Interview with Paul Conroy of lastminute.com

lastminute.com is one of the most visited online travel websites in Europe, offering exclusive last minute deals at competitive prices on premium travel, gifts and entertainment. lastminute.com harnesses the power of the Internet to offer people the choice of luxury, spontaneity and great services at affordable prices and premium products at the last minute.
In a rare interview, Paul Conroy, Holidays` Manager, shares with us some of the current trends and developments for lastminute.com.
Q. Who is lastminute.com owned by?

A It is owned by our shareholders.

Q. What can lastminute.com offer to consumers?

A. As well offering availability at the last minute, we work with many thousands of suppliers both within the travel industry and across all the other categories we offer. A customer can come to the site and book a flight to New York or Boston, or Rome and leave the same day. And we may have the best rate that they can find on the market.

Q. How have the events of September 11th affected lastminute.com?

A. Post September 11th we saw no drop in customer numbers, just a shift in the product mix.  The US was never a core market for us so we were not affected in the way that many major airlines were.  Also because lastminute.com is a multi-category website we are not solely reliant on the travel aspect of the business.

We are finding that many of our suppliers are viewing us as an even more valuable distribution channel for their excess supply after the events of September 11.  For example we work with some of the best hotel chains in the world. They have reduced some of their rates and consequently we are able to offer some even better hotel deals via lastminute.com. Four or five star deals are being offered at amazing prices, especially in the UK, our first and home market.
lastminute.com is in a good position because we can move quickly and adapt to the changing market conditions.  From a holiday perspective, we are selling an enormous number of short breaks: Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Venice, Rome, and Florence. We are selling those 2 or 3 night breaks a couple of days before departure and they`re going really well. So people are still going away, but they are booking at the last minute. They`re booking late.
An important factor is that we have always been the first place to look for a holiday at the last minute. People are comfortable with our product offering. And if they are nervous about travelling and they want to leave their decision late. They know they can log on to lastminute.com, and find good availability at great prices.
Q. What are your most recent developments?

A. Well, on the technology side, we`re got a relationship with Microsoft and their messenger service. We can actually contact people with very specific deals to their requirements. If a customer tells us to alert them when we get a holiday to Tenerife, for example, then we can alert the MSN messenger and they can log onto the site and have a look at it.

Q. When was that launched?

A. Late October 2001

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Q. Have you seen the results of it yet?

A. It`s only early days, but already, we are already seeing a lot of interest in it. Part of our strategy is to ensure that we are available on all communications platforms, so whether that`s the internet, which is our main platform at the moment, or digital television, WAP technology or MSN messenger, we want to be available to our users on the device which is most convenient to them.


Q. What are your plans for the future?

A. We have established a fantastic supply base. We also have a user-friendly web site and a brand name that people recognise. So what we`re doing at the moment is trying to consolidate our position as the number one travel site in Europe and become a lifestyle utility which people visit every day.

Q. What areas are you distributed in?

A. We are live in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and South Africa. All of these sites are in the local languages and we have local teams to organise deals in each of those countries and for their specific market.  So, for example, if you log onto the Swedish site you can find holidays departing from Sweden, but all the products come from one central database.

Q. What makes lastminute.com a premiere online travel site?

A. We have the best deals available. We have a fantastic relationship with our suppliers and we must thank them because they do provide us with some truly amazing deals. You can literally go to Paris, on Eurostar and stay in a good hotel for 2 nights and pay less than £100. There are some amazing deals on there. The best thing about the site is the deals available. Also, the site works really well. People can find what they`re looking for and it`s very user friendly. There is a real focus on the last minute `we can actually fulfil tickets when other sites cannot` you could book at lunchtime and be on a plane that night!

Q. Can you discuss current sales volumes for lastminute.com?

A. I can tell you that we are achieving our targets and at 23 November 2001 (Year End and Q4 Results announcement) anticipate 70% growth year on year for 2002.

Q. Perhaps you could compare to last year?

A. Departure based Total Transaction Value increased x3.6 times year on year.


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