skift forum europe london

On April 4 in London, hundreds of the travel industry’s brightest and best will gather in London for the first Skift Forum Europe 2017. In only a few short years Skift’s Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

This year’s event at Tobacco Dock in London will feature speakers including CEOs and top executives from  InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Norwegian Air, Google, Lonely Planet, Momondo Group, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond. See the complete list of amazing speakers and topics at this year’s event.

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Hugo Burge is a man in demand. Momondo Group, the metasearch company, which he has led for 17 years, is in the process of being bought by U.S. online travel giant Priceline for $550 million.

The deal, which follows Ctrip’s acquisition of UK-based Skyscanner at the end of last year, shows that there remains plenty of appetite for investment in the sector.

Momondo Group Chief Executive Hugo Burge will be speaking about the personalization of travel search at the Skift Forum Europe 2017 on April 4 in London.

Skift: Is personalization now key for metasearch?

Hugo Burge: The metasearch model is thriving, and it’s been exciting to watch it take root around the world. Critical to its success is its intrinsic neutrality – an independence that means it can build a strong ‘trust equity’ with users from the earliest moments of their journey.

The challenge historically for metasearch is that it does not take bookings or payments, so is not as close to users as the retail model. However, that is changing and there are very different ways to approach personalisation.

Personalization will be the corner-stone for metasearch making the leap to meta-predictions in the context of effective voice activated search, enabling text-based search and offering ever faster responses. In all these future developments, it will help us to deepen that trust equity with users over the coming years.

But personalization done badly though can undermine the neutrality that makes metasearch so special, so it needs to be done with care.

Skift: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the metasearch industry? And what might be the biggest technological enablers?

Burge: One of the barriers to entry on strong metasearch is scale: there is now a handful of international players growing profitably and rapidly across multiple markets. The biggest challenge now is differentiation. I see a convergence in technologies and products. So, ultimately how do you stand out? The Momondo Group view is that to create binding loyalty metasearch needs to build products users love (not just like – love) that are enveloped within amazing brand values. Too often metasearch becomes cluttered by adverts, looks too geeky or is corrupted by a race to the bottom – a pure profit motive. We want to open our world with more inspiring, cleaner, more inviting and more enjoyable search.

The biggest technological enablers? An ability to make data relevant, to filter it with the human touch, to make search better, faster, more intuitive… simpler.

Skift: Would Momondo ever look to pursue something like instant booking?

Burge: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we have built it and are very proud of our approach. However, we are holding back while we await the completion of our acquisition by Kayak.  Instant booking is another step towards the utopia of a frictionless online experience and we see it as a natural evolution for metas. However, it also has the potential to confuse, to mislead and to restrict options – all of which I am vehemently against. We must explore it. My dream is not for instant booking but universal booking – where the experience is consistent and clear across every product option. The key questions for me remain: do you need to get there incrementally or go big bang? My heart says can we do the latter but my head says the former. Can you deliver the consistency of customer service that consumers can build ultimate trust? This is a challenge without being a retailer, but a holy grail that is worth striving for.

Skift: Momondo gained a lot of publicity for its DNA Journey video. What was the thinking behind this and are you pleased with how it was received?

Burge: The thinking behind the Momondo DNA Journey was: how do we best explore and convey our purpose – to ‘open our world’? How can we make that relevant to users across the world – what unifies us? We believe passionately that our core purpose is to open our world, because we believe an open world is a better world – and right now, that’s never felt more important. It’s not just better technology, bigger profits or cool adverts that get us out of bed in the morning – these are the outcomes of the driving vision that the DNA Journey articulated so well. Our Momondo team did an incredible job with the film itself, and watching it go viral, with over 200m video and counting was amazing. I’ll say that again, 200m views – for a five minute video. That’s unprecedented. It truly struck a nerve. In short, I was delighted. Proud. I honestly don’t think any other travel company would have — or could have — come up with this. We see other brands trying to replicate our approach now and we’re pleased to have been instrumental in generating the conversation – if we can change the industry then so much the better. And we must keep challenging ourselves to think better, think bigger and think differently.

Skift: Are you excited to be part of the Priceline Group family?

Burge: Yes! I admire the Priceline Group and I admire what Kayak has created. We both have a focus on building great product and delighting users, so we have a strong meeting of minds there.

It would be a privilege for Momondo and Cheapflights to become part of the Priceline Group family.  I believe we can be a good fit, albeit a very small part of their enterprise, and we can learn plenty from each other to the ultimate betterment of our users and partners alike.

Skift: You’re also a sometime investor in start-ups. What advice would you give to someone looking to build a new travel business in 2017?

Burge: Find a real problem that needs solving in travel – this is one hell of a big industry and believe me there are lots of problems. Think different. Think bold. Think monetization. Then think small initial steps. Think as narrow and simple as possible in those early days. Then get off your arse and do it.

Hugo Burge will be speaking about how travel search can get personal at Skift Forum Europe 2017 on April 4 in London. 

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Photo Credit: Hugo Burge, the Chief Executive of Momondo Group. The company is in the process of being bought by Priceline. Momondo Group