New online travel agent Travel Junction is poised for an official launch in time for peak trading in January after plans were put back earlier in the year.
The firm, which is based in Dubai and operates a call centre in Southend, says it delayed a planned full launch to ensure the site was fully optimised.
Lisa Goswell, chief executive, said the decision was taken after analysing how people were using an early beta version of the site.
She said the last six months have been spent improving the user experience on the front end and adding thousands of its own hotel reviews.
It will have up to 7,000 by the end of the year offering a brutally honest ‘warts and all’ appraisal of the properties.
Goswell said: “We are trying to fill the gap between OTAs and tour operators in a very commoditised world. We held back from launch because we wanted to make sure that the site was fully optimised.”
As part of the reviews approach Travel Junction has created its own three classes of hotel.
The first level simply indicates that the firm has reviewed it, the second ‘Travel Junction Loves’ that it is highly rated and the final ‘Outstanding Luxury’ is reserved for those properties that meet very strict criteria applied to all hotels regardless of location.
Goswell said this might mean the most luxurious hotel in a city or resort by not be considered ‘Outstanding Luxury’ and that this might prove somewhat controversial.
Improvements made to user experience have included placing maps in a very prominent position on hotel pages, adding additional information into search results like if a hotel offers free wi-fi or if there is a free cancellation policy or some other special offer.
Hotel listings also offer a short description of its location in terms of how far away it is from the centre of the city centre or if it is in a resort the beach.
A ‘click to chat’ button has also been added to encourage users who can’t find what they are looking for to initiate a live chat with an agent in the Travel Junction call centre.
Three integrations with major wholesalers have been finalised and Travel Junction is also beta testing a tie-up with a major channel manager.
Goswell said next year the firm will develop functionality to enable small hotels to connect directly without having to go through an intermediary.
Flights will go live in the US at the end of the year and in the UK in January once Travel Junction acquires its Atol licence. The firm plans to eventually add packages.
Travel Junction has been built to spawn niche specialist sites catering to specific sectors within travel and some of these will be launched during the course of 2015.
“It’s all about optimisation so we don’t go to market under performing on the conversion levels we have set,” said Goswell.
“As painful as it has been we have set our stall out to be honest and useful so it would have been rubbish to go to market with a brand that did not do what it said it was going to do.”