Breaking Travel News here sites down with Nick Stafford, general manager, Escapes Europe to discuss the phenomenal growth in the mobile travel space and how brands such as LivingSocial are responding to such rapid change.
Breaking Travel News: What differentiates LivingSocial from other online marketplaces?
Nick Stafford: There are two key elements at play: our intrinsic understanding of the social travel consumer, and our ability to deliver material numbers of new, high-spending customers to our merchants.
The way we seek out and share information and recommendations to make travel purchase decisions has changed considerably in recent years.
LivingSocial is part of a new group of companies inspiring both the purchase and sharing of travel ideas in an increasingly inter-connected world.
We use the power of storytelling to highlight the best travel experiences out there and then provide clear purchase paths, be that online, via mobile or on our apps.
Secondly, we deliver our merchant partners a large number of high-spending customers over a short period of time. Volume at velocity, if you like.
Our focus is on introducing new customers to the merchant and structuring our promotions to optimise the business benefits for them.
Our merchants, many of whom have considerable fixed costs or risk inherent in their business, greatly value our ability to deliver these new customers in a targeted, time-specific way.
BTN: Who are your main competitors?
NS: The supply market for travel inspiration and purchasing remains large and very fragmented - at all levels of the supply chain, direct and indirect selling is taking place, whether that be through hotel owners, offline travel agencies, corporate travel companies, online travel agencies and now a new generation of social commerce companies.
This means the customer is presented with a huge amount of choice.
Any company built to, or adapting to the new ways customers discover, share and purchase travel are interesting players in the industry.
BTN: How significant is the ‘LivingSocial Escapes’ component of the website?
NS: As LivingSocial’s dedicated travel arm, Escapes is an important component of the company’s operations.
For us, travel is a key element of our offering and a logical extension of LivingSocial’s local marketplace and events categories.
LivingSocial’s core customer base are social, savvy and engaged, and seek easy-purchase solutions across all areas of their daily lives - travel is a clear extension of this mindset.
From day one, we made a conscious and deliberate decision to recruit an experienced travel team.
Travel is a specialist category and we believe it requires experience to engage with and deliver the best solutions for revenue managers, general managers and sales & marketing managers.
Our partners are delighted to work with a team that understands their needs and frames its solutions around their key KPI’s, whether that be seat yield, REVPAR or trip fill.
BTN: Can you provide booking figures for ‘LivingSocial Escapes’ etc?
NS: Last year, LivingSocial Escapes in the US alone sold well over a million room
nights at hand-picked four and five star properties.
Today, we are selling travel in over 15 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia and this area continues to see strong growth globally.
BTN: How do you manage to compete with other online travel providers given that your offering is so much broader? What are the main challenges of this?
NS: Our ability to inspire is certainly broader.
Online travel agencies have built very successful, rational global booking engines – these are well suited for customers who have a preconceived idea of where they want to travel.
Our focus is very distinct to this model. We use storytelling to create inspiration and excitement.
We inspire our members with unique hand-picked experiences.
So, for example, rather than listing 1,000 hotels in Paris, we select hidden gems, such as a chic hotel in the Marais with dinner on the Eiffel Tower, and a hotel in the Latin Quarter, soaking up the atmosphere of the Sorbonne.
BTN: How do you see LivingSocial Escapes evolving in future? Any new developments in the pipeline?
NS: At LivingSocial, constant innovation is important. 2013 will see a series of innovations for our customers and our merchants.
Our product range will expand and we are working on new support tools with a select number of our hotel merchants.
BTN: What role does social media play for LivingSocial? How important is this functionality?
NS: LivingSocial was founded with a social media vision of helping businesses, locally, nationally and internationally, tap into the commercial possibilities afforded by the rise of social media.
Consequently, an intrinsic understanding of the sheer power of social media runs through the DNA of the company.
The storytelling element of our business centres on shareability - creating, telling and sharing great stories and experiences through social media is at the core of our success.
BTN: What are the key trends that are emerging in the online space? How are you tapping into these?
NS: In terms of emerging trends, we are seeing some exciting developments
that fall into three key categories:
Social: shifting consumer psychology means the travel purchase process is heavily influenced by information sought, found and shared via social networks.
Mobile: Mobile devices offer unprecedented scope for instantaneous action, recommendation and sharing of experiences at any time of the day or night, offering fantastic scope for travel brands.
Peer to Peer: With communication preferences shifting from brand to consumer to consumer to consumer, the power of peer to peer reviews is beyond question.
LivingSocial’s primary area of expertise is in this social space.
BTN: To what extent is the mobile space a priority for you?
NS: Although social is the bedrock of our operations, mobile will have a huge and lasting impact going forward.
With mobile phones playing an increasing role in our day to day lives - being the first thing we reach for in the morning, to being the one thing we can’t leave home without, our phones connect us to the world, and to social networks, wherever we are in the world.
In the UK, we have seen the percentage of transactions on mobile increase from eight to 20 per cent in less than two years - a phenomenal growth curve and one we see continuing.
Mobile is a huge area of potential for our sector and one we are exploring new options in.
BTN: What are your priorities in coming months?
NS: Across Europe, LivingSocial continues to focus on finding the best travel experiences for our consumers domestically and internationally to inspire their travel decisions– so expect to see Christmas markets, city breaks across Europe, cruises and more of those romantic getaways across the UK & Ireland.
BTN: Can you provide an outlook for LivingSocial?
NS: In the industry as a whole, we expect to see continued growth as travel consumers adapt social media and mobile as key elements of their travel purchase journey.
As a LivingSocial customer, you can expect to see more inspirational travel options and as a merchant, you can expect to continue to welcome those great, high-quality LivingSocial customers.
Interview by Anna Gouldman