TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based Appi Holidays, a mobile-based travel search engine.
Who are you and what are you?
The Company: Travel Affinity. Travel Affinity is a travel technology and marketing company set up two years ago by Alan Kersley, after the sale of his previous business, Access e-Media, to Amadeus’ Leisure division, TravelTainment.
Following the sale, he was retained for two years to oversee the development and implementation of the TravelTainment booking engine for the UK market, before leaving to start Travel Affinity.
With a background in publishing and printing, Kersley has had over 15 years running travel technology companies developing web technology for managing, distributing and publishing content, and delivering booking engines for online travel retailers.
Travel Affinity specialises in content management and distribution, alongside services in web design, development, SEO and marketing. This August (2011) the company is launching its B2C solution to the industry and consumers – Appi Holidays.
Appi Holidays is a brand new holiday search engine which revolutionises the way travellers search for holidays. Available as both a free app and website, Appi Holidays provides thematic search options which allow consumers to cross-reference holiday types across a range of tour operators, helping them track down their ideal holiday.
Looking for a "villa" holiday with "beaches", "air conditioning" and "private pool" that’s no more than "three hours" away from "Heathrow"? Require "disabled access" on a cruise to "the Caribbean"? Appi Holidays will help sift through the content of dozens of tour operator products to find the perfect result.
Appi Holidays is geared to help everyone find the perfect holiday to suit them – from the back-pack adventurer to the family of four. Available through the App Store for iPhone & Android. Release date August 2011.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
The Travel Affinity business and the development of Appi Holidays has been privately funded by Alan Kersley.
What problems are you trying to solve?
Today’s travel industry has become dominated by brands owned by the two large operators. Despite this, there are some great products out there from many smaller and specialist operators that the customer would never easily find. We want to provide a neutral sales platform for all of these alternative holidays, alongside the traditional fly-and-flop product and to give holidaymakers more choice.
For many years, the industry has also been saddled with legacy system data structures for product distribution. Not only has this severely restricted the available holiday search criteria and functionality used by the consumer, but has also excluded those companies without the ability to output such data. This is another area we want to challenge with Appi Holidays.
Today’s websites use this data structure for their search criteria, effectively forcing the customer to know criteria such as destination, departure airports and dates. Yet research shows that 40% of consumers don’t have an idea of where they want to go when starting their search, The result is high "look-to-book" ratios and selling on price instead of fitting customer needs.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Appi Holidays, due for launch in August, is a B2C solution, comprising a FREE mobile app, mobile website and web portal, based on a content platform developed by Travel Affinity. Tour operators participating on the platform will have their holiday content and pricing loaded into the CMS and delivered into Appi Holidays for sales of holiday product directly to the consumer via mobile devices and its online web portal.
Unlike other distribution systems, Appi Holidays is designed to feature the whole range of specialist holiday types, from simple sun and beach, to product such as safaris, escorted tours, disabled accessible tours, rail and coach tours, ski, cruises and specialist interest holidays such as wine, art and nature trips.
And to make researching the different product easy for the mobile user, Travel Affinity has developed some dynamic, lifestyle-led search technology.
By taking a fresh view of all the available data and descriptive content, Travel Affinity has been able to ‘mash-up’ the different holiday types, holiday ‘features’, availability and pricing data, to provide a completely new approach to the holiday search – we call it the Holiday Wizard. This has been especially important in making Appi Holidays more suited to the new generation of mobile devices.
Using the Holiday Wizard, products are effectively filtered by type, lifestyle needs (features), flight durations, ratings etc. This provides a step-by-step method of reducing the holiday count to narrow the results down to a suitable level and guaranteed to match the customers’ choices.
Final choices can be saved to a wishlist or shared with friends via social media or email. Bookings or enquiries from the applications are passed back to the tour operator to complete with the client.
Other features include a traditional destination-led search, travel company directory, latest hot offers and a Top 10.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
When it launches in August, Appi Holidays already have agreements to feature product from over 20 tour operators, including Cosmos, Olympic, Virgin, Balkan, Anatolian etc., as well as half a dozen Cruiselines and some more specialist companies, covering a range of holiday types.
There is a planned launch campaign for the App’s release on iTunes, including consumer PR, direct marketing to iPhone users and some social and online promotions.
Did you have customers validate your ideas before investors?
The concept was shared with several tour operators to test their views and all the consumers we have shown it to were very enthusiastic.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Effectively, Appi Holidays is an advertising platform for tour operator products – a mobile catalogue.
Revenue comes from monthly fees charged for listings, based on a sliding scale of product volumes. We believe this is the fairest way of charging and gives the tour operators the choice of how much product to feature.
It enables a very cost-effective entry-point for tour operators to reach the mobile marketplace, with fees starting from only £100/month.
The solution can also be white-labelled and over-branded for individual tour operators or travel agents if they wish to have their own version of the technology, which could provide additional revenue streams.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Unique breadth of product content, the underlying platform and search technology, its ability to maintain a personalised connection to the customer, and its low cost of participation for tour operators when compared to other promotional channels. It essentially is the only holiday ‘catalogue’ that the consumer will need and is always to hand on their mobile.
- are difficult to identify in something so new, but will probably revolve around the need to continually ‘upgrade’ the technology and features over time, to keep it fresh and relevant and maintain its customer base.
- Continue the development of Appi Holidays as an application and brand, with version two being fully bookable and adding more on-holiday, location-based, in-resort product. Version 3 will see the App becoming a fully socially-integrated solution for holiday-makers to share reviews, photos and experiences via the App, further enriching the content and reach for the brand. We also have the ability to sell/over-brand the technology for others to use if they wish.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
- Some may come from other similar solutions, but none will yet have the technology content to match our unique search functionality solution.
We’ve yet to receive any negative comments or arguments about our plans for Appi Holidays. Let’s hope it continues in that vein!
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We will measure our success by the uptake of the mobile app and website and by the revenue and profits generated after the first 12 months, with an eye on the future of the product.
Importantly, we will be recording all requests and transactions to our platform via the app, mobile site and web portal.
This will allow us to analyse just how people are using the technology and what they are looking for. This will give us a good feel for improving the products featured and the functionality, as well as providing reporting for operators.
We hope to launch version two at the end of Q1 2012, with version three coming in Q4 2012.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.