Dermot Halpin: On the move with a fast-growing travel business

A Day in the Life: The European head of the online travel agency Expedia must move quickly to keep pace with rising demand
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The Independent Online

6.30am

The alarm goes off and Dermot Halpin has to think for a minute about where he is. For Expedia's European president divides his time between the Paris, Milan, Munich and London bureaux. But today, thankfully, he is at home in west London.

The travel boss glances at his Blackberry but tries to resist checking his emails which have come in overnight from the US, the home of Expedia's parent company, IAC Travel, until at least after he has had a shower. Dozens of emails later and Mr Halpin has time for breakfast with his French partner, Sandrine. The couple enjoy a continental breakfast of coffee and croissants before Mr Halpin has to head to the office in Soho Square, central London.

9am

First up is a meeting with the Hotels.com team, part of the Expedia group, which also owns TripAdvisor and Hotwire. The team launched a new campaign for the Hotels.com site in July, and it is important to assess how it has been received. The division, like the rest of the company, is expanding rapidly and moved into five new countries in the last two weeks alone: Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Iceland and the Czech Republic.

One of the most exciting aspects of working for Expedia is that it is such a fast-growing company, Mr Halpin says. The business grew a massive 47 per cent in Europe in the third quarter of the year, he reveals. This compares to 30 per cent growth in the first quarter.

10.30am

Just a few days ago Expedia launched in Mr Halpin's home country of Ireland, and he holds a meeting today with the business development team to discuss how it is going.

"This has taken the pressure of me," he says. "Every time I go back home and I'm in the pub, I get people saying: why aren't Expedia in Ireland yet?"

Among the items for discussion will be the technology behind the site. "We have to make the technology appropriate for customers," he says.

Expedia has been introducing algorithms into its technology to make its search functions far more relevant to the consumer, for example delivering up family-friendly hotels for consumers with families. "It is getting more personalised, so that we deliver up the data that the consumer needs," he says. The more frequently a consumer uses the site, the more personalised the searches will become as more data is stored.

12pm

Mr Halpin spends an hour going over the company's finances, checking to see how the quarter is progressing, before heading out to lunch. The 37-year-old tries to get out of the office most days to meet other movers and shakers within the industry, but it will usually be an informal lunch meeting at one of the many cafs in Soho.

"I like to keep it simple," he says. "We're very informal at the company, nobody wears suits. I like to grab a quick sandwich and have a chat to see what is going on. It is important to keep your ear to the ground."

One of the topics being discussed at lunch today is the most popular destinations this season. Lots of Europeans are taking advantage of the weak dollar to take long weekend Christmas shopping trips to New York.

"People always go to New York in the fourth quarter for shopping but it has exploded this year," Mr Halpin says. "People are taking more breaks, mainly due to the reduction in airline prices. There is so much information on the internet now, it has emboldened consumers. There is also a trend towards super mini-breaks, with people jetting off to far-flung destinations like Tokyo, Buenos Aires and Las Vegas for a few days."

2pm

Part of the afternoon is taken up with wandering around the office, chatting to different members of staff about all aspects of the business.

"Because we are such a fast-growing business, we have to be prepared to respond quickly to anything that may arise," Mr Halpin says. "It is also vital to be available so that I can make decisions quickly."

The Expedia team are a multinational lot, with senior staff in the London office from India, Sweden and Italy.

A big part of every week is taking up with job interviews, Mr Halpin says. "As this is a web-based business, we need people who can understand the web," he says. "They need to be able to be very analytical, able to spot a trend or opportunity quickly."

One of the biggest trends has been the move towards user-generated content, as seen in TripAdvisor, the review site written by visitors to the site about their real experiences. "This is one of the most successful examples of user-generated content," Mr Halpin says. "It now has 10 million reviews. People are becoming more and more comfortable as self-publicists on the web."

6pm

As the company's US headquarters are in Seattle, on the west coast of the US, Mr Halpin will more often than not work late into the evening due to the time difference. "The pace of growth of the company is such that I have to work 12- to 15-hour days to keep track of everything," he says.

He will take conference calls with the management team or with Expedia's chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who recently signalled that the company is to launch an assault on the European market in a bid to seize market share from rivals Thomas Cook and Tui Travel. Mr Halpin will be leading that charge.

"Eastern Europe is opening up very quickly," he says. "Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania and Latvia, all these countries are opening up and travel tracks economic growth."

Expedia intends to generate more than half of its revenues outside the US within the next five or six years. It also has its sights set on India, and launched in New Zealand last month, following a move into Australia a year ago.

8pm

As if that wasn't enough work for the day, Mr Halpin chooses to relax in a Bikram yoga class which he attends with Sandrine. Also known as hot yoga, this class is not for the faint-hearted, as it is performed in a heated room but it ensures that all the stresses of the day are sweated away. The couple must then head home to get ready for their trip to France the next day for last-minute shopping in Paris before they spend Christmas Day with Sandrine's family in Caen. It will then be back to Dublin and Galway for a traditional Irish celebration.

The CV

Name: Dermot Halpin

Age: 37

Job: President, Expedia Europe, Middle East and Africa

Education: Graduated in civil engineering, University College Dublin. MBA from INSEAD

Career:

1991 Engineer for Kentz Corp at the Olympic Village in Barcelona

1994 Project manager at Statoil

1997 Worked at a start-up inStockholm

1999 Assistant to CEO of Tele2 in Luxembourg, managing director of two subsidiary companies

2001 Joined Expedia.co.uk asoperations director

2002 Becomes UK managing director

2006 Appointed as president of Expedia's European operations

Personal: Lives in west London with his long-time partner, Sandrine

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