Travel technology specialist Intuitive is looking to expand its reach into the tour operating sector from its heartland of OTAs and bed banks.
The Croydon-based developer has been in business for nine years and in December secured £7 million venture capital investment from NVM Private Equity as part of a management buyout from Lowcost Travel Group.
Intuitive’s iVector platform was built with the modern dynamic travel industry in mind – and speed at the heart of how it operates, something Lowcost’s boss Paul Evans never needed a second invitation to rave about.
Managing director Paul Nixon says the firm has experienced rapid growth since 2010, after it came under the part ownership of Lowcost. Staff numbers grew from 11 to 50 and revenues leapt four-fold.
Reasonable growth is continuing and the company now does its own shouting about its technology having cut ties with Lowcost, although the group remains its biggest single customer.
“There were upside and downsides [to being owned by Lowcost],” admits Nixon, the technical brains behind the operation. “We did not have such a strong sales and marketing team but the Lowcost group, while it was in their interest for us to grow, acted as a good surrogate for that.
“The symbiosis between us and Lowcost was very good. They had to build a whole chunk of the platform we can now sell.”
Intuitive’s iVector system interfaces with 130 suppliers, bringing in everything from car hire to insurance, hotels and transfers. It is integrated with most of the largest bed banks.
It maintains its speed amid all this complexity by constantly monitoring the speed with which these interfaces are operating. Any that drop below a threshold are shut down temporarily.
This is allied to a modern, dynamic hotel contracting system which is used by Thomas Cook Group’s Hotels4u bed bank among others.
Although it cut its teeth in the world of dynamic packaging – large Australian retailer Webjet is another major customer – Intuitive believes it has a lot to offer tour operators.
Nixon says he sees an opportunity for medium-sized tour operators to operate in a more modern way, mixing traditional fixed-price brochure product with something more dynamic.
“We see there is a lot of small to medium-sized tour operators in the UK that are well positioned to move to some technology like ours.
“It’s a small jump to being a little bit more dynamic and have access to a lot more product. We see there is a market there. There’s not as large a market for medium-sized OTAs.”
Nixon says Intuitive constantly tries to trade off two imperatives – the requirement to be comprehensive while retaining flexibility.
“To do those two things is a big challenge. What we seem to have managed to do is build a day-to-day system where we are still flexible.
“The twin pressure for any travel company is supply of product so they have something to sell and to be able to sell it whichever way they choose whether via mobile or through PC.
“We try to retain all the flexibility they need. That’s not a trivial thing to do, especially in a growing organisation, sometimes needs are competing and reconciling this is a challenge.
“This [travel] is a difficult environment to work in because of the number of outgoing connections you need for your systems to get product.
“You have a particular problem in travel because search is expensive and customers will do a lot of searches per booking. We see search data going up all the time.
“The challenge is to have the ability to scale out the search so it has no impact on your core system. We had scale imposed on us by Lowcost and we had to find ways to scale our system.
“Because of connectivity you are only as good as your suppliers. So you need the ability to gauge how quickly your suppliers are working to be able to turn them off if they are not performing.”
One of the ways Intuitive is coping with added scale is to move non-core systems to the cloud. Hotel-only US OTA Getaroom was the first firm to switch last month.
It is a key objective as the business grows its presence in the UK and internationally, as well as supporting new channels such as mobile.
Andy Keeley, Intuitive’s director of sales, says the firm is also reacting to the increasing influence of channel managers in the hotel distribution space.
But more traditional tour operating is still seen as having a powerful part to play in hotel distribution – and Intuitive has adapted to capture some of this market.
For instance, its first direct GDS integration to Travelport using its Universal API has been completed to offer the added functionality operators need.
“Medium-sized niche operators will really care about who has booked with them and how many times. Maybe they’ve got clients who are less promiscuous with brand.”
And his central sales pitch? “For us the important thing is to get out there, say hello and tell people we are independent and open for business.
“Anyone who wants to sell accommodation, come and work with the best of breed in that area.”