Lowcost chief hails ‘advanced’ UK tech as he gets a Brazilian

UK travel technology is among the best in the world including the US, a leading online travel agent and supplier has claimed.

Paul Evans, chief executive of the Lowcost Travel Group which operates consumer agency Lowcost Holidays and trade supplier Lowcost beds, said the UK should give itself a bit of credit.

Speaking at a travel forum run by Barclays Bank in London yesterday, Evans said: “I spend my life, 150 days a year, travelling.

“The UK, in terms of technology, is way advanced of what I see in other countries, including the US.

“A lot of the guys there who invented a lot of the stuff are not using it. I think we need to give ourselves a bit of credit.”

However, speaking about technology available to offline high street agents Evans said the UK lagged behind many countries, particularly Germany.

“In Germany there are 13,000 travel agents and they are all buoyant because their systems allow them to dynamic package on the fly and issue paperwork while the customer is in front of them.

“In the UK there is there is very much a mentality of go and get a brochure from the shelf. There is still quite an antiquated approach within the independent sector.”

Until last December Evans owned his own travel technology form, Intuitive, which left the Lowcost group following a management buyout.

Evans said the change in tack reflected a general move to focus on its core business, but that the move into travel technology had been a success.

“We did five acquisitions, four were successful, one was not. We built the balance sheet by £15 million so we think we did well out of it. Also it gave us free IT for four years.

“We ended up with too many businesses you are trying to run. Where it really hits you is IT because in all businesses it’s a key component in driving your business.

“We found our small businesses were taking a disproportionate amount of resource. You have to be ruthless on acquisitions. You are not going to get it right all the time.”

Evans said he thought the online travel market in the UK was becoming more commoditised so it was an important differentiator to buy in your own product.

However, he said the key focus for Lowcost was overseas expansion and the firm has just started taking bookings in the Brazilian market.

Lowcost will invest £4 million this year building its international business which will account for almost 35% of the total, said Evans.

He believed the cost of establishing afresh online in mature markets like the UK through Google advertising and brand building was prohibitive to new entrants.

“You only have to look at Priceline and Expedia buying Kayak and Trivago – they are controlling a larger amount of the online distribution play.

“You see TripAdvisor moving towards a cost per click rather than cost per acquisition model, therefore, the routes to entry, unless you have deep pockets, start to narrow as they are controlled by your competitors, let alone the regulatory environment we have in this country.”

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