Within tourism, the sector most affected by the coronavirus crisis, Toni Raurich and Juan Ángel Martín have managed to escape collapse. These two entrepreneurs, after a fifteen-year career in tourism companies, in January 2020 acquired the travel agency on-line eBooking.com. “It seemed like the best time to buy companies from travel, because no one expected that the world would collapse in March”, says Raurich. The firm, which previously belonged to a business group in Lanzarote, has increased its turnover fivefold since the start of the pandemic, climbing from 10 million in 2019 to 55 million in 2021. According to the two bosses, the internationalization of clients at origin and the Centralization in a single line of business – booking online accommodation – have been the keys to success in circumventing the lack of demand in the last two years.
Raurich and Martín met in Amsterdam more than 10 years ago, when they both worked for Booking.com, the leading global hotel reservation company. Returning to Spain for personal reasons, they considered that the national market still offered many possibilities in the sector and they dared to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. To finance the initial investment, which was around 10 million euros, they pulled from their own savings and had the help of the Spanish Turtle fund, which left part of the capital in debt. Currently, the two acquirers have almost fully repaid the debit and have 95% of the business in their hands.
eBooking.com started its engines in 1997. Before the acquisition, it concentrated its sales in Spain, Italy and France. Now, the sum of these three markets does not represent 20% of the total. As it has grown, the company has expanded its business in more and more countries to take advantage of untapped markets, such as Germany and the United Kingdom in the short range, and Israel, Japan and the United States in the long range. “Throughout the entire pandemic, the whole world locked down within their borders. Tourist-receiving states —those of Southern Europe— were clearly damaged. Instead, issuers—such as Germany, Norway, and Sweden—benefited. We are not focused so much on selling Spain to the world, but rather on offering what customers are looking for in each market”, says Raurich, director of the project. Today, the agency operates in more than 200 countries and its bosses consider that it is thanks to this internationalization process that they managed to increase their profitability in a black stage for tourism.
In his opinion, the centralization in a single line of business has been revealed as the second winning bet. Until 2020, the travel agency also offered flights and cars for rent. After the purchase of the company, Raurich and Martín have cut these services to focus on reservations on-line accommodation. “The more you diversify across business channels, the more the value proposition is diluted. The human being is capable of associating a brand with a single product: Airbnb sells activities, but in reality it is known for renting rooms; Ferrari also produces 4x4s, but it will always be better in sports cars”, adds the businessman.
The company founded by Raurich and Martín has had contractual relations with Booking.com since 2007. “Once the client completes the transaction, we propose cars to rent through this travel rate aggregator,” says Raurich. According to him, the fact that the names of the two companies are very similar does not represent a problem. “booking is a generic word meaning ‘reserve’. The market is huge and there is room for all the players to grow, collaborating with each other”, she assures.
Accommodation proposals in 43 languages
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The eBooking.com team consists of almost 90 people. Half of the staff is made up of publishers who work remotely and write the web pages in Spanish with the different accommodation proposals. Then, although a computer system automatically translates the content into 43 different languages, around twenty translators are in charge of reviewing the texts and adjusting them according to the nuances of each language, so that the language is as inclusive and familiar as possible. According to Raurich, presenting content to users in their own language and in the simplest way possible is another ace up the sleeve to attract and retain customers. “The goal is to give each person what they are looking for. You don’t have to feel like an engineer to use this service, because all the technology that’s on the hood of the car does it,” he says.
For its part, the technological heart of the company operates in person at the central headquarters in Barcelona. Fifteen professionals including engineers, developers and data analysts continue to refine the software with which all the contents are designed. In addition, they make sure that the loading times of the web pages are minimal and that they are well positioned in Google.
To personalize the user experience, the system relies on a market segmentation strategy: it tracks the accommodations in its database and orders them according to the origin of the client and their preferences. “For example, Saudis often travel with very large families and we first offer apartments to them. On the other hand, the Nordics tend to be more backpackers, therefore, we will not show them luxury hotels at the top”, adds Raurich. As in most online travel aggregators, the user can choose their favorite establishment category through filters, selecting the number of stars, the area of interest and some of the services included.
Likewise, if a client has previously booked with the platform, when making a new reservation, the artificial intelligence will first show him the same categories of accommodation in which he has lived, because it already assumes that they meet his needs more. Once the reservation is confirmed, in most cases the platform asks for your credit card number as a guarantee, since the payment will be made directly at the accommodation.
Within tourism, travel agencies have been the subsector most affected by the pandemic. With respect to pre-crisis levels, its turnover plummeted 90% in 2020 and 56% in 2021, according to data from the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV). At this time, almost 10,000 fewer workers are employed than in 2019 and 29% of the workforce in the sector is still in ERTE (more than triple that of the next hardest hit, air transport). Despite this, the tourism industry is approaching summer with optimism. “By 2022, we are working with a scenario in which the activity as a whole would be around 65% of the values of 2019. This recovery will be gradual and will be marked both by the reopening of international markets, and by the easing of the travel policies of large companies”, says Mercedes Tejero, manager of CEAV. At eBooking.com the same enthusiasm reigns when observing that Easter has already set travel records even above the pre-pandemic season. In this growth path, in 2022 the company expects to double the turnover of the previous year, reaching 120 million euros.