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In the green room at Phocuswright Europe with … David Armstrong

David Armstrong, CEO, HolidayPirates

David Armstrong is the CEO at HolidayPirates, the company that is famous for never spending to advertise on Google. Instead, the online travel company makes full use of social media to get the word out. In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Amsterdam in May, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...

Why isn't the travel startup survival rate higher than it is?

I don't have the impression that the travel startup survival rate is much lower than theaverage startup survival rate: Over 50% of small businesses fail in the first fouryears. Travel startups, just like in many other industries, are often confronted withfunding issues. Particularly in the case of B2C businesses, substantial amounts offunding are necessary to conquer the market through marketing strategies.

AtHolidayPirates, we circumvented this issue by exploiting the phenomenon of viralityon social media, which allowed us to stay totally bootstrapped without ever relying onventure capital. This gave us a real competitive advantage from day one. What helpedus survive the first four key years was also that we entered a market which was ripefor disruption: There was a social media wave which needed to be surfed, and wewent in there at the right time.

Entering a market ready for disruption with substantialfundings or clever marketing strategies are surefire recipes for success.


What are the gaps in your experience and knowledge of the industry? I spend a lot of time thinking about how to apply AI and machine-learning to thebenefit of our customers. It's a relatively new field which makes it both challengingand rewarding.

What assumption about travelers have you found not to be true?

The assumption that travelers are not faithful to a brand anymore, and consumerloyalty in travel belongs to the past. At HolidayPirates, we found that 67% of ourtraffic came from returning visitors in 2018. Consumers have more choice, it's true,but they will come back to the same website if they are convinced that's where theycan find something really special.

In our case, we specialized in high value-for-money deals, but I'm sure this could apply to other concepts as well.

Do you agree with the often-used phrase, "travel planning is broken"? While there are more and more apps and online resources which help people to plantheir trips, some people argue that there is still not one single product whichcombines every step from booking hotels, flights, rental cars, activities and customerreviews. Our travel experts themselves, helped by our algorithms, have to checkmultiple sources to put the perfect trip together, and I believe that there is greatpotential to improve travel planning in the future.

However, given all the possibilitiesoffered online to plan trips, I wouldn't consider that travel planning is "broken." Thereis no question that it can still be improved through better use of technologies andpersonalization, and step by step, it will.

If you weren't in travel, what company would you like to be part of andwhy? I've spent over 20 years of my career in travel so this is a very difficultquestion, but if I really wasn't in travel, I would probably like to work forancestry.com because I'm really passionate about heritage and family history.

Being open to change, to new ideas, to different people, to receive and give feedback in a constructive way... is what for me brings the biggest impact on developing the culture and value of our company.David ArmstrongShare this quote

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your owndefinition? At HolidayPirates, we like to measure success with clear objectives and key results.Success is clearly defined for each particular objective.

This is applied to everyemployee in the company. As the CEO, my role is to define the company objectiveswhich will be fundamental for the overall success of the company. I have my ownobjectives and my own key results which are public to all employees.

This is part ofour company policy to lead by example and be transparent.

What element in the industry do you consider is still the most difficult tomeasure? Cross-device tracking because more than 70% of our traffic is mobile. A lot of our strategy isbased on measuring our amount of return visitors rather than the simple visits whichsay less about how attached someone is to your brand.

I sometimes wish that itwasn't so complex to figure out our users' behavior in regards to switching fromdevice to device.

If you could teach everyone in your company one concept, what conceptwould have the biggest positive impact? Openness! I think this concept is really key to the success of innovative companies.Being open to change, to new ideas, to different people, to receive and givefeedback in a constructive way ... is what for me brings the biggest impact ondeveloping the culture and value of our company.

When was the last time you spoke to one of your customers, and why?

About three weeks ago, when I was out with my dog in the forest where I live, I metanother dog owner, as it often happens. ... While our dogs were playing together wehad a chat. He asked me what I do and when I said I work for HolidayPirates, itturned out that he is a subscriber of our WhatsApp alert.

He then told me all aboutthe holiday he recently booked with us. It's always a pleasant encounter to meetcustomers.

What do you consider to be the best important invention in the digitalworld in the last 20 years? Going so far back I do think it is smartphones which play a big role in almosteveryone's day-to-day life.

Can't wait until we can pay with them in evenmore points of sale.

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