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Travel tech is a hot industry at present. In fairness, it has been a Goliath for many years. In 2005, HotelsCombined.com’s founders saw this opportunity.
Around this time many of the online travel agencies (OTA’s) started to make their information available via API’s. “The founders identified an opportunity to leverage what was happening with technology to create a price comparison website for hotels and other types of traveller accommodation,” advised John Madden, Chief Product and Technology Officer.
“What worked really well in those early years – and still does today – was the ability for affiliate partners to customise our product to reflect their own brand’s visual design,” says John. Well known European travel brands like Skyscanner and Ryanair were able to use the HotelsCombined.com B2B “white label” product and redesign the user interface to seamlessly integrate with their own core product offering.
This strategy allowed them to scale their affiliate marketing program; working with low-cost airlines, tourism organisations and individual travel bloggers to send millions of prospective travellers to the various booking websites.
“A few years ago we decided it was time to step out of the shadows and really go for it to build our own brand identity, so we started to lay down the foundations across the organisation for this next part of our journey” offered John.
“Initially we focused on introducing team structures and processes that helped fine-tune our approach to product development; enabling us to effectively expand our product footprint as we invested into apps and new user features.”
From B2B to B2C
In more recent times, the emphasis has been on transitioning from being a tech-driven organisation to a user-centric organisation. “We have focused on developing our product management capabilities – hiring product managers, UX designers and insights analysts to complement our traditionally strong engineering teams.”
John continues “Whilst we have always made use of user behaviour data and A/B tests to inform our decisions we are also investing into qualitative research – both formal interviews and informal guerilla usability testing – as we continue to evolve our approach to product development.”
The Road Ahead
The Australian team plan to focus on three core areas:
- HotelsCombined.com brand
In 2015 HotelsCombined.com went through a rebrand and Max the Bear was introduced. As the face of the brand, Max was designed to build a personal connection with customers, helping to make the HotelsCombined.com brand more memorable and trusted.
“Our barometer for success is how well we are growing our own brand channel in the key markets we are focused on, which is primarily the Asia Pacific region.”
“On the product side, mobile is our number one priority. More than half of our brand channel bookings come from our app.”
“We are focused on continuing to grow our membership base, monthly active users and number of bookings from the app.”
Early on the founders discovered that affiliate marketing presented the opportunity to be able to build out a scalable business. This continues to be an important part of their growth strategy.
“As a testament to the strength of our B2B product, we have strong partnerships with both Naver and Yandex, the dominant search engines in South Korea and Russia respectively. They use our API to display hotel prices on their travel products. We continue to work closely with both of them.” says John.
Having millions of monthly users, much of HotelsCombined.com’s product development is driven by insights and incremental improvement through continual experimentation. The team are also assessing how new technologies can be utilised to improve their search engine.
“We continue to look at new and emerging technologies from Google, AWS and others to see if we can leverage them to improve our own products.
“We have recently built a voice search prototype with Google Speech API and NLP. We will have a close look at AWS Lex soon.” adds John “It is not a mature technology yet but it is a technology we want to get across because there is a good use case to be able to have a voice activated search for somewhere to stay.”
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