Athens-based OTA Tripsta plans to expand from specialising in flight tickets to take on the multi-modal transportation market believing it can provide something unique to users.
Founded in 2005 as a Greek ferry ticket sales website, Tripsta flipped its model and started growing rapidly in 2010/11 and has now established itself as a top five European OTA.
Co-founder and chief executive Philipp Brinkmann, a German national who came up with the original concept while in Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games, said multi-modal is the future.
“Our belief is the customer really does not care what the means of transportation is, especially on continental Europe. Most people’s restrictions are budget, time and when to travel.
“Rail maybe a quicker and cheaper means of transportation. In some countries we are also looking at bus. Greece has a big bus network and in Germany it is becoming more and more important.”
Tripsta has taken the strategic decision not to deal with accommodation at all having made a failed entry into the sector in 2013/14.
Brinkmann said competition in the hospitality sector was “fierce” and believes the future for travel firms online is to specialist on one area.
“We do believe in transportation and that there is choice in that market. The truth is even since the introduction of the early OTAs there is still a lot that has not been done.
“It’s still a hassle to cancel or change a flight. With most OTAs you cannot do this through your customer profile, you have to contact customer support.
“We are investing a lot in trying to automate those kind of processes, trying to put the bits and pieces together of the whole experience.”
Brinkmann accepts differentiation in the flights sector is not possible in terms of content and pricing, and that the sector is low margin, high volume as you’d expect with a highly commoditised product.
But he says other OTAs are only really interested in flights to sell hotels, where they make their margin, and that a focus can help Tripsta stand out.
As well as offering a more flexible mix of flights Tripsta is building technology to take advantage of its multiple Iata licences to allow it to offer airline deals for a specific market to other markets.
“Flights are quite commoditised and you need to find a way to have competitive pricing. That is something we are doing and also trying to differentiate ourselves .”
Brinkmann said Tripsta can do more in the after sales area offering “consumer service in an automated way”. “It’s about giving the right information at the right time, and by mobile device.”
The fragmented nature of the European OTA sector, in which local players still dominate in their markets, means further consolidation is inevitable, according to Brinkmann.
Tripsta could play a role in that consolidation by buying other firms, or it could be bought itself, said Brinkmann.
Tripsta is taking a pan-European growth approach, and also targeting Asia where South Korea is its fastest-growing market, but sees greatest potential in south eastern Europe and the Balkans.
In these emerging markets Google remains a lucrative platform on which to build the brand but in markets like the UK metasearch offers better conversions from more qualified traffic.
In the mature UK market Tripsta knows it can drive good volumes, but it has no aspirations to buy business just to become number one in terms of volume, if not profitability.
The last Greek flights specialist to try that, AirFastTickets, met a sticky end after it defaulted on Iata payments, a shock to many airlines that led to tighter payment terms from the aviation body.
Tripsta was one of the rival Greek online agents that took legal action against AirFastTickets to try to prevent it from pursuing a discounting strategy Brinkmann said was bound to end badly.
“Airlines have learned, but in a negative way,” said Brinkmann. “They do not look at Greek OTAs differently now but all OTAs.
“Last year they tried to pass new conditions for all OTAs worldwide through Iata meaning different payment methods and more rigid security.
“Luckily this has not passed yet. Obviously airlines were trying to limit what they saw as the risks which they believe they had with some OTAs.
“I do not believe the OTA model is risky. You’ve had normal travel agencies and tour operators which went bust in the past. You just need to be more careful on a company by company basis.”
In 2015 Tripsta sold 2.2 million tickets and it expects this to grow to 2.8 million this year. Its home market of Greece represents just 20% of that total.
“We are already in flight ticket sales in the top five in Europe,” said Brinkmann. “We want to play a leading role in the transportation space online.
“Our aim is to move away from flights only and offer all means of transportation to consumers, and even to combine these means of transportation.
“There is no real OTA in the multi-modal space, most firms are metasearch. In the airline sector everyone is used to meta, but in multi-modal having multiple user interfaces isn’t user friendly.
“Our idea is to really do the whole fulfilment and everything for the customer.”