Kelkoo has unveiled its new hotels website, the first public airing of efforts to revatalise the shopping channel’s travel business.
The price comparison website has backed its revived travel division with £2 million of funding and the appointment of former Travelsupermarket managing director Chris Nixon in December.
Revealing new blue branding and travel pages to Travolution before they went officially live in beta, Nixon conceded the Kelkoo site of old was “not best of breed”. But he firmly believes Kelkoo has enough brand juice in the tank to re-establish itself with consumers as a travel website, particularly in overseas markets where it remains more visible.
Nixon said the prospect of working on a brand that had potential to grow internationally was what attracted him to the role.
“One of our biggest regrets with Travelsupermarket was not taking it international. With hindsight the way we built it was very much piecemeal and not with a view to taking it to Europe,” he said.
“The market was very buoyant, price comparison was talking off and there was never a good time to rebuild the platform, there was always another product to launch. Then, when we went Plc, the business changed to primarily finance and insurance because commissions are higher. That’s when it became less interesting to me.”
In contrast, Kelkoo is accustomed to markets offering lower earning potential than travel and it sees the sector as a lucrative area to move into, Nixon said. He accepts what he has achieved to date, thanks to a new development team in London he has assembled, will not set the world on fire but much has been achieved in the last 16 weeks.
Much of the basic fundamentals of the Kelkoo site, down to the url structure, had to be sorted out, but the new site at least gets it to the point from where it can compete. Nixon said hotels is “where the opportunity lies” and because it is also the most difficult area to get right it has come to market first soon to be followed by flights, car hire and holidays.
The UK market is fairly heavily saturated, so Nixon sees better potential abroad, particularly in France and Scandinavia where he said the Kelkoo brand is still “incredibly strong”. Something Nixon said he learned from Simon Seeks, the paid-for reviews website his brother founded, was the power of brand, particularly in the evolving world of Google.
The revamped site infrastructure and new SEO expertise, plus exclusive content deals with the likes of Frommers and TripAdvisor could see Kelkoo jump up the search engine’s rankings.
New features also include hotel geo-coding to allow location-based searches, and Google Maps integration. More innovation is promised in coming months.
Nixon said: “You can put a considerable amount of money behind something, but you still rely quite heavily on Google, particularly when you are a young brand.
“The Kelkoo name is already out there – we have a European footprint already. The thing about Google is good brands are going to survive. If people are searching for you then you will do well.”
Kelkoo’s knowledge of local marketplaces and ability to tailor deals will be vital if it is to establish itself in what Nixon believes is something of an open field in many European countries. For instance, Nixon said France is “crying out” for something that can compare holiday prices – an area no one has really cracked yet.
“It’s all about speed and integration of results. In four months we have built a new hotel product. We have all the Google analytics in which in some countries is quite revolutionary,” Nixon said.
“People want deals, they are interested in offers, so price comparison is still incredibly important. There are lot of new players out there with different technology – the likes of Hipmunk and Room77 – but you have to be careful that you know what works and what does not.”
New suppliers are due to be added later in the year once the re-launched site has bedded in, Nixon saying he is in talks with a number of niche suppliers.
While the new pages are in Beta, Kelkoo will be asking visitors for their feedback so they can hone the site. “With the release of our first version hotel beta website, we want to ensure that the customer is at the heart of any improvements we make,” Nixon said.
“With this in mind, we’re keen for visitors to provide us with feedback, and where we can, suggestions will be taken on board and implemented on a daily basis. This process will continue until we know that we are offering the most efficient price comparison travel website on the market.”