How did travelsupermarket.com come about?
My brother Simon started the website moneysupermarket.com in a house in Chester. He was thinking about all the hassles of getting a mortgage and thought there must be a quicker and easier way to find the best deal.
For time-poor, cash-rich individuals he thought it would be great to have everything in one place. I was sales director for a subsidiary of Trinity Mirror when he asked me to help start up travelsupermarket.com in 2003 and, for me, it was a no brainer.
How have the challenges of the business changed since you first started?
Although we had the traffic from moneysupermarket.com it was a hard slog. The travel industry was geared towards ‘from’ prices, but we felt that was tricking the customer.
We pushed hard to get live pricing. Customers used to have to enter the information into site after site, so we removed that process. In terms of getting the suppliers on board it was mostly about relationship building, and that’s something I was used to from my sales background.
The challenges increase as the company expands. We used to be very nimble when we first started but that becomes more difficult as you have a larger team. It is hard to keep up the entrepreneurial urgency when there are so many staff.
The speed of the site is also an issue. We have 250 suppliers so it can be hard to keep up the speed of the results when you have a large volume.We feel we’re still at the beginning and constantly challenging what’s being done.
How is the market changing and what is the next step for your business?
We’re planning to redesign the site at the end of the year so we’re gathering lots of user research. I feel we’re lacking content so the site will be more than just comparison, it will have editorial pages providing a guide for customers. We’ve already added guides on where to go, how to get there and what to look out for.
There is also an ‘ask the expert’ section where visitors can request answers to specific queries. They include UK breaks, airport parking, round-the-world flights and airport transfers. Travelsupermarket.com’s weekly top deals newsletter is now available sovisitors can see all the discounted deals.
Customers expect so much nowadays. Web 2.0 has become important and has a place on travelsupermarket.com. Clients want pictures, video and reviews. We’ve recently launched travel forums and video blogs and that’s something we’ll be building on.
The focus will also be on improving the core product. We’ll be working with more suppliers, increasing our 230 to more than 300. However, it’s important to be selective about who we work with. If there’s too much information that defeats the purpose.We’ve seen 100% growth year-on-year and I’d like to see that continue.
We spent £10 million on TV advertising and sponsorship of Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun in the past year,which has paid off. We’ll be doing a lot more television advertising and sponsorship next year.
Travelsupermarket.com has also increased its white-label partnerships, adding hostelworld.com and holidaynights.com.
Something we’ve been running on the side is a scheme called Making Millionaires. Simon believes everyone should have the chance to be a millionaire. Anyone who has a great idea can come to us and we’ll develop it, market it and drive it forward. We’re launching our first one, a social networking idea, in January next year.
Why did you decide to go from managing director to commercial director?
We have some big challenges ahead now the business has gone public. Moneysupermarket.com group floated on the London Stock Exchange in the summer and we’re thinking about overseas expansion. I’ve taken this unusual step because I think my strengths lie in driving the commercial side. We’ll be recruiting for a managing director in the next year.
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