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Editor’s Note: Skift is publishing a series of interviews with online travel CEOs talking about the Future of Travel Booking, and the evolving habits and device preferences of travel consumers. Check out all the interviews as they come out here.
Scotland-based Skyscanner is following a path that other travel metasearch companies are embarking on: The company is working on enabling direct bookings within its own apps, making it easier for consumers to continue their searches from device to device, and expanding into new markets such as the Americas.
Skyscanner co-founder and CEO Gareth Williams believes a key differentiator for the company is in its breadth of coverage in terms of possible itineraries and travel agency booking options, and undoubtedly, as a tech-focused company, it will put its own stamp on some of its new focus areas.
Skift discussed the future of travel booking and related issues with Williams.
An edited version of the interview follows:
Skift: Skyscanner operates in about 40 markets around the world, from the UK and the U.S. to China, and in some 30 languages. What sorts of trends are your seeing in users’ booking behaviors and are there pronounced differences country to country?
Gareth Williams: I think the biggest variation of all probably is the degree of smartphone adoption. And smartphone adoption is what is making dramatic changes in — certainly currently and especially in the future — the experience and requirements around booking.
I think another area is the balance between tour groups and self-planned leisure travel. And, in that case it depends a lot on how historically it was done prior to the Internet, with Germany and the UK being examples. The other factor is the degree of experience that market has, either because of the stage of its economic development or the degree you need visas and it’s complicated. Language barriers make a big difference, too.
Skift: So how do these differences in smartphone adoption influence how you go about your business?
Williams: Smartphone adoption basically means two things. One, you need to be able to perform the booking within the search experience. The second thing it means is people are much more breaking up their research, their planning and booking into time slices, and that means you must have authentication, and your searches must be seamless across multiple devices.
Skift: And how are you attacking that problem of searches taking place across multiple devices?
Williams: Well, we have a sign-on that’s gradually being adopted, but basically a significant part of our engineering resource is around the area of social travel, memory of what you are searching for, and in that area.
Skift: So can you start a search on one device and pick it right up on another on Skyscanner?
Williams: Yes, you can do that right now if you are signed in, and it’s an actual part of adding value to being signed in.
Skift: There’s been sort of an unwritten debate between the metasearch companies that seek to have their customers book flights or hotels on their websites or within their apps, and those that are content to hand users off to third-party online travel agencies or hotel chains to complete the booking. Where does Skyscanner stand and why?
Williams: We support both methods of bookings, although we are at the early stages. It is only in certain markets. We will be allowing the consumer to make the booking within our apps and within our Web services.
Skift: Would I be wrong to assume that you believe that Skyscanner has the best booking experience among your peers? If you do believe that, tell me why that is, and where do some of the others fall down?
Williams: I think the major plank is our coverage is greater than is found elsewhere, not only in terms of the range of itineraries, but also in terms of the range of agents, whether it be airline.com or OTA.com. And, that, I believe, surpasses in global coverage any of our competitors.
Skift: How are your launches in the Americas going? What’s the update on that?
Williams: It is performing pretty well. We are setting records in terms of traffic [119% increase in unique visitors per month year over year] that we are seeing, and indeed revenues. Our coverage is going up. We are at the early stages. It is a bit like when we first started with an Asia-Pacific face in Singapore. Nothing dramatic to report at the moment, but it is certainly heading in a similar pattern as we experienced for Asia-Pacific.
Skift: I don’t know of many sharing economy airlines, but what impact has the sharing economy in lodging and cars had on Skyscanner?
Williams: So far we haven’t seen any impact, but I think the way that we would view it is we would aim to be showing those results in both of those categories for our users who want to see those results. We would view it as an opportunity to extend our search coverage.
Skift: Are you working on that now? Are some of those options already in your results?
Williams: No, they are not in our results at the moment.
Skift: In 2013, Skyscanner acquired hotel search site Fogg. Was that basically an acqui-hire or will we see a spinoff called Hotelscanner one day? There are lots of possibilities in between, of course.
Williams: We launched a hotel app. The Fogg acquisition was much greater than an acqui-hire. They have a fantastic technology stack beneath their hotels product, and an excellent team building on top of that.
Skift: Why did you choose to do a standalone hotel app? Why did you choose to do it that way rather than flights and hotels together?
Williams: Basically to get data, to determine traction, to build up awareness. And it’s a moving target as to whether people would prefer car hire, hotels and flights all in one. We will experiment.