    First of the crucial building blocks was communication and ensuring the team was aligned on strategy and priorities. “I ran multiple sessions in multiple time zones to take people on that journey. We also created new channels and formats to keep everyone informed with different communication and learning styles,” Durant says.  

    Investing in a new set of relationships, many based in London and Seattle, has been another must. “I used my judgment and adjusted my style based on the individual – I learnt kids names, dogs’ names and balanced getting to know individuals, alongside getting work done,” Durant says.  

    Inspiration and engagement have been equally important. “With Covid-19 impacts on the travel industry over the last couple of years I have been very conscious of keeping the team inspired,” Durant says. “I understand the importance of keeping people’s hearts and minds engaged in what we are delivering.  

    “The last two years navigating a team through a pandemic, alongside internal change has been one of the most challenging times of my professional career. I am proud of my personal and professional development and the strong business results produced during extremely challenging times.”  

    Business smarts  

    Outside of her main functional focus, Durant has found further opportunities to extend herself as a leader across the organisation while also ensuring Expedia Group is an inclusive, rewarding and engaging place to work.  

    For example, Durant is leader of inclusion and diversity across the Expedia Group global brand division. The team created and launched an internal communications platform in April 2022 focused on appreciating and celebrating individual employees and what makes them unique. So far, it’s supported 20 events globally and been used to tell multiple individual stories of Expedia employees, “harnessing the power of the individual”, Durant says.  

    As vice-president APAC on the Global ‘WELL’ (Women @Expedia Leading & Learning) Board, Durant supports an active 2000-member inclusion business group. Programs built and launched in the last year include education and support around key life stages impacting women, such as fertility and menopause. This team also works together to champion intersectionality across Expedia Group.  

    “I work with other local leaders to build culture and engagement across the wider APAC team. Some of the programs I am involved in include mentoring programs, social events, ‘Month of Caring’ and educational events to build engagement and empowerment across APAC-based teams,” Durant adds. “The work I have been able to do around inclusion and diversity has made my role incredibly meaningful.”

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