Bournemouth-based travel technology specialist Digital Trip is on a mission to prove that travel firms with limited budgets can access affordable technology to take on the big guys.
In under a decade the company, which started with just a handful of UK clients, has grown to serving the needs of 370 customers in 47 different countries.
Andy Speight, managing director of Digital Trip, said: “We wanted to put the travel company buying the technology in control.
“We wanted them to actually get value out of what they were purchasing rather than just being a cash cow for us. In travel particularly you want to try new things.
“You want to be able to do things there and then, test it and get it out in time for the weekend’s press.”
Speight speaks from experience having previously set up Sunshare Vacations, which became Cheapest Flights, one of the biggest advertisers on Teletext in the 1990s.
The firm, which used to do fulfilment for lastminute.com and at its height employed 400 staff in five call centres, was sold to Travelcare, part of The Co-operative Travel, in 2005.
Speight recalls how Cheapest Flights would spend heavily on developing technology, at one stage up to £20,000 a month, in the early 2000s.
“And yet we were still at the stage where everything we wanted to do we had to go back to the development company and get them to do it for us,” he said. “I thought there must be a better way of doing this.”
A few years after the sale of Cheapest Flights, Digital Trip was established with the ethos of no matter how big you are you can look like a big player.
The Digital Trip platform has a booking engine and CRM at its core, but sitting around that there are 200 other modules that can be added almost as easily as downloading an app on to a mobile phone.
These modules range in cost and functionality from the obvious, like Digital Trip’s own bed bank and a cruise module to the more specific, like music festival tickets or a YouTube integration.
No module is exclusive to any one customer even though it may have been built specifically for them because the business model is to keep initial developments cost down and drive revenue from future sales.
The CMS, called eVolve, has recently been rebuilt from the ground up and version three was launched in 2012.
Digital Trip wanted a central core that could support all the different markets it was operating in. To reflect its growing business in the Middle East a lot of challenges were overcome to make it work for Arabic languages.
Speight says what has been created is a stable travel technology platform that puts the customer in control and requires very little support.
In fact, Digital Trip is so confident in its product that it offers clients unlimited free support and all via just 12 full time developers situated in its UK base in Bournemouth.
“They can phone us in the morning and for most applications 20 minutes to one hour later it can be working on their site,” said Speight.
“If the product is good and stable why do you need support at all? We give all our clients totally free unlimited support, no maintenance contracts, no licence fees. If there’s a problem we will support you free of charge.
“In travel now if you are achieving 6% to 7% margin you are doing well, so the budgets are just not there to constantly spend on supporting your IT and you want to spend your money on marketing. We want clients to come back and spend more with us, but in a productive way.”
Last year Digital Trip migrated its system on to a mobile platform so that clients can offer their customers a seamless journey regardless of what device they are using and can track them as they change devices.
This was particularly important for growth in some fast-growing overseas markets like the Middle East and Africa where the customers is skipping the desktop and adopting mobile first.
But even in the UK where Digital Trip started and still has its largest presence, Speight believes there is scope for more small travel agents and tour operators to compete with the big boys.
“The frustration for people we talk to day in day out is how they compete with a company 10 times their size.
“But look at BA and Virgin, they don’t sell anything but flights on their own carriers. But there are lots of airlines and lots of hotels they do not feature so the idea that you can’t compete is something I don’t agree with.
“Look at the big tour operators for example. Go on their websites and with a portion of what they sell you quite often find an EasyJet flight. The travel agent can therefore compete.”
Speight estimates that for as little as £5,000 a travel company can get itself a bookable website off the ground but a more workable budget would be around £15,000.
The key thing for firms with such limited spending power is that there are no on-going hidden costs and that the system they have is flexible and enables them to differentiate themselves from the competition.
“Technology is an absolute must but you don’t have to be frightened that it’s a massive expense or that it it takes a huge amount to sustain, because it doesn’t,” he said.