The boss of award-winning hospitality sector technology supplier eviivo says she is looking forward to “flying the flag for Britain” having established a foothold in the US.
In October, the firm bought the RezOvation and Webervations reservation systems from BedandBreakfast.com, a part of the Expedia-owned HomeAway vacation rentals arm.
French by birth, Michele Fitzpatrick, is as Anglophile as any Brit and determined to showcase what this country can do in travel technology having overseen a transformation of the business since becoming chief executive six years ago.
In 2016 eviivo scooped the Travolution Award for Best Technology Provider, an accolade Fitzpatrick said came at the perfect time just after it had completely re-engineered its tech.
“When I joined, the business had been successful in the UK but it was starting to die and it had never tried to go international. It was a bit of a disaster. We had to rewrite everything from scratch, which was very hard to do.
“We got that award at the very moment of inflection point of having a platform that was competitive and leading again. It was perfect timing and a massive boost.”
Fitzpatrick described the eviivo suite of products as like a Microsoft Office for B&Bs and small guest houses.
At its core is a Property Management System (PMS) or “diary” that has been designed to be simple to use and is bringing many analogue hospitality businesses online for the first time.
Clients can use other modules like a payments management solution, a booking engine, an email marketing tool, front-end websites, guest reviews and technology, analytics and reporting and a channel manager.
Fitzpatrick said the technology is helping its customer “lead the fight back, but in the right way” against the big dominant OTAs and marketing platforms like Google, which are increasingly expensive, by putting control of their businesses back in their hands.
The technology is priced to suit the budgets of small players, Fitzpatrick saying no owner is paying more than £149 a month and the average lay out is around £40 a month.
Flying the Flag
“This is a British company successfully exporting, and making an impact globally. I want us to become number one. We are going to fly the flag for Britain,” Fitzpatrick said.
While the UK business is growing at 32% and represents just under a third of the whole, international business in key European markets like France, Germany, Italy and Spain is growing at 170%, “practically doubling every year”.
The firm now employs 120 people, 90% in north London as its base in a converted chapel and the rest in overseas bases in Tunisia, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
“The US is considered a smaller addressable market than Europe when it comes to B&Bs and small independent accommodation providers due to the proliferation of branded hotels”
“Up until now we had always ignored the US, but when this opportunity came along it gave us, a UK company, the chance to enter the US market with an existing presence and existing cash flow.
“There are not a lot of killer solutions in US. There are a lot of start-ups, but when you go deep behind the covers it starts to fall apart. We are one month into it and we have a foothold and a fantastic opportunity to get this right.”
Fitzpatrick said she sees potential to grow in the rapidly emerging vacation rentals or alternative accommodation market as more and more suppliers come on stream thanks to disruptive new entrants like Airbnb.
“Growth is coming from vacation rentals. This is a big growth area for everybody,” she said. “There are a lot of people coming on line right now. There is an explosion in that space. Airbnb has changed the marketplace and we have got good technology right across the spectrum.”
Asked whether eviivo’s traditional accommodation supplier partners might feel put out seeing their technology partner powering new potential competitors, Fitzpatrick said: “We are not the only company that addresses multiple market segments.
“The coexistence of these segments has not been the doing of eviivo. When these new suppliers come online they often address different markets, different audiences and sometimes different channels.
“The fact we have multipurpose technology means we are not favouring one segment over another. We are enablers. We are not trying to create competition. What they have in common is they are small, but they won’t compete with each other. They are not in the same locations necessarily.”
The OTA ‘Lie’
Fitzpatrick said eviivo’s role is giving owners control in a market in which they are often overwhelmed with technology vendors touting a range of different solutions and telling them they can cut out the OTAs. She described this claim as a “lie”.
“We spend most of our time and energy, and keep prices down, so our clients can have control of their own destiny, do business in the way they want to do business. We are leading the fight back, but in the right way, not by going out and saying the OTAs are the bad guys because they charge commission.
“Yes, you may pay them 15% but there’s no cheaper way to get people to look for you if you’re running a small B&B in the middle of nowhere. You may want to pay nothing, but nothing of nothing is nothing.
“We are accused of being OTA friendly, we are not, we are just being realistic. If you want the best and cheapest form of advertising the OTA is the way to go, but once the OTA performs for you it’s key to get your customers to come back and attract new ones through good reputation and word of mouth.
“OTAs will always ask for better prices, or more relaxed policies, because they are all about the guest, and about booking conversion.
“But a savvy B&B will always benchmark their rates and policies against their own competition, and resist OTA pressures. OTAs don’t like that.
“For example, as an owner you want to take the guests credit card details, because then you know they are more likely to turn up. But guests will book more easily without a credit card.”
“There is a lot of pressure from OTAs to get owners to change their policies on things like payments and cancellation terms because it’s all about converting the guest, but if you are good at what you do and have word of mouth you don’t want to play that game.
“You should decide who you give stock to, what policies you implement and how you communicate to guests.
“Too many people go on to the OTAs, see their business go up and then become scared and lose sight of the fact that their core business is being a good host. Many of our competitors tell owners they are going to get rid of the OTAs. That’s a lie.
“Any message that says if you are a small property owner you don’t need the OTAs is simply not the truth. OTAs spend a fortune on PPC advertising. A B&B or guesthouse could spend £1,000 or £2,000 a month and get nothing out of it.
“Online bidding is a very expensive form of advertising and you are fighting brands who have done it for years. It’s not a solution for small businesses. Digital agencies who charge for the service can be much more of a racket, than paying commissions to OTAs”
Fitzpatrick said although they should use OTAs as a channel, business owners should still be wary and maintain control.
“Owners are constantly being solicited by technology companies and market managers from the OTAs. They’ll get Expedia saying work with us and you pay nothing until you get a booking. Before they know it, they are manually managing about five extranets.
“They understand they have to get online but they do not understand the technology behind online. They are getting bookings, but do not understand what they are seeing. They know it’s good for them, but not how and they don’t have people around them to tell them.”
Fitzpatrick said property owners can become enticed by all the technology but end up with something that is very complicated and expensive. She said eviivo has been designed to take away the complexity of dealing with multiple partners all with their own ways of doing business and standardising content.
Fitzpatrick, whose background is in big corporates, said: “I want this company to keep its entrepreneurial mentality. It’s massively demanding, but I would like us to be really ambitious because we could be a billion dollar company one day.
“I don’t want to run a lifestyle business or a plc, I really want it to have a mission and to have ambition to go out and succeed.”