A US-based online travel agent with its origins in Greece is targeting the UK market for significant growth this year.
Airfasttickets.com, which is currently awaiting approval for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ, says it wants to offer a more human, customer-service approach to the online travel agency field.
The company was formed in 2009 in Greece and established itself there before relocating to New York.
It has a new office in North Acton, London, where it first established a base in 2012 and which it expects to double in size over the coming year.
Speaking to Travolution at World Travel Market where Airfasttickets is exhibiting this year, Ron Yeatman, vice president Europe, said the firm was ambitious to become a top five OTA.
He said as well as the OTA it was planning to push forward with its business-to-business brand Book! as well as corporate travel tool Piraeus.
“Because we started from scratch our whole platform is very modern. The steps to booking are much shorter and it’s a lot quicker [than others].
“What we also do is spend a lot more money in customer service and so we are an OTA but with a personal background. Customers can always give our agents a call, it’s like a concierge service.”
Yeatman said Airfasttickets seeks to adapt its offering to the local market, so that in Germany, for instance, it offers other tour operator packages, whereas in the UK it sells its own product.
“There’s a balance to be struck,” Yeatman said: “You do not want to duplicate your technology in every country but it has to be adaptable for what the market wants.”
The agency will add car hire imminently, Yeatman said, having agreed a global deal with a third party which he was not prepared to name.
Airfasttickets sees UK growth coming from a growing online travel market, as well as offering competition to more established players.
“I think the UK market is adapting more and more to online. It is a highly competitive market, we are very aware of that, but we still think there is opportunities for young entrepreneurial companies to get a piece of the pie and grow.”
One area for future development is in offering attractions and tours on top of hotels, flights and car hire.
This is something that is more advanced on the US site, Yeatman said, where it sells other product like cruises, and is not something the OTA community has cracked.
“The niche we see ourselves in is full service OTA. It needs to replicate the travel agent. It has to have the technology and innovation but it has to have the human factor too.
“Human interaction, asking the right questions, knowing about a customer’s previous booking patterns, what they like, and integrating that into technology, no one has really cracked that.
“If you have a fresh approach to things, if you are new and entrepreneurial you can do that. If you look at some of the major OTAs today they are just as inflexible today as they were saying other companies were 10 or 15 years ago.”