Ignacio Martos, chief executive of Opodo
Q. Eighty out of 600 employees have left the company since you took the helm. You said that the main reason for this was to make Opodo more efficient. What was inefficient before?
A. Opodo now has a very strong position across Europe, but it required a great deal of investment and it was a difficult path to get here. Whenever a company grows exponentially you will always have inefficiencies. Whereas before we had a centralised approach we now have a regional approach, so, for example, the French team will negotiate a pan-European deal with Accor and the British team will negotiate a pan-European deal with British Airways, though for deals with BA I may want to step in.
Q. Would you ever charge suppliers for referrals – a system which Expedia has admitted in recent weeks to considering?
A. No. We would not consider this at all. We also have to maintain our neutrality for the customer, so a system that could sway our relationship with customers would not work.
Q. What, if any, are your plans to enter new markets?
A. We are planning to expand, but we’re not in a hurry. We’re a strong brand in Europe, particularly in countries such as Germany, so any expansion is likely to be outside of Europe, but this will not happen until next year.
Q. Geographical expansion aside, what is the next major step for Opodo?
A. When we started in 2000, very few people had access to the web and for those that did, there was no such thing has high-speed broadband. Today there are many possibilities. Mobile is one area we are exploring, but for mobile to work you need to be able to complete a transaction in less than 20 keystrokes. We will introduce new SMS functions this year and are also planning to add user reviews to the site. We recently launched a social community section on the German site so you will see more features like that coming to the UK site.
Q. There were a lot of rumours circulating recently that Opodo was for sale. Is there any truth to those rumours?
A. We are always on sale. This is a difficult business and ownership changes hands all the time. We are not actively searching for a buyer right now – we might be ready to sell in three year’s time.
Q. Has Opodo lost its way in the UK?
A. No. We are in a good position here. The UK is a very competitive market, but based on marketshare we are growing. It’s true not everyone knows what Opodo is, but I want that to change. Part of the challenge is that not enough people are online and those that are do not necessarily use the web for travel.
Q. But today half of the European population is online and online penetration in the UK will match that of the US in 2007?
A. Exactly, but it’s not enough. Anyone over age 30 is a digital immigrant. People will become fully digital when you give them something simple and right now travel is not simple. The process of travel needs to be simplified, while delivering more features, such as dynamic packaging, more pictures, rich content, etc.
Q. How will Opodo raise its brand awareness in the UK?
A. In the short-term, we are not planning any major advertising campaigns, but you will see some major, European-wide branding campaigns, including billboards, next year.
Q. Is there enough space for four major online travel agencies in the UK?
A. Yes, absolutely. It is a big marketplace and there is a lot of room for all of us to compete. We enjoy competition! Still, nobody knows what will happen and the market is changing so quickly.
Q. Where is Opodo in its business cycle after five years?
A. We are no longer a start-up. The business plan is to continue to build the company, invest in technology, grow the brand, and then be completely efficient – and we are now almost there.