Online travel entrepreneur Martin Jones has re-emerged from the failure of Thomas Cook with a new travel technology venture offering OTA-grade websites to travel agents.
Holiday Webtech is offering a Netflix-style subscription of just £29 a month, with no contract or up-front fees, and is targeting home-based agents and consortia.
The new venture, which has been developed over the last 18 months, is backed by Tourhub chief and former cruise.co.uk chief executive Seamus Conlon as non-executive director.
Jones, founder and chief executive of Holiday Webtech, saw his Very Holidays OTA collapse after Cook’s failure, along with the Freedom Travel Group consortium Very belonged to.
Holiday Webtech says it can provide individual agents with templated websites including a holiday search capability as quick and as high performance as anything in the market.
Jones said the cache technology it has built was developed to match that of leading OTA LoveHoliday’s which allows users to filter down from very broad initial search criteria.
“We spent the last seven years saying LoveHolidays is so good, so we have created something similar in the way we have built and organised the data,” he said.
“We now have this great technology, but the question was the world is changing so what do we do with it and how do we get to the mass market in terms of usage.”
Holiday Webtech believes the homeworking trend, seen particularly in the US, is being driven by the COVID pandemic as high street stores are hit by the move to digital channels.
But he believes homeworker agents’ websites, usually provided to them by their consortium or parent company, currently do not support them to compete online.
Although Holiday Webtech has built an OTA-grade search for B2B partners its sites are not bookable because it believes driving calls to convert inquiries remains vital for agents.
“A homeworker tends to have a page of the parent company’s website with a few details about them, and it’s just not good enough,” Jones said.
“All homeworkers want is their own website with their own branding, with holiday search and deals, and with the parent consortium’s financial details.”
Jones believes the future for all travel agents, particularly homeworkers, is to build their own personal brand as much as the companies they work for.
And he expects them to bring their own clients and Holiday Webtech “website for life” with them if they decide to switch consortia.
The £29 a month subscription model works like a flexible Netflix subscription with users able to activate and re-activate their profile as they wish.
As well as search, the websites integrate with social feeds and other content like reviews, images and weather to enable the agent to promote their specialist areas and knowledge.
Consortia templates will be created, and agent groups will be offered a slice of revenue from subscriptions as an incentive to get members to sign up to use Holiday Webtech.
Agency groups can also integrate their deals and data so they can display their own content and promote preferred suppliers.
“The idea is we provide agents with a website for life so they take it with them and they have ownership of it,” said Jones.
“It’s got search which generates inquiries and they can load their own deals on it. For homeworkers nothing like this currently exists. It’s way ahead of anything else out there.
“It’s giving homeworkers a top level OTA experience. We’re creating so much data, hundreds of thousands of holidays, the magic is the ability to process that amount of data.
“Homeworkers don’t want online bookings, they just want an inquiry, a phone call. They are the people who can up-sell or switch sell, but they have to have something to work from.”
Holiday Webtech is also offering a solution to provide its super-fast cache technology to other OTAs, but Jones said the homeworker model remains the core plan.
Talks with Midcounties Co-operative, which Very Holidays was briefly a member of before it failed after Thomas Cook, led to it implementing the technology on its site.