Five innovative travel and hospitality start-ups went head-to-head in a competitive pitching evening organised by the Traveltech Lab and Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Gurmej Bahia, Hilton’s vice president of ecommerce & regional marketing EMEA, told guests at the #TalkTravelTech event that the hotel group was keen to partner with a technology start-up that focussed on enabling consumers to “spend less time booking and more time doing”.
The judging panel comprised Jeremy White, product editor at Wired magazine; Randel Darby, founder of AirPortr; Joshua Sloser, senior vice president of product and digital innovation at Hilton; and Flavia Richardson, portfolio manager at London Co Investment Fund.
Miron Perel, chief executive of Sidekix, told the judges his years as a business traveller, finding himself in unfamiliar cities with a few hours to kill, gave him the idea for an itinerary-building platform to help visitors explore the local area. Itineraries can take in different landmarks, shops, restaurants, bars or attractions according to the user’s interests, and also enables the booking of activities such as cooking classes. Sidekix is already live in 1,000 cities around the world and already available in 10 languages. Perel told Hilton the app would help guests enjoy a more local experience beyond the hotel.
Founder Andy Owen-Jones told the judges his artificial intelligence platform, which tracks customers’ behaviour online in real time in order to better predict what they will buy and when they will book, will be the “way all travel is sold in future.” The platform has already tracked the online journey of 700 million travellers and is already being used by Expedia and Kayak among others. Owen-Jones told Hilton that by serving the customer with offers and products that match the customers’ profile, price becomes less of a focus. He claimed that bd4travel could increase online conversion by up to 30-40% after working with a company for several years.
Robin Berrendorf from Skippticket’s product development team claimed that while hotels offer a valuable service to guests by helping them book activities and tours, the market is so fragmented and processes so manual that potential revenue is considerably reduced. His platform, Skippticket, launched a year ago and is already being used by 200 hotels. It enables reception and concierge staff to book more than 20,000 tours for their guests, to offer them special offers and perks, and to better analyse the data collected data. An app that guests can use to self-book is coming soon. Berrendorf said Hilton could use Skippticket to offer its guests a consistent service across all of its properties, and significantly boost revenue.
Avuxi co-founder Alexis Batlle claimed that poor online conversion levels in travel - with established players attaining rates of only around 4% - is largely due to customers wanting more information about the hotel’s location and local area. His ranking platform, TopPlace, uses social media buzz and reviews to tell travellers the most popular attractions, bars and shops in an area - according to their preferences - to help the customer then choose the best-located hotel to be close to those points of interest. Avuxi is already working with Kayak and eDream among others, and can help travel companies increase booking conversion by up to 6.5%, and booking value by up to 17%, said Batlle.
Founder Marcus Strallen told Hilton that using his professional linguistic services app could help it “astound” every single guest, no matter what language they speak. His app enables users to call one of 5,000 self-employed translators, with calls normally answered within 35 seconds. Strallen said more than 5,000 users have already downloaded the app from the App Store, and Whym has already been integrated by several other partners. He suggested the app could be particularly useful for adding value for business guests, and for in emergencies where “accuracy matters”.
After careful deliberation, the judging panel chose bd4travel as the winner of the £14,000 cash prize and the chance to work with Hilton to develop the product across Hilton’s portfolio of more than 5,200 properties and 856,000 rooms in 105 countries. Gurmej Bahia said bd4travel’s artificial intelligence product dovetailed well with Hilton’s own strategy. “We’re obsessed about learning more about our customers and providing value, so bd4travel’s focus on personalisation and relevancy sounds really exciting,” he added.