WTM Special: Matthew Walls Interview

13th Nov 2003

Hotels.com, one of the fastest growing hotel booking sites on the Internet has just launched in the UK. We caught up with UK Head of Marketing,  Matthew Walls at WTM to discuss his plans to become the dominant brand in Europe.Q. When did Hotels.com launch in the UK

The launch has been phased over a period of time. Our priority was to get the hotel inventory contracting hotels - that’s been going on for about a year now. After that we’ve done some test marketing with a test website. We consider October 1st to be the official launch date - that’s when the final website was up and running.
Q. Why was now the right time to launch?

Hotels.com has been around for 10 years now - we are the biggest specialist accommodation provider in the world so it has been a natural progression from our home market in the west towards Europe. We see the opportunity to own the ground of accommodation specialist.
Will Hotels.com expand into any other sectors, or offer other products?
Accommodation will always be our priority - our key product but then we have a look to see what other products would be beneficial. For example we have just launched a car hire section available on the website - we see car hire as complimentary to accommodation.
Q. How have you raised the user experience?

Our priority is speed but within that we have a high level of technology that is able to provide images of the hotel. People get a look at what the hotel looks like before they book. Search options we have available start search with a hierarchy of hotels - that starts with the best value for money - apart from that, customers can select according to price, star rating and proximity.
Q. What kind of differences have needed to be noted between UK and US consumers?

Our market in the UK is very much driven by the low cost airlines. We have a very strong business at the moment providing the accommodation part of that package. That is obviously quite particular to the UK but the whole market is different. We are used to buying packages in the UK historically - so it is a new market that is doing things independently.
Q. What part have low cost airlines played for online booking?

Low cost airlines are very important and influential because consumers know they can get to most European destinations effectively. They are spending more money on the hotel if they have got a good deal on the flight. The destinations that are selling well are linked to those destinations that the low costs fly to.
Q. You are facing steep competition from well esablished European brands. What are the main things in your favour for hotels.com?

The biggest thing in our favour is the fact that we are a specialist - we are a full service website. The product that we have benefits from that as we are the biggest contractor of hotels in the world with 9000 individually contracted hotels. Almost all of our hotels deliver availability down to the day because we own those rooms.
Q. What are your thoughts on consolidation within the online travel arena?

The market is still expanding strongly - even in the UK. More particularly In Europe - there will be an end to that eventually and only the major players will succeed in the long term which is why it is so important for us to build our brand now - and to create a household name.

Q. There is a rising concern for online credit card fraud. How are you dealing with this issue?

All we can do is update the security technology every time software is updated. This is a constant battle, but ultimately we know vital to our business. It’s always a slightly frustrating argument because the reality is that there is offline fraud to a much greater degree than offline.

Q. Would you recommend hotels.com to those travellers who are not internet savvy?

It is a very simple site that is easy to navigate but the reality is that unless people are used to spending money online, it is unlikely that they will go online and spend £400. People typically start with games/ videos and then move up the chain so now in the UK there are about 5 million people who are regularly making 5-10 transactions online - everybody’s moving in the right direction, it’s just a matter of time.


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