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Vihra Shopova
March 29, 2018

Ask an Expert: The Future of Travel Tech & Lessons Learned with GetYourGuide

Innovations in travel tech and an evolving social media landscape have drastically the travel industry only in the span of a few years. Just ask the biggest tour and activity booking platform, GetYourGuide!

GetYourGuide has been leading travel tech for almost 10 years now and raised an impressive $75M in their Series D round at the end of last year. We got curious about what's going on in the travel industry, so we sat down with GetYourGuide co-founder and CEO, Johannes Reck, to ask about lessons learned, the future of travel tech, and why customer care is so important. Here's what he had to say.

Founded back in 2009, GetYourGuide has been in travel tech for almost 10 years now. What are the biggest changes that occured in the the travel industry over the last few years?

"The single biggest change in the travel industry has been the rise of mobile. When we got started, Steve Jobs had just released the very first iPhone, and most people were still using flip phones with limited Internet connectivity. Facebook was in its infancy; there was no Instagram. Can you imagine, nowadays, going on a trip without a smartphone? In many ways, the story of GetYourGuide’s growth and evolution over the past decade is one of how smartphones have changed our behavior. We launched as a desktop website, not a mobile app, and when we first unveiled our app in 2013, its purpose was largely that of an experimental travel companion. Now, everything has changed: we’re expecting over half of our bookings this year to come through mobile. It’s a complete reversal!"

Some experts say that AR and VR are the next big trends in travel marketing. Do you agree these are the next big opportunities for marketers in travel tech? If not, what is?

"I disagree. While AR and VR are interesting, I think the biggest opportunity for marketing innovation in travel is the rise of the voice-activated interface (e.g. Amazon Alexa). Our current text-based interfaces for searching and booking trips are letting us down. We've gotten so used to it, but it’s unacceptable. Consider this: when you look for a flight, is being presented with 800 results and having to filter these down to a more manageable number by manually checking a bunch of boxes really the best possible user experience? I predict a revolution in travel marketing as we shift to a more “conversational” model of search and discovery in the coming years that provides 10 relevant recommendations, not hundreds. In many ways, it will be a return to the original travel agent experience. The difference is that we’ll do it algorithmically."

Get Your Guide Interview Johannes Reck

GetYourGuide is based in Berlin, which is slowly turning into the European Silicon Valley. From an entrepreneurial point of view, what are the benefits of starting a business in the German capital?

"Berlin is definitely having a 'moment' right now. Its status as an economic and cultural crossroads makes the city a uniquely appealing and affordable place to live, work, and start businesses, and will remain so for some time. Also, regarding the Silicon Valley comparison, there’s one key difference. Startups here don’t have the same kind of runway to burn, because the VC investment here is still nowhere near SF levels, so we need to deliver! But Berlin’s advantage will soon evaporate unless we are proactive in ensuring we keep our digital edge. The German government aspires to have high speed internet throughout the country in eight years. We’re treating this issue like it’s the Berlin Brandenburg airport. We need to do better and do it faster. Eight years ago, Facebook was a startup with 200 people!"

In the span of a few years, you’ve raised 170$ M? Can you share with us some key decisions that have enabled GetYourGuide to scale effectively and go global?

"The most important decision we’ve made has been to dedicate ourselves relentlessly to execution. We built the first marketplace of its kind, and there were many early on who told us it couldn’t be done. To prove them wrong, we built GetYourGuide the German way: we relied on research, market data, and our own insights into our customers. We owe our success so far to that dedication, and it’s what still drives us today."

Is it true that every once in a while, everyone of the team works in the customer service center for a day? How important is for you this connection with the customer and what does that bring to the company culture?

"That’s true! Every single department, from Finance to Engineering to Marketing, is highly encouraged to do regular customer service rotations. I believe it’s one of the most important cornerstones of our company culture, and we ensure everyone is empowered to take breaks from regular duties to do rotations. I do them frequently myself, once every few months, and I always come away feeling energized and focused. It’s the best reminder of our shared mission: to turn customers’ trips into amazing experiences."

Get Your Guide Interview Johannes Reck

We understand that you've started partnering with airlines to help profile customers and personalize the online experience. How do you expect the incoming changes to EU privacy law to impact this project?

"We work with a wide range of partners, from airlines to hotel brands and more, but we don’t expect changes to privacy law to impact these partnerships. As a multinational travel tech company, we always remain compliant with all relevant laws and regulations, on a local, regional and national level. More recently, we’re starting to receive even more diverse interest from European and global brands who want to recommend activities to their audiences."

Finally, we think a lot can be learned from failure. What was your biggest misstep when you were first starting out, and what advice would you give to other travel tech startups looking to break into the market?

"When we first launched GetYourGuide, we built it as a peer-to-peer network through which students could meet and give each other tours in cities around the world. We were all passionate about the idea, but it never took off: we received four bookings in our first year of being live, and three of them were my mother! Our mistake wasn’t that our product lacked quality; it was that it lacked demand. Since then, we’ve always followed our customers’ wants and needs, rather than trying to lead them toward products and services they don’t want, and it’s never led us astray. I advise other startup founders out there to do the same. And just for the record, I do also encourage startup founders out there to listen to their mothers."

Thanks again to Johannes Reck for sitting down with us to discuss the big changes taking place in the travel industry. And be sure to checkout GetYourGuide next time you're planning a trip!

Want to join the betahaus community? Learn more about becoming a betahaus member or the other startups in-house!

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