Skyscanner will likely experience some of the same problems that Hipmunk faces in the U.S. market: It is late to the game, although Gareth Williams feels it is still early when looking at the big picture. And, it will take a lot of years to build up Skyscanner's hotel business both in the U.S. and abroad.
Gareth Williams, the CEO of Edinburgh-based Skyscanner, has likely never heard of New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, who infamously once said, “It gets late early out there.”
Williams, whose mostly flight-metasearch company just named Alex Rahe, most previously from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, as Skyscanner’s Americas general manager, and opened a Miami office, takes a contrarian view.
He argues that these are the early days for online travel, even in a seemingly mature U.S. market.
“I think it is a very immature market,” Williams tells Skift, in an interview at the PhoCusWright conference in Hollywood, Florida. “There is no dominant player in online travel like Amazon in selling books. There is no equivalent in online travel.”
Williams sees it as a positive sign that lots of American companies are succeeding in Europe and Asia, and Skyscanner is part of a burst of European and Asian travel companies that are trying to gain a foothold in the U.S.
In addition to Skyscanner, in the last year or so European companies Booking.com and Trivago, as well as Asia-based Agoda have upped their marketing in the U.S. and are making a push.
Williams won’t comment on whether Skyscanner has plans to launch a TV marketing campaign in the U.S., but you wouldn’t be off-base if you believe one is in the works.
He expects the Miami office, which will be headquarters for Skyscanner’s first dedicated staff in the U.S., to double its employees to 10 in the near future as the company seeks to penetrate the U.S., and to up its hotel revenue to supplement the $6 billion in airline ticket gross sales, predominantly from Europe and Asia, that Skyscanner is expected to have on the books in 2013.
Why should any traveler use Skyscanner rather than Kayak, Fly.com, TripAdvisor, Google Flights, Hipmunk, Room 77 or anyone else?
“You will get better and more accurate results,” Williams contends, although there would be lots of disagreement with that.
Williams says Skyscanner also provides a better flight search than other sites for travelers who are open about where they want to fly and when.
The big push will be on business development and tech innovation, Williams says, as Skyscanner, which acquired new hotel technology and a team from Fogg in September, tries to broaden its products well beyond flights and into hotels, in particular, and car rental.
Williams says that is what travelers want, and the company’s vision is to have answers for every aspect of long-distance travel, although he concedes Skyscanner was too focused on flights in the past, and sees the lucrative opportunities in hotels.
Skyscanner recently got the backing of Sequoia Capital in a vote of confidence as it seeks to expand in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas.
It will face stiff competition in the U.S. — just as Kayak has had an uphill fight in Skyscanner -dominated UK — but Williams believes Skyscanner is in it for the long haul.
“We are at the start of the journey,” Williams says regarding online travel, “rather than being at the end of it.”
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