Bidtravel is the new online presence of an offline travel agency in Spain named Viajes Malabi.
For English-speakers, the name is a bit misleading: There is no auction, or bidding, aspect; BidTravel is just a travel site for Spanish-speaking people.
This year the company expects to serve 2,500 bookings, but it aims to double that client base next year, thanks to an increase in staff and a fully revamped website, which debuted in July.
Last year, the agency received help from the Spanish government, via funds disbursed to support small-and-medium-sized businesses during the ongoing recession. It used the money to recruit three travel agents, bringing its total to nine.
In November 2013, it moved to a four-times-bigger office in Gijón, Asturias, a small city of less than 300,000 people.
A Q&A with CEO Juan Diaz Timón:
Tell us how you founded BidTravel, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
We've been around a long time, but we only recently decided to start attracting customers online -- for all of the obvious reasons.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves differently?
Most of the giant online travel agencies (OTAs) do not have specialized staff. They base their strategy on having powerful marketing. Their agents do not have personal familiarity with the travel products that they are selling because they have rarely traveled themselves.
While the OTA's mass market strategy works well for most people, there are some customers who would prefer to have expert help and/or not have to do as much of the research and booking legwork on their own.
All of BidTravel's agents are fully qualified and experienced. They have visited personally most of the destinations that we offer. They can book vacations in a tenth of the time it would take any average user.
Unlike other companies, we have a horizontal reporting structure that helps to maintain motivation. Each agent is independent and fully trusted to handle on his/her own all the functions related to the job (sales, operations, rates negotiation, and contracting).
Why should people or companies use your startup?
We take risks. When some flights become inoperative, such as from the Asturias airport near our headquarters office, we charter flights to destinations that we know will be in heavy demand during the high season. We know we can fill enough seats in the airplane to make it profitable.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our business structure is really simple and our operational costs are quite low, relative to the margins OTAs or many offline agencies need to maintain to stay profitable. Our fees are really small compared to other OTAs, as reflected in the bottom line total prices customers pay.
Moreover, our agents really know how to manage travel hacking so we do not need to charge huge fees to our clients as all our work is optimized and mechanized at its maximum level, allowing us to spend less time preparing an itinerary for any individual client.
The internet is full of OTAs: some independent agencies with digital storefronts (like ourselves); others with huge enterprises backing them.
But the market is big enough for all of us.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way?
Our first website was not as effectively designed as it could be. Our new site is much better.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years’ time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
In three years’ time we expect to see ourselves as a midsize company. Our aim is to grow slowly but steadily, yet not to become huge in size. If we keep on growing, once the crisis in Spain ends, our results should be much more positive.
How will you market your site?
We are aware of how some OTAs use tricks to be popular, but we rely on word-of-mouth marketing.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
We believe tourism industry nowadays on the hands of just a few companies, fighting to show themselves as the cheapest without really providing any extra value apart from the shininess of their websites.
We believe as well in low rates as the key to success, but adding up the extra value that only a real travel agent can provide.
BidTravel has created a Vine about its office opening:
Nothing revolutionary here. This is a new name and digital presence for a traditional travel agency.
What's notable is the market. Few Spanish travel agencies have embraced digital tools as a way to sell their niche skills. They've instead abandoned the online arena to giants like the brands in the Odiego group.
Once the Spanish market turns around, as it eventually will, companies like BidTravel will be much better positioned than other niche agencies for growth. There will always be a niche market for travel agencies, and BidTravel could be among the stars that shine.
Eventually, BidTravel could use its Spanish language expertise to expand its client base to people coming from Latin America to Europe.