David Armstrong, CEO, HolidayPirates
David Armstrong is the CEO at HolidayPirates, the company that is famous for never spending to advertise on Google. Instead, the online travel company makes full use of social media to get the word out.
In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Amsterdam in May, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...
Why isn't the travel startup survival rate higher than it is?
I don’t have the impression that the travel startup survival rate is much lower than the
average startup survival rate: Over 50% of small businesses fail in the first four
years. Travel startups, just like in many other industries, are often confronted with
Particularly in the case of B2C businesses, substantial amounts of
funding are necessary to conquer the market through marketing strategies. At
HolidayPirates, we circumvented this issue by exploiting the phenomenon of virality
on social media, which allowed us to stay totally bootstrapped without ever relying on
venture capital. This gave us a real competitive advantage from day one.
us survive the first four key years was also that we entered a market which was ripe
for disruption: There was a social media wave which needed to be surfed, and we
went in there at the right time.
Entering a market ready for disruption with substantial
fundings or clever marketing strategies are surefire recipes for success.
What are the gaps in your experience and knowledge of the industry?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to apply AI and machine-learning to the
benefit of our customers. It’s a relatively new field which makes it both challenging
What assumption about travelers have you found not to be true?
The assumption that travelers are not faithful to a brand anymore, and consumer
loyalty in travel belongs to the past. At HolidayPirates, we found that 67% of our
traffic came from returning visitors in 2018.
Consumers have more choice, it’s true,
but they will come back to the same website if they are convinced that’s where they
can find something really special.
In our case, we specialized in high value-for-money deals, but I’m sure this could apply to other concepts as well.
Do you agree with the often-used phrase, "travel planning is broken”?
While there are more and more apps and online resources which help people to plan
their trips, some people argue that there is still not one single product which
combines every step from booking hotels, flights, rental cars, activities and customer
Our travel experts themselves, helped by our algorithms, have to check
multiple sources to put the perfect trip together, and I believe that there is great
potential to improve travel planning in the future.
However, given all the possibilities
offered online to plan trips, I wouldn’t consider that travel planning is “broken.” There
is no question that it can still be improved through better use of technologies and
personalization, and step by step, it will.
If you weren't in travel, what company would you like to be part of and
I’ve spent over 20 years of my career in travel so this is a very difficult
question, but if I really wasn’t in travel, I would probably like to work for
ancestry.com because I’m really passionate about heritage and family history.
Being open to change, to new ideas, to different people, to receive and give feedback in a constructive way… is what for me brings the biggest impact on developing the culture and value of our company.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own
At HolidayPirates, we like to measure success with clear objectives and key results.
Success is clearly defined for each particular objective. This is applied to every
employee in the company.
As the CEO, my role is to define the company objectives
which will be fundamental for the overall success of the company. I have my own
objectives and my own key results which are public to all employees. This is part of
our company policy to lead by example and be transparent.
What element in the industry do you consider is still the most difficult to
Cross-device tracking because more than 70% of our traffic is mobile.
A lot of our strategy is
based on measuring our amount of return visitors rather than the simple visits which
say less about how attached someone is to your brand.
I sometimes wish that it
wasn’t so complex to figure out our users' behavior in regards to switching from
device to device.
If you could teach everyone in your company one concept, what concept
would have the biggest positive impact?
Openness! I think this concept is really key to the success of innovative companies.
Being open to change, to new ideas, to different people, to receive and give
feedback in a constructive way … is what for me brings the biggest impact on
developing the culture and value of our company.
When was the last time you spoke to one of your customers, and why?
About three weeks ago, when I was out with my dog in the forest where I live, I met
another dog owner, as it often happens. … While our dogs were playing together we
had a chat. He asked me what I do and when I said I work for HolidayPirates, it
turned out that he is a subscriber of our WhatsApp alert.
He then told me all about
the holiday he recently booked with us. It’s always a pleasant encounter to meet
What do you consider to be the best important invention in the digital
world in the last 20 years?
Going so far back I do think it is smartphones which play a big role in almost
everyone’s day-to-day life. Can’t wait until we can pay with them in even
more points of sale.