Fast-growing German travel deals website Holiday Pirates says the foundations are in place to drive significant growth in the UK in 2017.
The firm, which picked up the Travolution Rising Brand of the Year award in 2016 reflecting its rise to prominence, will open a London base this month in the trendy surrounds of Camden Market.
David Armstrong, chief executive, said the base reflects the sort of character Holiday Pirates wants to portray as a young brand that has built its audience almost exclusively on social media.
He wants to see traffic in the UK increase 40%-50% this year on the 2.2 unique visitors a month it was driving in 2016, while also targeting growth in other European markets and the US.
“The recipe for success is actually the same in every market we enter,” said Armstrong. “The main thing is the social approach and then we have to adapt market by market.
“We do not spend any money on Google ads at all, or on any other classical marketing methods, we mostly do social.
“We do some paid ads in social but paid traffic is only a single digit percentage, everything else is organic reach.”
On the whole Holiday Pirates is not transactional. In some areas in Germany it acts as an OTA, but in the UK it will focus purely on being another platform for partners to access the market.
Armstrong said the key to building a large engaged audience on social is authenticity so Holiday Pirates will always have people behind the scenes finding deals and creating inspirational content.
Having reached a critical mass in the UK market in 2015 from its headquarters in Berlin it decided to establish a base here so that it could employ more ‘natives’.
“We found the recipe works in the UK,” Armstrong said. “We were getting more and more followers on Facebook even though in the first two years we did not employ any natives on the UK site.
“Then we got our first native at the beginning of 2014 and it started to grow much better and we said we have to take the market more seriously.
“So we took the decision to build up the office in the UK about one-and-a-half years ago but these things take time. You have to find the right people.
“We first came into the UK market mid 2012 but things really started taking off in 2014 and that continued through 2015 so that’s why we took the decision to put a stronger focus on the UK.”
Tony Rosa, formerly of bed bank Hotels4u, was brought in from Secret Escapes to be head of UK market and he is now building a small team of Holiday Pirates’ deals editors.
The firm strives to have at least three ‘native’ editors per market who speak the language and understand its nuances, although will aim for up to six.
Rosa said Holiday Pirates has been busy contracting new suppliers for the UK market and will look for new product areas to expand into, with cruise seen as a possible good fit for its audience.
“We are a site that offers inspiration to our fan base, so offering cruise to our loyal database which may not associate it with a winter holiday or summer break is a possibility,” Rosa said.
“Here in the UK we still have a large proportion of people who want to go to a travel agents and book something out of a brochure.
“All we are doing is making those options available with a digital interaction but bringing it to people in a social media realm.
“We offer an extremely affordable platform to advertise product and we provide highly qualified traffic to partners’ landing pages because our editors have already described what the offer is.
“Our audience is not after some sort of ‘flash sale’, what they’re after is a deal and they want to know they are getting value for money.”
One of the challenges all marketing platforms face is around compliance – making sure the deals being promoted are real, prices are accurate and advertising standards are being adhered to.
Rosa said, as well as the checking its deals editors do, the transparent nature of social media means that its audience acts as an important quality control layer.
It’s this human aspect to Holiday Pirates’ strategy which means it won’t be employing bots although it will look to grow in multiple channels like Twitter, Instagram and messaging.
Armstrong said: “If you look at social media in general and look at what’s successful it comes down to authenticity.
“Outside of the big celebrities, you see individuals who have gathered a lot of followers by being authentic and posting things about their lives and what they are doing.
“They are not trying to sell something, they are trying to sell themselves or an image of themselves. That works for individuals but companies and organisations face problems in being authentic.
“Step away from the selling part and build a story around your brand and produce content that’s not directly about selling you might be successful.”
In 2017 Holiday Pirates is not aiming to break into any more markets beyond those it already operates in – Germany, the UK, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, France Italy, Spain, Poland and the US.
It will invest in other social channels to spread its risk beyond Facebook – still the firm’s predominant social media platform to date.
However, Armstrong expects Facebook to continue to be a significant source of free traffic even as it commercialises its business because he relevancy will always be the underpinning fundamental.
“Facebook would have to change its entire philosophy if they were to become a threat to us because it’s all based on being relevant,” he said.
“As our posts are relevant to millions of people round the globe and are commented on and shared Facebook can’t ignore them.
“What happens in any country we move into is our relevancy and our reach goes up and up because our relevancy gets higher and higher. We really do not see that changing.”