Chief executive Donat Rétif said OTA is above 2019 levels but hiring tech talent is biggest challenge
Travolution Summit 2022: Loveholidays puts people, process and platform at heart of bounce back
Loveholidays has returned to pre-pandemic 2019 booking levels and is looking at international expansion but faces its biggest challenges of hiring tech talent.
Donat Rétif, who took over as chief executive just before the COVID pandemic, told the Travolution European Summit that the OTA is focussing on “people, process and platform”.
Prior to the pandemic, loveholidays was growing at 70% per annum and was named as the UK’s fastest-growing company by The Sunday Times.
Currently loveholidays sits fourth in the UK Atol table behind On The Beach, Jet2holidays and Tui with a licence for 1.5 million annual passengers.
Rétif said the aim is to return to pre-pandemic levels of growth with a three-pronged strategy: “bounce back, break out and expand out”.
“The whole idea of 2022 was let's try to get back to 2019 level and I'm happy to tell you that, after 25% of 2022, we are already back to 2019 level.
“We are actually, as I hope most of you are, doing very, very well. The goal is then to expand out and break out.
“There are many things we can do based on our technology. We're only based in the UK and Ireland and ultimately we'd like to go test or technology in other countries.
“So we're doing quite well, but we've learned in the last two years that you need to fight every day to get the results that you want.”
Rétif said in response to the pandemic loveholidays developed post-booking customer service technology that aimed to automate many processes.
And he said the OTA has revamped its unique date-less destination-less search engine so that it now offers 35,000 hotels to be packaged rather than 22,000 pre-COVID.
“If we have techie guys in the room, you know this is actually very, very difficult because you have to put together billions of possibilities of combining the flight, the hotels and transfers.
“there were some tech constraints which we have removed during COVID. So, we basically revamped completely ur search engine from the front end to the back end.”
Rétif added: “The second thing we need was people. My biggest challenge today is hiring.
“We are hiring roughly 60 people, so if you're a tech genius, if you want to join a top tech team, if you're a data scientist, if you're a software engineer, please tell me.
“We are growing too fast based on the people we have. We're not a typical travel business where all of us are from travel.
“We're roughly 50%, at most, pure travel experts, and we need them, but I have brought people in from other tech businesses that have scaled very quickly that that can bring their expertise to our travel industry to help us grow fast.”
Data scientists, engineers and designers are in particular demand, said Rétif. “We do have them, but we need more data scientists.
“I wouldn't say we're data driven, I like to say what data assisted because I want to keep the entrepreneurship that our founders have put into business.
“But I don't make any decision without looking at data. So, data analysts, data scientists, software engineers and designers. Design is one area where people are very difficult to find.”