Skift Take

In a funny twist of fate, the man who helped drive consumers away from traditional travel agents with Kayak is now building a business around them. By combining the convenience of an app with the human touch, English and company are hoping to hit a sweet spot.

Paul English, the co-founder of Kayak, hopes to open up his Lola app to travel agents “around the world” as the company prepares to take the business into its next phase of development.

In an interview at the Skift Global Forum in Manhattan on Wednesday, English said his business was currently at stage one, with stage two to include a call centre “somewhere in the U.S.,” followed by an expansion of the “platform to anyone around the world.”

Lola is an app that provides an on-demand travel service to consumers by connecting them to a team of travel agents. At the moment it is invite-only on in the Apple app store but it is expected to launch on desktop and Android in the first quarter of 2017.

While Lola is keen to hire more employees it is also developing its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities but English stressed that “there’ll always be a need for agents”.

“One part [of AI development] is just the predictive analytics. Trying to anticipate and predict what type of hotel someone wants and what type of travel they need,” he said.

Lola is also building up its natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities and has recently hired Amazon’s Bryan Healey, who had worked on Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice service.

“The NLU we’re working on is going to be focused on text, so if people type in a sentence [it’s about] trying to parse that sentence, get intent out of it and give advice to the agent,” English said

Meanwhile, English also spoke about some of the reasons why travel start-ups tend to fail. He said that many were too focused on travelers’ conversations.

“I think the way to be successful in travel is to get as close as you can to the transaction. You try to figure out exactly where people are spending the money,” he said.

Addressing emerging businesses, English said he’s seldom seen large companies innovate because such creativity is nurtured best through small teams. Recruitment and hiring the best people is an often-overlooked factor in companies’ success.

English left Kayak in 2014, a little over a year after it was bought by Priceline. He co-founded Lola in July 2015 and in April this year secured $19.7 million in Series A funding.


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Tags: kayak, lola, sgf2016, skift global forum, travel agents

Photo credit: Skift CEO Rafat Ali (L) and Lola CEO Paul English. Lola is an app that connects people to travel agents. Skift

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