Exclusive Interview with Filip Maksymilian Bloch, CEO&Co-Founder at Hotailor.com
Q: Where did the idea for Hotailor came, what problem did you wanted to solve?
With over 10 years of experience in travel and hotel business I’m trying to make hotel bookings easier and more convenient. At some point I’ve started to cooperate with business travellers and solve their problems. Well, I’m one of them and I know how business travel is different comparing to the leisure travel. After several dozens of interviews with our existing and target customers, together with the team we have developed a platform for business travellers to book hotels. With growing traction of 1000 bookings in just few months we learned a lot how to serve them.
Once upon a time, one of our angel investors wanted to simply test us inviting us to talk with one of the biggest business travel agency in Slovenia. But the meeting went in a completely different way than he assumed. They said, the tool we were using within the company to book hotels might be a perfect platform for travel agencies. That’s how we started to develop a new business model – SaaS and white label solution with smart algorithms that helps travel agencies facilitate more bookings in a cleverer and more efficient way.
Q: What is the philosophy and the main advantages of Hotailor?
The good ol’ days for travel agencies are gone. When in 1996 Microsoft launched first ever online travel agency – Expedia – brick and mortar travel agencies lost a tremendous part of the market. But all in all, they still have a big power: personal relationships with business travellers they’re manages hotel bookings to. However, those agents are working in insufficiently digitised travel agencies, using booking system, that isn’t good enough.
We want give them that missing tool, rebuild their position in the market and bring back good ol’ days. We see the possibility in the XML/API connection to GDS systems and multisource platform to use them all in the same time. Quite recently, Bob Offutt, a research director with PhoCusWright said: “20 years ago, a GDS might display a range of rates for a single hotel, but many hotels did not have the technological capabilities to provide real-time inventory and availability. So, if a travel agency doesn’t have a XML/API connection with a supplier, it could take 24 hours to confirm a reservation”. He pointed out another big value– time. Using Hotailor, travel agent is able to respond to the request in few minutes, not a hour, how it’s now. It’s possible with access to over 600.000 hotels worldwide, filtering through several original algorithms, to fulfil needs of the end customer – business traveller. Travel agent receives up to seven best selected hotels meeting request parameters. Of that number, he selects just two – perfectly matched hotel rooms, client confirms, pays and whole process takes up to 15 minutes. This is the most relevant value for both time-sensitive business travellers and for the travel agent, that becomes able to do ten times more bookings, than by phone calls or e-mails with clients, as it was so far. A classic win-win.
Q: What do you think that travel agency booking automation like Hotailor can add to the customer?
As I said, we’re delivering the painkiller to two customers – business travellers and travel agents. Automation you’ve mentioned is to make hotel booking convenient and quick. Imagine, you’re travelling for business to London. You use standard booking platform, filter available hotels and what you get? 1000 hotels in just one city. You’re completely confused. Then you get the invoice, payment in different currency, you have to pay a city tax in cash… And you’re in hurry! Well, you can involve travel agent in this, but he will charge you extra 30% and you’ll have to hang on the line or send and receive dozens of e-mails, to make sure everything is as you wanted. Using Hotailor, you can easily reduce the time of booking hotel to few minutes. You can immediately pay via PayPal or credit card. For trusted customers we provide delayed payment. After that you get single collective invoice (eg. monthly) for hotel booked so far in one currency, no matter which countries you’ve visited. When it comes to travel agent additional benefits, we provide standardized communication to both hotels and clients, complex algorithms, simple interface – adaptable to every travel agency (SaaS/white label), all-in-one multisource platform with comprehensive hotel comparison, seamless integration of other services (eg. more hotels, flights, Uber), if agency needs this. All that makes booking process error-proof.
Q: Who is your competition and who do you look up to?
In terms of business travels our competitions are online travel agencies and booking systems like Booking.com or Expedia. When it comes to Hotailor as SaaS/White label solution for travel agencies, this product is really unique. Combination of algorithms, quality selection, perfect design and people behind.
Q: This year you opened also the offices in Slovenia, what was the reason for that?
We were accepted into ABC Accelerator which turned out as a great jumping start for Balkans market. Slovenia is conveniently located, so we have good connections with our target markets. Furthermore, we met part of our team here and since our cooperation is going really well, market responds good and there is an obvious need for our service, we decided to stay here.
Q: What are your target markets?
Currently we are targeting Balkans, Eastern Europe and Germany, but later in the autumn we will go to Silicon Valley, where we plan to launch Hotailor to American market as well. Our main goal is to be present everywhere; after all our clients are everywhereJ
Q: What is the next big thing for Hotailor and where do you see the potential?
As mentioned we are leaving to California in less than two months, where we plan to tackle American market. We just got nominated as best early stage startup at Central Eastern European Awards and received some really good offers for further cooperation.
Q: What is by your opinion the success formula for working in tourism?
To listen to your clients, listen to the market needs. Don’t guess them, be data driven company, observe the numbers and test everything. It is true that tourism is growing on daily basis but as much as it’s growing it is also changing all the time. If you don’t know the trends, eventually customers and market won’t need you anymore.
Q: Modern tourism is changing and with that also the customer, what do you see for the future of whole tourism and travelling?
World is shrinking for both, business and leisure travelers. With growth of internet and social media, our customers became more alerted, informed. Before booking the hotel, they read the comments and reviews. Competition is strong, customers have high expectations so everything needs to be done right the first time. In the future there will be new trends, for sure number of travelers will increase even more both in business and leisure segment.
ONE ON ONE WITH PHILIP MAXYMILIAN
Q: How would you describe your job?
I like to think about myself as a driver of the bus. Right now we are probably at most flourishing and exciting stage of being a startup. We are developing business and market, so every day is different. Challenging and exciting would be the right words.
Q: What are the best moments you remember from your work?
When our API started to work and chosed first best hotels☺ It was beginning of Hotailor revolution☺
Q: What kind of people/co-workers inspire you the most?
The team I work with now. They are all so motivated and enthusiastic, always prepared to go this extra mile but still they know, how to recharge their batteries.
Q: What is the best advice you have for everybody working in the hotel business?
Don’t overpromise or oversell. It is always better if people are surprised than disappointed.