Singapore-based travel platform Agoda says it is focusing on finding the “best inventory” for its customers, operating with the “best tech” and fending off the intense competition in Asia armed with the “best weapons."
There's a theme there.
In a wide-ranging interview at WiT Singapore 2019 with WiT’s founder Yeoh Siew Hoon, Agoda’s CEO John Wroughton Brown, shared his thoughts on Asia, new products, forming “unorthodox” partnerships and the future.
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As far as Brown is concerned, the competition that his company faces in Asia is so intense that it prepares it for any battle anywhere else.
And it does not need to swing a “dragon glass dagger or a light sabre” to ward off the competition amid "enemies” coming from all directions.
“We fight them off with amazing execution, the best tech in the industry literally, the best prices and the best inventory. It’s table stakes really. People want to take vacations, decide where to go, have access to the best collection of inventory in the world and get it at the right prices,” is how Brown thinks about Agoda’s "art of war."
Beyond accommodation to own flights
In the past too, Agoda was all about hotels. Today, it has changed – it started off with flights powered by KAYAK but is now building out its own supply, and has added tours and activities from GetYourGuide, as well as alternative accommodation which has become a strong pillar of the business.
“We have ride-sharing as well,” says Brown, referring to the partnership it has with Grab.
“The one thing Agoda does not do is do things for the sake of doing them or because we were given a billion dollars in venture funding. We build something because we look very closely at our customers and see if there’s a product they really need or problem we can solve.”
This was the case of flights in particular because the company saw there was clear intent from customers that they wanted flights.
“So, over the course of five months we built our own flight product. It’s no longer a KAYAK flick out. You can go to Agoda now and book flights from all over the world.”
Mix and Save
In July Agoda introduced a new feature (Mix and Save) for extra budget-conscious travellers. It allows customers to save up to 50% in some instances by booking the cheapest combination of available rooms within the same hotel. They may stay in room A for one night and then book another room for another night.
Asked if Mix and Save could be complicated for some customers who are not used to split reservations, Brown says: “We still have to educate customers as it is a new product. Some guests do not want the inconvenience of moving from one room to another and they want to stay in the same room.
"We say to them, you can save 20%, you can have two nights in room A and they are happy to do so."
He says hoteliers too need to informed of the advantages. “They want guests to have as flawless an experience as possible. When we’re able to show customers that there are 20% cheaper hotel packages and bring in the bookings, hotels too love the product.”
Distribution at The Phocuswright Conference 2019
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On the notion of forming “unorthodox partnerships”, a theme set in place by Stephan Ekbergh, CEO of Travelstart in his opening speech during the event, Brown spoke of Agoda’s partnership with Grab, the ride-hailing app for South-east Asia.
“We have a great working relationship with Grab, both Agoda and Booking.com. Both of us have ‘tiles’ on Grab so its customers can easily book our hotels. We will take the relationship further,” he said, saying he was happy with the traction so far.
Brown also speaks of its partnership with Japan Travel Bureau. What started off as a third party aggregation partnership to give it access to “the best inventory in the world for Japan” has turned into Agoda providing and building tech for JTB.
Brown joined the company in 2010 as vice president and rose through the ranks to become CEO in June last year, taking over from Rob Rosenstein who is now the company’s chairman.
He describes being able to work in Asia a “privilege”. He believes that “if you compete well in Asia it prepares you to compete well in the rest of the world.”
Looking beyond 2020
For the future, Agoda is looking into the in-destination and in-stay experience. “We’re experimenting with in-destination with tours and activities outside the hotel,” he says.
The company is also working on how it can extend its customer’s journey into the in-hotel stay “but you need to have a deep integration into a hotel’s PMS before you can do that.”
In this instance, the investment by Booking Holdings, which owns Agoda, in South Korea’s leading accommodation platform Yanolja has helped because it has deep experience with hotels’ PMS in South Korea.
He says: "We have a lot of learn from Yanolja. Ultimately you want to get the point where customers can check into a hotel from their phone, tap into the phone to open the door, order room service from the phone. It’s complicated and some of the older PMS are hard to get through, but working with Yanolja is one of the avenues to get closer to the system."
* This article originally appeared on WebInTravel.