David Gunnarsson, Dohop
Dohop is an Icelandic technology company that provides interlining
technology to enable air-to-air and air-to-ground transportation connections.
Dohop was founded in 2005. David Gunnarsson joined the
company in 2013 and has been CEO since 2015.
Collaboration and partnerships are at the heart of
what Dohop does. In the seven years since you became CEO, have you sensed more
or less willingness to collaborate across the industry, and why do you think
It’s incredible to see how much the industry has
changed, and especially of course over the past two years, collaboration has
become the name of the game for airlines in a more significant way. I think
airlines want to restore their networks and business faster through
partnerships and they want to do this at a lower cost than they did before the
What is the biggest challenge for Dohop and efforts to
create interlining and intermodal products – is it the complexity of the
systems and technology itself? Or something else?
There are a few challenges. First of all, the legacy
systems and technology in the industry, and the lack of standardization. NDC
was supposed to change this, but in the 10 years since it was introduced, only
a small number of airlines have fully adopted NDC. Additionally, even with NDC
there are multiple versions and flavors of it in use, which means that there
is still a lack of standardization even among NDC capable airlines.
Another big challenge is history. Airlines tend to
have a firm view on how they work with other airlines and which airlines they
work with, so that’s one of the main things to overcome in our conversations
with them. We are good at delivering the technology and products, and we’re
getting better at developing relationships and helping airlines see new
From the client-side, where are you seeing the
greatest demand for interlining – from the OTAs? Or the carriers?
Working directly with airlines is really the
foundation of our business, and we want to help airlines build and run interline
flights with lower cost and less complexity. This means that we are mainly
focused on the carriers - airlines and increasingly rail providers. They all
want to speed up their post-pandemic recovery and expand, and the way to do
that is to either build their network or borrow it - and we facilitate the
latter to allow airlines to tap into passenger flows that they wouldn’t
otherwise have access to.
Tell us more about your intermodal solution – what are
the benefits of offering this for customers? And what will it take to drive
growth and usage?
Our intermodal solution works on the same principle as
our interline solution. It’s designed to decrease cost and complexity for the
selling carrier and ensure that both carriers have very little or no marginal cost
per sale. Airlines selling intermodal today will usually have to file fares for
the rail leg, sometimes on their own airline code, to make this work, and that
creates a lot of complexity and cost.
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There is also cost involved in the
settlement between the carriers post-sale. Our intermodal solution allows for a
very clean sales process, distribution of those air-rail fares, and full
recovery of service by our customer service agents in the event of a delay on
either the air or ground leg of the journey that causes a missed connection.
The customer experience is exactly the same, and the sales process is more
What shifts in consumer behavior/preferences are here
to stay as we come out of COVID and how should the industry respond?
While we’re still in the pandemic in certain parts of
the world, as it’s fading, it seems that things will get back to normal faster
than anyone expected. That said, I think in the short-term, people will be a
bit more conservative in terms of destinations and how far they fly, looking
for comfort and security as opposed to more exotic destinations.
One thing that may remain is people’s desire to have
more flexibility in travel plans, making sure to flexible fares and refundable
hotels. Another thing that we see is shorter lead times, i.e. people booking
and travelling at shorter notice, which I think will remain for some time.
In March you raised a growth equity round from
Scottish Equity Partners. How do you intend to use that funding?
This was our second round with SEP, the first one was
in November 2020, and they have been a great partner so far. We decided to
raise more money to be able to move faster as the industry is recovering. We
have plenty of demand for our services and we need to be able to respond to that,
so we have to continue to build the team. We are building the core of product
and engineering in our home base in Iceland, but expanding our commercial
functions of sales, and partner success outside of Iceland, closer to the
airlines we work with.
What parts of the travel experience still need to be
There are still way too many friction points:
check-in, security, and boarding to name a few. We’re on a mission to fix
connecting flights in terms of how airlines sell them, how service is recovered
in case of disruptions, and how the entire passenger journey can be smoother.
You spoke recently at a CAPA event about the “inherent
cautious mindset" of airlines - tell us more about what that means and how
it affects how airlines operate and evolve?
Airlines are naturally cautious and careful due to the
nature of their business of safely transporting passengers across the world.
They are also generally large organizations and changes in systems and
processes can be difficult, so they are reluctant to change things that already
work. This simply means that airlines tend to move with caution in all aspects
of their business, not only the operations. This is generally a good thing but
presents its own challenges in terms of moving forward fast. We work with some
of the fastest moving and agile airlines in the world, and it seems that more
airlines are moving in that direction post-pandemic.
In what ways do you think airlines made meaningful
progress during the pandemic when it comes to digitalization?
The positive side of the pandemic was that some
airlines were able to take a step and think about smarter and more efficient
ways of working rather than focusing on what’s urgent. They all struggled with
limited capacity due to people on furlough and some made good progress while
I still think we’re significantly under-utilizing the capabilities of smartphones but making changes to these processes takes a lot of time and effort from multiple parties - airlines, airports, ground handlers, and governments.
The disappointing thing to see was that many airlines
were quick to revert to paper instead of digital solutions for COVID tests and
vaccination certificates, and nobody made much progress in handling that
efficiently. This was of course also due to the fact that governments couldn’t
agree on the rules and restrictions, which made things a lot harder.
I’ve recently seen some good progress being made in
biometric boarding, and of course, many airlines used the time to work on their
apps and really build a fully digital booking and travel experience, to the
extent that this is possible today. I still think we’re significantly
under-utilizing the capabilities of smartphones but making changes to these
processes takes a lot of time and effort from multiple parties - airlines,
airports, ground handlers, and governments.
emerging technologies excite you the most for the future?
the soft side, crypto and its potential application to air travel. I recently
met a company that wants to disrupt the air miles market with a special purpose
crypto-currency and that sounded very interesting. Tough to get airlines to
change the way they think about loyalty programs, but certainly a significant
Additionally, I’m hearing more and more about urban
air mobility / eVTOL, and it seems that this technology is getting close to
commercialization. This has the potential to disrupt short regional travel, and
delivery services, and in the future create a lot more regional and urban
mobility for people.
are your priorities for Dohop for the next five years?
main focus will be on continuing to develop our products and technology to
answer the growing needs of our customers. To do that, we need to focus on
building our team while nurturing our culture. We have an amazing team and
we’ve had a lot of good feedback from our airline partners that they like
working with us and appreciate our open-mindedness and can-do attitude. We care
deeply about what kind of company we are, how we behave and the culture and
core values of the team. These come from within, and the way we build this is
by hiring the right people, who add to our knowledge, skills, and experience
but share our core values.
In terms of product and technology development, we
plan to put more effort into third-party distribution and intermodal
connections such as air+rail and air+bus. However, our major focus will be on
improving the passenger experience in terms of travel and servicing. We want to
build a seamless and smooth travel experience and provide full self-service
capability for changes, cancellations, and disruptions.
Tell us something you particularly like and dislike
about your role at the top of the company?
I love about my role is the people I get to meet and work with, be it airline
employees, other travel tech companies, or our own group of incredible people
within the company.
There aren’t many things I dislike about my role but
being impatient I tend to get very uncomfortable when I see things moving
slowly or when I see any roadblocks that can be removed but people still
accept. As a company, we want to move things forward, and we always look for
progress as opposed to perfection.
What advice would you give to young people entering
the travel technology space today?
Approach life with an open mind and look at all new
things as opportunities until proven otherwise. Travel is a resilient and
exciting industry that always bounces back. So many aspects of travel are ripe
for innovation and there are genuine opportunities to make an impact.
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PhocusWire talks to leaders across the digital travel landscape.