Gareth Williams of Skyscanner believes it is very early in the online travel game, and the company has the tech know-how to make its presence felt in many international markets in coming years. Don't count Skyscanner out.
Frustration fueled Gareth Williams’ interest in creating a better flight search product after he found himself spending too much time looking for air travel options to visit his brother back in 2001.
“I spent a week writing a tool that would save me half an hour,” he said in a recent interview.
Skyscanner, an Edinburgh, Scotland-based travel search company that Williams co-founded with two partners in 2003, came out of that tool. The website, Skyscanner.com, compares flights, hotels and car rentals to find the best deals, and the flight app has been downloaded more than 25 million times, Williams said.
Now, the company employs about 300 people with plans to grow to 500 in the upcoming year. Sequoia Capital invested in Skyscanner in October, valuing the company at $800 million.
The company has six offices around the world, including Edinburgh, Barcelona, Beijing, Glasgow, Singapore and an Americas hub in Miami that opened in summer of 2013. That office has 10 employees; the company plans to have more than 16 based there in 2014.
Williams has not had much time to spend in Miami, but during a visit in November, he said he planned to return.
“In two days, I have had more vitamin D than a Scottish winter provides,” he said.
We spoke to Williams in the company’s Brickell office and sent him some follow-up questions to answer by email.
Hannah Sampson: What was missing from the travel search experience that prompted you to come up with Skyscanner?
Gareth Williams: I became frustrated with the difficult and tedious process of having to search multiple airlines and travel agent websites to find the best flights. From that frustration grew a vision for a single website that could collect, collate and compare prices for every commercial flight in the world. And from that, Skyscanner was born.
Sampson: How is it different from other travel sites that exist?
Williams: We are unbiased, we have own our technology, and we have the most comprehensive listings, thanks to being able to cover all prices and options through our technology and relationships.
Sampson: How has the company grown since it first launched?
Williams: Skyscanner is the world’s fastest-growing international travel search company. We are the No. 1 travel search site in Europe and No. 3 in the world for traffic. We now have 25 million apps downloads globally, and 25 million unique monthly visitors to our website and apps.
Sampson: Why choose 2013 to expand to the U.S.?
Williams: Our success in other markets confirms we have a superior product that appeals strongly to consumers, and after growing Skyscanner within the European market and expanding to Asia in 2011 with much success, the Americas was the next logical step.
Sampson: Why make Miami the headquarters for the Americas?
Williams: Miami is a center for the travel industry and also ideally placed geographically to act as a hub for our Americas business.
Sampson: What kind of expansion plans do you have for this region?
Williams: The Miami office has been opened to service the Americas — U.S., Canada and all of Latin America. We intend to become a market leader through acquisition, and then retention of, new users and new partner relationships.
Sampson: How difficult is it to differentiate the company in the U.S. when there are so many well-known sites out there already?
Williams: Our entry in the Americas market will raise the bar in terms of product and innovation. The winner will be the consumer. The challenge of helping consumers find their perfect trip is still in its infancy and we’re excited to be a leading player innovating in this area.
Sampson: What are the biggest challenges facing the company in the U.S.?
Williams: Skyscanner wants to have answers for every aspect of long-distance travel and our vision is to bring this to all of our markets, including the U.S.
Sampson: What are your impressions of Miami both as a travel destination and as a place to do business?
Williams: Miami offers the best of both worlds — a city with an inspirational and creative scene, married with an ambitious business center that has expansive international experience and know-how.
Photo credit: Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams being interviewed on CNBC. CNBC