Dana Dunne, chief executive of Spanish OTA giant eDreams Odigeo, first entered the travel industry in 2009 with easyJet, but a background in telecoms means digital is “in his blood”.
At the end of June he will deliver a much-anticipated company update having taken over at the helm from founder Javier Perez-Tenessa in January following a challenging period.
Speaking to Travolution at Odigeo’s London offices besides the Thames in Hammersmith, he had to remain tight-lipped about what to expect given the firm’s relatively new public status.
But anyone with a bob or two to wager won’t go far wrong expecting to hear about product differentiation, international expansion, mobile, customer service and loyalty.
It is the latter that Dunne recalls he worked to instil into the corporate ethos at easyJet, during his three years with the low-cost airline where he was chief commercial officer.
“One of the things I really emphasised was around customer service and the new chief executive [Carolyn McCall] has really taken that forward.
“EasyJet really has a unique culture, and a great culture. It’s reasonably horizontal in terms of management, it doesn’t have that many layers and is very transparent.
“At Luton everyone sits in a hanger. There are a couple of floors but the main floor is where most people are and there are banks of desks and no partitions.
“Things were really transparent if you had an issue. You could get things done and make decisions quickly. That, I thought was a really great thing.
“The people are also very passionate about the brand. It’s very definable, you can see it, it’s very visual and it makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Being among the top two online flight retailers in the world and the number three OTA in 44 markets, the structure at Odigeo is more complex, although Perez-Tenessa was ruthless in forging a unified corporate culture after consuming Opodo and GoVoyage in 2010.
But both Odigeo and easyJet share a vision about travel as being an inherently digital product, perfectly suited to being sold and serviced via the web.
Dunne said his passion for all things digital has been with him throughout his career, which started at the global consultancy firm McKinsey.
He recalls how in 1993 he presented his vision for what the potential of the world wide web might be to a global conference run by a future employer AOL.
Later in his career, he took a role at telecoms firm US West, which merged with and was subsumed by rival Qwest Communications in 2000.
“I had digital in my blood really early and I really like it. At US West we became regarded as the most digital telco in the world.
“We were the first to offer digital video. We had over 100 channels going through ADSL, and that was 1997. No one had done this.
“The potential for online has always been with me. I have always been intrigued by it.”
The potential for growth at Odigeo and its OTA brand eDreams, Opodo, GoVoyage and Travellink and metasearch site Liligo.com is what concerns Dunne today.
He said Odigeo is focussed on expansion in many of the markets around the globe it has already entered but it is relatively new to.
Some of these are seeing a huge switch from an offline travel market to online, but he says the firm is also growing in markets that are already highly internet penetrated.
Improving the mobile and app experience for customers, is another key area, Dunne saying he wants to take it from “good” to “very good”.
“We cut across many products and providers so we can create something that actually becomes ubiquitous because of our unique position.
“Our apps have been really upgraded in the last 12 months and I do not want to decelerate the pace of change.
“You have to think about providing something that’s different and valued, and that takes advantage of the features of an app and the features of specific devices.
“We are going to be testing features with consumers to make sure they are really of value to them. On mobile customers want to see several things done really well.”
The UK market is one of the few where Odigeo retains a dual brand strategy with Opodo and eDreams going head to head.
The latter is the group’s international brand it uses to break into markets where typically English is spoken as a second language but in the UK Opodo still has a loyal following.
Dunne said a lot of work has been done improving the platform to suit the UK market offering flight combinations and packages, which remain popular.
“For the UK we created a real competitive differentiation for us. Some people want to do everything themselves but a big proportion see packages as a way to save money.”
And with the rise of mobile, a case could be made for the package seeing a resurgence due to the limited real estate and the need to limit options, Dunne said.
But the big investment for the UK market has been in customer service platforms and capabilities, Dunne claims to already be seeing improved reviews and ratings.
There has also been an impact on other KPIs like email response within 24 hours, and often within one or two hours, dispute resolution – 90% within 12 months – and speedier refunds.
Fundamentally though, Dunne said for OTAs trying to provide a service that is valued by the customer everything starts with the core product.
“I really believe we have an excellent product. But there are two other elements: firstly it has to be aspirational, not just DOS (disk operating System), something greater than that.
“The second thing is the servicing part. You have to have something really good on all three elements then you can really focus on the marketing.
“I want to make sure we have really great product then we will have to make it easier and better enable customer to come back to us and to talk about us.
“It’s consumers at the end of the day who decide if something is relevant for them or not right for them.
“Price is a big thing, but there is also the service element which I believe is really, really important.
“It comes down to the product, making sure you have a really relevant experience and features and functionalities.”
After a period in which Odigeo had a troubled debut on the Spanish stock market, a very public spat over price transparency with BA parent IAG and challenges on Google, Dunne’s vision and plan will come under intense scrutiny next month.