ITN Interviews New Opodo Boss

By Anna Gouldman
Opodo, the online travel company created by nine of Europe’s leading airlines (Aer Lingus, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, KLM and Lufthansa) have just announced the acquisition of Quest Travel for approximately £1.2 million in cash. Internet Travel News decided it was time to catch up wih newly appointed CEO, Simon Vincent, to find out what we can expect to see from Opodo in 2005.ITN: What drew you to Opodo?

SV: The fact that Amadeus had significant ambitions for the business, and were seeking someone to lead the growth and development across Europe.  It’s presence in the online space and its pan-European reach were also significant factors.

ITN: How have you found your first few months as CEO?

SV: A whirlwind of activity, getting to know the individual markets, meeting staff, understanding customers, assessing the strategic challenges and tactical opportunities - there’s lots to do!

ITN: What was the most positive aspect of 2004 for Opodo?

SV: Amadeus taking controlling shareholding interest in Opodo and the strong growth achieved in our core markets of UK, France and Germany.  The expansion into Italy via Eviaggi was also a highlight.

ITN: Who do you consider to be your number one competitor?

SV: There are 5 key players in the European online arena - Opodo, Expedia, Ebookers, Lastminute and Travelocity.  We do not feel we have a number one competitor as such, as it depends on what product sector you are comparing.

ITN: What is Opodo’s main differentiating factor from competitors?

SV: We are a quality, trusted and sophisticated brand offering good value travel deals across a wide range of products.  We are a market-leader in flight sales and pride ourselves on our travel knowledge and expertise.  Compared to some of our competitors, our sites are clean, stylish and simple to use, with an excellent user experience - something that will continue to be at the heart of all our product developments going forward.

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ITN: What is your take on selling lifestyle products - is this something we can expect to see on Opodo?

SV: Opodo is first and foremost a travel company and this is certainly not a priority, however we would never say never!

ITN: What is your acquisition strategy?

SV: To create a truly pan-European online travel agency we need to expand and grow in three ways, via content / product, geographically and through technological expertise. Quest was the first step in acquiring content.  We have clearly stated that monies will be made available for the right acquisition opportunity but we are not in a position to disclose more details.  Opportunities will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

ITN: What is your acquisition budget for 2005?

SV: We are not in a position to reveal that.

ITN: Having just completed the Quest acquisition, can you comment on your thoughts and predictions on travel to Asia following the Indian Ocean Tsunami?

SV: Quest Travel’s key strengths are in the Australia and New Zealand marketplace with Asia accounting for only 15% of its sales.  Despite the devastating effects, I believe Asia will remain a popular choice and Opodo has made a contribution to the rebuilding through the Travel Industry Earthquake appeal.

ITN: Should we expect to see Opodo shifting its focus to long-haul travel?

SV: Opodo aims to provide a broad range of travel products of which long haul is one segment.

ITN: Has the Amadeus acquisition affected Opodo’s strategy?

SV: No - it has merely reinforced our position as a serious online player on a pan-European basis.

ITN: If Amadeus becomes separated from it’s airline owners how will this impact Opodo?

SV: No comment.

ITN: What does 2005 hold for the European online travel market?

SV: Continued growth, further consolidation, further customer experience innovations.

ITN: Any developments for Opodo in the pipeline?

SV: Further enhancements to our hotel service, increased content, dynamic packaging and white label capabilities.
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