Breaking Travel News interview: Richard Singer, managing director, Travelzoo Europe

Breaking Travel News interview: Richard Singer, managing director, Travelzoo Europe

Leading publisher of travel deals Travelzoo launched into Europe in 2005 and has already gained over six million subscribers.

Breaking Travel News sits down with Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s newly appointed managing director for Europe to find out what it is that gives Travelzoo - which has 25 million subscribers worldwide - its leading edge.

Here we also discuss emerging markets, mobile technology, post Olympics in London and predictions for the online travel space.

Breaking Travel News: Following your recent appointment as Managing director at Travelzoo, how are you finding the new role? Is it what you imagined it to be?

Richard Singer: Yes it is what I imagined it to be I knew a lot about Travelzoo before I joined. Moving from a large UK newspaper group to a global media company in growth you expect it to be different.

Working across multiple offices, multiple languages, and multiple cultures all with unique challenges, the variety is incredible.

The challenge is a positive one though- growing our core business, identifying new revenue streams and investing in them, hiring the best people across Europe in many disciplines, investing in subscriber growth and bringing new products to market at pace.

This is very different to my previous role so it’s been a very good move.

BTN: What have been your key priorities so far? How’s that all going?

RS: Germany and the UK are my two key priorities. They account for 4.5m of the 6m subscribers in Europe.

We are growing our headcount and subscribers at a rate like never before. Attracting subscribers in Germany is more challenging than in the UK, partly to do with the reluctance in Germany to part with their contact details.

But as we grow our presence and profile in Germany this process has become faster and the calibre of employee we want is becoming easier.

In terms of our French and Spanish office these two markets play a critical role in the success of our European business.

For obvious reasons in Spain the economy makes significant growth a challenge, however both the French and Spanish offices reside in two of the most popular and attractive inbound destinations in the world.

My role is to ensure that publishing this content globally to our subscribers is a fast, simple and efficient process.

BTN: What differentiates or gives Travelzoo the leading edge compared to other digital media companies or publishers of deals online?

RS: We are a truly global company. We can speak to a hotel today and publish their deal to 26m people across the world tomorrow.

Nobody can do this as efficiently and as effectively with as transparent results as us.

Our expertise. We have been doing this across the world for nearly 15 years now.  Many of the people who started with the company then are still with the company today. We know what works.

We are fundamentally a people business and our teams are the best I have worked with.

Without a doubt our UK sales team is the very best media sales team in travel.

Our hotel team know revenue management like revenue managers, our travel team have either worked in travel tour operations or travel media and can really find the right solution for their clients.

We don’t just sell media, we are an ROI based company and the number of repeat and long term clients demonstrates we get this right.

Our editorial teams across Europe are more knowledgeable about their sectors than any travel journalist I have worked with in the past- they understand the industry but more importantly are completely in tune with what our subscribers want.

Subscriber engagement- I have been absolutely blown away by how powerful our media can be.

At my last company many clients were pulling back spend to work with Travelzoo and other online companies.

I have been pleased with how many more do this now since I have joined. This is an ROI driven business and the ROI is generated by the quality of our subscribers.

Our marketing teams who are responsible for acquiring subscribers and ensuring they hit our quality standards and engagement levels are some of the savviest marketers I have had the pleasure of working with.

All of these factors make Travelzoo the success it is today.

BTN: Having launched in Europe in 2005, what are Travelzoo’s main strengths in this market?  What challenges are you facing?

RS: We launched in 2005 and quickly moved into Germany, France and most recently Spain. Our strength is that the model is largely the same and that we launched in North America nearly 15 years ago.

We have launched new products and evolved our offering but we stick to what works.

We have very good local Country Managers who completely understand the culture and operations locally but are supported by our EU HQ on a daily basis.

We are consistent in that wherever we have offices, we only recruit talented and motivated people. These people ensure that we generate campaigns that work for our travel clients.

The challenge is to continue to lead the field in a very fragmented and competitive space.

There are many companies now who purport to do similar things to Travelzoo so we have to differentiate ourselves.

Thankfully our repeat custom rate demonstrates that we are getting this right. In some sectors we can get confused with a daily deal business.

We aren’t a daily deal business- we provide tailored campaigns for travel and hotel companies, we have set publications and we only send an offer to our subscribers or publish a deal on our website if it hits certain criteria and we believe will be attractive to our subscribers.

BTN: How many subscribers do you have in Europe?

RS: Over 6m. Over 3m in the UK, 1.4m in Germany, and the remainder is made up in France and Spain.

These are very big numbers, however a responsive audience is what counts and what matters to our partners. This is our main focus as we grow.

BTN: What are the current top selling products / packages / destinations at Travelzoo.co.uk?

RS: Due to the nature of our business we can stimulate demand to products and destinations people were not necessarily considering before they saw the deal. However, recently we have found that Med Cruises have worked well, South of France.

Just recently we have seen a spike in the number of people who are enjoying short breaks in the UK post Olympics.

Our aim is to provide our subscribers with variety that they can’t get elsewhere and quite often unique and ‘fresh’ destinations generate some fantastic interest.

BTN: To what extent is mobile technology a priority for Travelzoo Europe? How many users in Europe are searching / booking on Travelzoo via mobile devices? How do you see this evolving?

RS: Mobile is a very significant part of our plans moving forward. We have now launched 3 mobile applications/platforms in all markets globally. We now have well over 1m downloads of our apps.

This number has exploded in the last 12 months.

Mobile traffic is over 20% and purchase rates of our products are now a very significant revenue stream.

It’s not a case of it being a priority over another channel, it is just something we do and what our subscribers want and expect. Sadly, we have seen that many travel partners websites are simply not good enough.

The nature of our media is that quite often we send our subscribers from our media to the partner’s website.

When this is done on a desktop its generally a good experience, however on mobile we have had to decline offers where the mobile experience is simply not good enough for our subscribers even though the deal is exceptional.

That’s a frustration which we are working to remedy, however some of the best known travel brands in the UK will lose out as they are so hampered by legacy.

BTN: Can you comment on any other key trends that are emerging in the online travel space which are impacting on Travelzoo?

RS: Travel going back was simple, travel agents on the high street, adverts in a newspaper.

People knew where to get advice and go to book a holiday. Now it’s incredibly fragmented.  What will become more important are independent, expert advice and an edited summary of the best available offers and inspiring holidays available.

Our core is expert advice so we are in a very good position to capitalise on this.

In addition due to the ever declining cost of media these days, we have the opportunity to promote our brand further and faster than ever before.

BTN: How were London / UK bookings over the Olympic period compared with other European destinations?

RS: There is no doubt that London hotels suffered over the Olympic period with some hotels reporting occupancy rates up to 30% lower than expected.

Back in June we surveyed our UK audience and noted that over 70% planned to stay in the UK for the Olympics to enjoy the feel-good factor so we knew there was genuine interest in heading to the capital to experience the buzz. 

Unfortunately many hotels left it too late to market themselves to this audience and this was a missed opportunity. 

That said the Olympics has left a very positive legacy for how London and the UK is perceived abroad.

Hotels in London in September have been extremely busy so undoubtedly the losses over the Olympic period will balance out and be absorbed in the medium and long term.

BTN: What are your predictions for the online travel space over the next five years?

RS: We have seen web 1.0, 2.0, this is the mobile era but to be frank, its more than that, it’s about connectivity between people be it through mobile or other channels emerging such as TV. TV is in nearly every single household and so reach is already there. 

Agents and Operators have enough challenges today managing multi channel while remaining profitable or ensuring cash flow, however this sector will remain fertile for disruption as new entrants become relevant to users in those channels.

We have seen small elements of this recently with companies like ‘Halo’ taxi which has embraced connectivity to offer consumers something hugely relevant and useful in mobile only form.

As an online company, Travelzoo has people constantly looking at innovations within this sector to ensure we maximise these opportunities that we feel are relevant for our business and relevance to our current and future subscribers.