John Mangelaars, CEO
John Mangelaars joined Skyscanner as CEO a year ago, after seven years at online travel agency group Travix International, also owned by Trip.com Group.
Prior to joining Travix, Mangelaars spent 23 years at Microsoft, climbing to the role of European vice president for advertising and online before leaving in 2013.
How do you see metasearch generally evolving in 2022?
That’s a great question. I see metasearch playing a critical role as travel bounces back – people come to us to research travel, find a good price and then book. The ability to easily distil must‐know information and then compare the options gives them the confidence to make the right booking choice for them.
There’s a genuine need right now for metas. Travel is and always has been relatively complex. Now, when you factor in different countries’ requirements and approach to inbound and outbound travel, it’s more complex than ever before.
Travelers are far less likely to know where they can go or what is even available for them. In fact, over half of the travelers that come to Skyscanner don’t have a fixed destination or dates in mind – this is why our ‘Explore Everywhere’ search function is so popular, helping travelers discover lots of places to visit and the deals available to them.
Borders reopening at different times in different countries, coupled with challenges for the airline sector around matching supply with demand mean that even more travelers will be searching without a specific destination in mind.
They need to quickly and easily understand where they can travel, which routes are open, how much it costs and what the situation will be on the ground. Meta players are perfectly suited to cater for this, leveraging smart technology to solve for global traveler challenges.
Where does Skyscanner see opportunity for growth in the coming six to 12 months?
Our focus is threefold 1) growing our global audience 2) reinventing travel search and planning 3) driving conversion and improving brand building opportunities for our partners. We've understood that to be successful we need to nail several important things.
We have to build on our breadth of coverage, improve the way we show partner content and deliver best‐in‐class, usability and relevance for our travelers, with a premium experience on mobile, especially on app.
Research we published last year showed that price remains the number one decision making factor for travelers. We’ll continue to solve for this in our marketplace offering the best – and importantly accurate ‐ prices from the largest breadth of travel providers globally.
But there is so much more to search than this, especially now. Factors like sustainability, choice of provider, accessibility, ancillaries and connecting itineraries with other types of transport and accommodation are all top of mind for us and for travelers.
We’re working on simplifying the travel planning journey from the inspiration stage right through to booking, building the most relevant user experience and leveraging machine learning to test and improve how search results are displayed.
Our focus is on surfacing the right information at the right time in the right format. To do this, the supply side of our marketplace also has to be working seamlessly. We’re making sure our partners can showcase their offerings easily and accurately, giving travelers a more complete idea of the total cost of a flight and connecting each traveler with the right provider for them.
We're bringing a number of new products to the market in the next 12 months, both for our travelers and our partners so stay tuned for more updates on this.
Does the heightened need for metasearch players to provide information during the pandemic now recede?
In a word, no. If anything, we have a bigger role to play – looking at the world today, the need to easily find and distil important information will remain critical to gain traveler trust and rebuild confidence.
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At Skyscanner, we always put the traveler first, and the partner second. This approach runs through everything we do – it informs the way we build our products and user experience, and it guides us in our decision‐making every day.
We pivoted quickly at the start of the pandemic, taking on the role of an unbiased information provider because that is what our travelers and partners needed. We innovated at speed and shipped products quickly to support both our travelers and our partners, including sharing forward‐looking data and high‐level market insights.
This approach during the pandemic moved us up the funnel for travelers, putting us on a par with traditional media players as we addressed traveler concerns and questions in real time. Frankly, it reminded us of what our core strength is, which is as a true and trusted meta marketplace.
Our job is to meet the core user need, and that will differ by traveler. Some people will be most motivated by price and total cost of travel, looking at fares and ancillaries, while others will be more concerned about flight times, or number of stops. Some will have a fixed destination in mind, others will be open to inspiration and guidance about where to go, depending on how much they want to spend or their travel dates.
Travelers are looking for a trusted platform where they can get inspired, quickly understand which destinations are open to them, which providers fly where and what the best deals are. Metas are fulfilling that critical role in the path to purchase.
Is there a role for metasearch to cover lesser‐known routes, non‐urban properties and wider content as consumers look beyond big cities and how challenging is this?
One of the biggest areas of growth for the Skyscanner business over the last two years has been in our data products. The pandemic meant that traditional route planning based on seasonality and historic demand data was no longer possible.
The aviation sector needed real‐time, forward‐looking data. We shared, and continue to share, data with our airline partners about traveler demand for unserved routes – non‐direct routes that are currently only served with a one or two stop itinerary. We are helping airlines create business cases to launch new routes, often to destinations that have become increasingly popular over the past 18 months. Examples include destinations such as Zanzibar in Tanzania and Amman in Jordan.
At the same time, we are also working with our DMO partners to assess how demand to both large and second‐tier cities is returning in specific regions or markets. As these new routes become available and new content comes online, we will use our global scale and reach to make travelers aware of these lesser‐known itineraries or destinations.
This might be direct or might require some smart virtual interlining and even looking further ahead, multimodal technology to make possible. This will become increasingly important especially as we start to see regulation come into force around domestic travel in some markets, like we have seen already in France.
Right now, we're seeing some positive trends – this includes big increases in flight searches and bookings in EMEA and North America, booking horizons lengthening, and seat sales motivating travelers to come back into the market and book further ahead for key seasonal periods.
Other than Google and the ongoing threat of the pandemic, what is the biggest threat to Skyscanner's model and brand?
We place an enormous amount of importance in trust, transparency, ease and simplicity. This shapes our product, our experience and our brand.
We need to see more investment in interoperability of tech solutions to facilitate the ease of travel between different countries.
Our brand is strong, and with travel bouncing back we are aggressively capturing a highly engaged audience in the 52 markets in which we operate – nearly three quarters of our traffic is coming to us direct and we’re adding 1.2 million Skyscanner accounts every month.
We've had a strong start to 2022 and according to our analysis outperformed the market over the past 12 months, with traffic up 120% compared to an industry average of 80%. Over the same period our monthly active users increased by 52% compared to an industry average of 20%.
Achieving consistently high levels of trust, transparency, ease and simplicity is a big task. We are laser‐focused on continuing to deliver a best‐in‐class experience for our travelers and for our partners. Threats come in the form of distractions, elements outside of our control which slow us down.
But, by far the biggest threat for us and for our whole industry is climate change. We have to protect our planet and our people so that there is a world to explore and travel around for generations to come.
We are taking numerous actions in this space, ranging from our pioneering work to label flights as a ‘Greener Choice’ at the point of purchase ‐ flights that emit less CO2 than the average for a given route – to investing in the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) via SkyNRG’s Board Now programme and collaborating with other big names in travel via Travalyst to build unified frameworks to help travelers identify and choose more sustainable travel options.
Do you foresee OTAs relying on Google in the same way they have in the past?
We see OTAs working with different meta players and distribution channels around the world, depending on the region or market, especially where they have less brand awareness themselves. Audience is important for OTAs but trust is arguably more important for the whole of the travel ecosystem.
Following the uncertainty of the last two years, travelers are looking for reassurance before booking – this means they’ll seek out platforms they know and trust, with specific expertise in the travel space to make sure they are getting accurate information and transparent pricing and booking terms.
OTAs want to showcase their product and services on platforms that travelers trust where they can expect higher levels of conversion.
What other forms of marketing will we see OTAs turning to?
Brands are going back to the basics as travel resumes, hoping to remind everyone about the joy of traveling. But it all depends on the key traveler segments they are targeting and their core markets.
We’ll see some OTAs invest more heavily in brand‐led activations and social channels hoping to capture a younger generation of cost‐sensitive or purpose‐driven travelers at the point of inspiration. Others will continue to prioritize distribution platforms to help them convert booking‐ ready travelers.
It will be interesting to watch the split between brand led activations and performance marketing strategies from the OTA sector in the next year.
There hasn’t been much innovation in travel marketing, does it need to be reinvented and in what direction will it go?
It’s a good question. I think it will take time as travel comes back to see more transformation and opportunities for reinvention. As I mentioned before, right now we are seeing travel players going back to the basics and leading with inspiration and emotion driven campaigns.
But there a few areas that have caught my eye over the past 12‐18 months.
Three examples in particular are virtual and video tours as a marketing activity to capture interest in a particular destination or experience; forward looking and real‐time data integration to make marketing campaigns relevant and timely; and finally, the interest and hype around the metaverse and what this means in terms of appealing to and ultimately attracting future generations of travelers. Some DMOs are already purchasing virtual real estate!
As travel comes back, what is Skyscanner’s strategy to attract users back?
I know it’s been said before, but the truth is there is a huge amount of pent‐up demand following the last two years of travel restrictions. We see this every time a border re‐opens or there is a significant easing of restrictions – when Australia announced it was re‐opening its borders, we recorded a 200% jump in travel bookings from one day to the next. So, it’s all there for the taking.
Our focus is on capturing travelers the moment they are considering whether to travel – building their confidence and reassuring them that they can plan a trip. Then we offer them the information and options they need to find, compare and book, safe in the knowledge they’re informed and have found the best offer for them.
We have highly engaged travelers throughout the travel planning lifecycle – 70% of our traffic comes to us direct. In fact, we have been growing the number of registered Skyscanner users during the pandemic – in the past year alone, we have grown total accounts by around 30% year on year.
And we’ve done this by giving travelers compelling reasons to create an account when they download our app – offering added value such as deals, news, tips, advice, inspiration and easy to digest information about current travel restrictions.
There is a lot of talk about building back better, are you optimistic that this will happen?
I am optimistic. Current market conditions are leading to important shifts that will benefit both the industry and the traveler for many years to come. For example, airlines are streamlining fleets by retiring older aircraft and introducing newer, more fuel‐ efficient models.
These new aircraft can connect parts of the world previously reachable only via a one or multi‐stop journey and can be flown using blended or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). At the same time engine manufacturers are investing in making older engines compatible with SAF and companies like ours are investing in SAF programmes such as SkyNRG’s Board Now programme which will play a critical short‐term role in the efforts towards decarbonising aviation.
So, this notion of building back better is present at many different levels in the aviation sector and the technology will only improve over time.
However, one of the biggest focus areas, beyond some of the systemic changes that need to happen at a manufacturing or regulatory level, will be to inform and educate travelers.
We want to help them to understand the impact they have on the environment when they decide to travel and inform them of the tangible steps they can personally take to help counterbalance it, ensuring we’re making the more sustainable option visible to them.
According to our recent Sustainability in Air Travel research, more than half of travelers globally feel there isn’t enough information available about sustainable travel options. It’s an area we are deeply committed to, following the pioneering work we started back in 2018 when we launched our "Greener Choices" label, with others in the sector going on to replicate the approach.
More recently, we were one of several companies to sign the Glasgow Declaration at the end of last year and are committed to publishing our path to net zero plans by the end of this year. The more companies that follow suit, the better for all of us.
Are there industries that travel should be looking to help it recover?
We need to see more investment in interoperability of tech solutions to facilitate the ease of travel between different countries. There were great strides forward during the pandemic – we saw new apps being built in record time to enable travelers to upload health documentation and the travel industry respond faster than ever to changing requirements and restrictions.
But it is all made harder by the backend technology which doesn’t necessarily link up the way it should do. This inevitably slows us down and affects our ability to provide a truly traveler first experience. I’d love to see more consideration and harmonization in this space.
How has the pandemic changed your view of the travel industry?
I don’t know that it has changed my view, more that it has solidified my belief that travel matters deeply to the world, at a fundamental human level. Travel matters because it means spending time with the people we love, whether that’s getting on a plane to visit your parents for the first time in two years or saving up enough to finally take your family on the trip of a lifetime.
It matters for the world, allowing us to explore other places, getting to experience a culture first‐hand, while also providing millions of people around the global with jobs and economic stability. It matters because the more you see of the world, the more you care about it and will fight to protect it.
And that’s why it’s so important that we do what it takes to continue to help people travel, from decarbonising aviation to building tech solutions for different requirements in different countries.
What’s your one personal learning from the pandemic?
I joined Skyscanner in the midst of the pandemic – I couldn’t meet with anyone face-to-face and the business had obviously gone through an incredibly challenging time.
On the one hand, with people under pressure at home personal wellbeing was, of course, vital. But on the other hand, common business practices like building a plan to recover stronger were equally important. It’s a delicate balance, but achievable with great people and great values.
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