As online travel agents like Kayak become overcrowded with ads, a new generation of apps aims to offer a more curated experience. Rather than manually searching for tickets as on Kayak, Hitlist users select their dream destinations, and the app monitors ticket prices and sends an alert when they hit an ideal point to buy. You can also use the app as a social network of sorts, requesting fare alerts for your friends’ home airports and scheduling visits accordingly.
Founder and CEO Gillian Morris was inspired to launch Hitlist after her years working abroad, when she routinely sent friends the best airfare deals in efforts to convince them to visit her. Below, Morris shared with the Daily some insights gleaned from the business.
Why do you think the travel industry is ready for digital disruption?
A combination of poor product, hubris, and consolidation makes travel particularly ripe for disruption. Consumer satisfaction with most existing travel brands is under 14% – lower than most insurance products. You know when someone loves their insurance more than the brand that takes them traveling, you have a deeply flawed travel product.
Most travel brands you know are owned by either Priceline or Expedia, which means there’s less pressure for innovation than the sheer number of travel brands might suggest. The margins charged by Priceline and Expedia are around 20% of the cost of a hotel room, and 5% on flights – both margins that could be lower with more competition.
How do you think “the disrupted” (i.e. airlines, hotels, online travel agents like Kayak) will react? Will they be able to work with and benefit from apps like yours, or will it be a disrupting factor that will threaten their business?
Airlines and hotels suffer from “spoilage” – an industry term for empty rooms and seats on flights. On any given night, 40% of hotel rooms are empty, and on an average flight, 19% of seats are unfilled. Once this inventory expires, no one can ever make money from it again. I believe the new generation of travel tools will help fill those seats and beds, even if at a discount. There’s capacity for everyone – the consumer, the vendor, and the middleman – to do better here.
In what ways could you envision working with hotels and travel brands in the future?
We already work with select hotels and flight providers to drive high-converting traffic to their site. We care about building accountable metrics around our advertising promotions. We aren’t just tracking impressions, but tracking how many people actually end up going to a destination.
What does the future of the digital travel space look like to you? What kind of apps or other innovations do you see coming about?
As distribution tools become better, it’ll be easier to objectively compare your options and book spontaneously, even last minute. We’ll also see a rise in apps that are essentially agents, who get to know you and your preferences and make recommendations for trips you might like to take. I believe that with better tools, we can shift consumer spending away from categories like clothes and accessories and towards travel, which drives more enjoyment and long-term satisfaction.