The Future of Travel Tech
EU integration has led to many industries in Europe homogenising rules and easing the burden of doing business across multiple countries. However, despite one of the EU's key tenants being the free movement of workers, Europe's transport infrastructure remains surprisingly fragmented.
This is just one of the many tough challenges that entrepreneurs need to overcome in order to build a viable business in Europe's travel and tourism market.
The travel and tourism industry is notoriously competitive. Every segment from travel price comparison, to transport providers and online travel agents, is populated with dozens of companies all jockeying for a small piece of the consumer journey. To survive in this environment, entrepreneurs need to ensure their offering is either unique enough to stand out from the crowd, or backed by a well thought out business strategy that will ensure it is executed exceptionally well. I decided to focus on a combination of these two approaches, by basing my company in the relatively new sector of localised search and focusing on creating the most complete offering.
GoEuro's goal is to allow travellers to search from any location to another and instantly find the cheapest or fastest route by combining air, rail or coach routes. As such, one of the main challenges we face is accessing and standardising disparate data sets from multiple countries. This is particularly difficult within the European travel market as there is no normalised structure – transport infrastructure and regulations vary wildly between countries. For example, in the UK, there are several train providers within a privatised system using publically owned railways. The result is a hodgepodge of private companies, government controlled legacy businesses and startups. In Germany, the state-owned company Deutsche Bahn is the main provider of railway services, but there is also a collection of government subsidised providers operating regional routes. Add to this the completely different ways each company and country compiles data such as timetables, and the result is a logistical headache that puts off many entrepreneurs.
Although this challenge is large and complex, it is by no means insurmountable. An attrition-based approach to making partners with transport providers, along with a focus on building a team of highly-skilled individuals to standardise data, has, in only a year, allowed GoEuro to cover rail, coach and air transportation in the UK, Germany and Spain.
Of course, there is no time for anyone within the travel and tourism industry to rest on their laurels. Every company works within an ever-changing and unpredictable climate - sometimes this is literally the case with natural disasters and snowstorms having unforeseeable and uncontrollable impact on business. Add to this complexity, political issues such as strikes and it's easy to see why business owners in this industry need to be flexible and have a firm eye on the future.
Looking ahead, I predict that a key theme will be the evolution of travel search. By this, I mean the move towards mobile and localised travel options. It is the future because it meets the needs of the ever more demanding consumer. Other market segments, particularly retail, are already leveraging the GPS facility on smartphones to make offers which are dependent on location. The result is a much more personalised consumer experience. Consequently, the general public is getting used to the idea that businesses, in any sector, know what they want and tailor the offering accordingly. If online travel is to keep pace with the increased expectations of consumers, localisation must be embraced. Consumers are quickly going to become exasperated when a travel search website only offers them one mode of transport or does not fully plot the route from their front door to their hotel half a world away. In short, the next big successful travel tech company will be the one that best leverages localisation and creates the most natural search experience.
For any entrepreneur considering striking out in travel or tourism, my best piece of advice is to start with the future in mind. You will not survive if you seek to replicate what another company is currently doing, the best approach is to think about where the industry will be in five years and work towards fulfilling what you believe will be the needs of consumers at that point. Like any industry there are plenty of hurdles, however, if you're armed with steely determination and surrounded by a talented team, there is little that cannot be accomplished.