With digitization continuing to transform the travel and hospitality industry, SkiftX chats with Hotelbeds’ CEO Nicolas Huss on his vision for the future of frictionless travel.
The pandemic drastically transformed the way the travel industry operates. With digitization as the new name of the game, customers are seeking out smoother, more reliable choices, and businesses are opting for more streamlined approaches to their product offerings.
Based in Palma, Mallorca, leading bedbank Hotelbeds has been at the frontline of the industry’s transformation over the past 18 months. SkiftX spoke with Hotelbeds’ CEO Nicolas Huss about the bedbank concept, the company’s response to the pandemic and everything that shifted along with it, as well as his vision — fueled by a strong background in digital — for what travel will look like over the coming years.
SkiftX: The concept of a bedbank is commonly understood in Europe, but it’s not as familiar to U.S. travelers. What exactly is a bedbank, and what value does it bring to travelers and industry partners?
Nicolas Huss: Bedbanks are independent aggregators that provide hotels with access to high-value, complementary distribution channels that significantly increase their occupancy rates without competing with their direct distribution strategy. We also act to protect rate parity, understanding that every dollar counts.
Bedbanks consolidate access to all the major travel trade segments worldwide through having relationships with extensive networks of hard-to-reach B2B travel buyers, as well as providing full end-to-end solutions that include hotel, activities, and transfers, which enables these packaged services to be commercialized by the hotel directly.
Bedbanks also provide flexibility and customized distribution that enables hoteliers to shift their distribution strategy to meet the challenges of today’s fast-changing marketplace by covering different segments and markets, thanks to the varied and global client base. In short, we save hotels time, money, and resources.
SkiftX: What differentiates Hotelbeds from the other bedbanks?
Huss: One factor is our global reach. We have experts on the ground in every market we operate in who fully understand what’s happening locally, what the challenges are, and the value of being able to connect personally with clients and suppliers. Secondly, technology is at the core of everything we do to create tailor-made experiences for our partners and simplify a very complicated and fragmented market.
SkiftX: How is Hotelbeds adjusting to a post-Covid-19 world with increasing competition in the space?
Huss: A new world of travel is emerging for both our partners and ourselves, and we have to adapt to new trends such as corporate social responsibility commitments, the demand for security and transparency, the rise of domestic and leisure travel, and the multi-faceted vacation. We need to be even more agile and responsive than before. We also need to be absolutely customer-centric, using our track record of adaptability and innovation, combined with our new predictive, proactive mindset, to add real value to our hotel partners and clients.
We know the market is increasingly competitive and fragmented, but we also know that our independence means that our service to our clients and our ability to be a true partner to them is highly valuable. Since I joined the company, I have been impressed with the history, knowledge, and expertise that stretches across the business and our team of experts on the ground. To have this powerhouse of people, coupled with our data and technology — which we’re continually investing in — is an unbeatable combination.
SkiftX: How will the move to a more domestic, leisure-focused audience change things?
Huss: It has already changed things quite significantly for us. It’s more complicated to prove the value that we bring now than it would be in a normal environment — but having said that, it’s also strengthened our business. We’ve refocused on the domestic side of travel, and the fact that leisure is taking a larger share of the market has actually helped us. We’ve done a great job in aligning our product and content solutions with the shifting priorities of our hotels, and it’s paying off.
We’re incredibly lucky as this shift in the market has also played to the strengths we have in place through our satellite business, Beyond The Bed, which has extensive experience and transportation offerings which enable our clients to easily package end-to-end multi-faceted vacations. We’re seeing an increasing demand for these types of trips which are helping to push more business to our hotel partners.
SkiftX: You come from a strong digital background. Can you talk about your vision for a more digitized travel industry? What will it look like, and how will we get there?
Huss: Travelers expect a seamless service from point A to point B. The research we’ve conducted tells us that travelers are comfortable with the security and safety that hotels provide, but they are still quite uncomfortable with travel itself, or what comes in between — meaning going through security, boarding to the plane, checking baggage, and checking in and out of the hotel, for example.
There’s been progress here: On the one hand, large hotel chains are now using artificial intelligence and robotics, for example. But through my experience — having worked with companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and Apple — I’m convinced that there is so much more we can do to create an almost frictionless, touchless travel experience. Many hotels are still struggling with digitalization.
I believe bedbanks are in a perfect position to ensure that all of the points throughout the end-to-end journey are as digitally enabled as possible. In order for Hotelbeds to help push this forward, we’ll continue to invest in our platforms and develop innovative tools, such as The Compass, which provides our partners with extensive data insights and marketing support to help them understand what’s happening in their city, region, market, and segment. I know we’ll need to be bold and disruptive, push boundaries, and challenge ourselves to invest in areas that will truly add value to our partners, our brand, but ultimately, the end consumer.
SkiftX: What can the travel industry learn from the fintech sector?
Huss: The fintech industry is leading how automation can improve the end-to-end customer journey and alleviate friction along the way. From a traveler’s perspective, this will impact every aspect of the airport and hospitality experience, as well as every step that comes between. Contactless technology — and payments in particular — is really at the core of this. The industry is also thinking very deeply about how companies can use data to offer more personalized offerings and therefore, better compete in the space — while still protecting customer privacy — which is an obsession of mine.
SkiftX: What are some things the industry should focus on together as we move toward a more frictionless experience?
Huss: We need to identify ways to raise barriers and remove the number of interactions across the end-to-end journey, which will take real cooperation and creativity from the industry. We also need to work together to develop industry standards so that the customer experience is consistent and trustworthy.
For example, right now, the required Covid-19 vaccine certifications differ from country to country, meaning a traveler would need multiple documents in multiple formats if traveling across multiple countries. It’s time consuming, not to mention confusing, to get it all straight. Knowing that there are new requirements for travelers, how can we collectively present a unique solution to be the industry standard? There will also be a need to invest more in technology, especially on the hotel side of things.
As I have said, there’s so much more that can be done in this area, but I genuinely believe it is in everyone’s interests to find ways to be more collaborative, support each other, bring value, and ensure that no one gets left behind.