“Kayak is simply outdated”: Jonathan Meiri, Superfly’s CEO

IN-DEPTH: New flight search engine Superfly’s goal is to personalise travel. The company’s CEO Jonathan Meiri believes the Look-to-Book ratio will shrink dramatically as a consumer-centric approach is integrated throughout the booking experience.

Meiri also predicts the biggest development in the flight search engine category in 2012in an interview with EyeforTravel.com.

By Ritesh Gupta

Start-ups in the travel meta-search arena believe that the industry is dominated by established companies stuck on ancient technology who haven’t meaningfully innovated their search experience for a long time.

New players in this domain firmly believe that it’s time for travel meta-search to innovate. Start-ups pride themselves on offering a superior user experience and for the simplicity and ease of use of their offerings. The upgrade in online travel largely needs to include the suppliers, too. Fare information is often on antiquated databases, making it challenging to communicate with more recently developed tech systems. Also, in addition to start-ups, the entry of Google into flight search is actually quite validating to the travel meta-search space.

So the battle lines have been drawn.

Superfly, a new flight search engine that combines flight information with individual consumer data and preferences, is openly challenging a player like Kayak, a company which through its websites and mobile applications processed 679 million user queries for travel information during the first nine months of this year.

“We built a new personalised flight search engine. It’s better than Kayak because it takes you into account.

By you we mean your miles and points, elite status and travel preferences,” this is what Superfly.com’s homepage says.

Instead of listing search results sorted by the cheapest price, Superfly aims to help users identify a flight that offers them the best value by including impact on their rewards programmes into its flight results. Superfly’s engine is being termed as a unique online platform that personalises flight search by adding an individual’s data -- frequent flyer miles, elite statuses, rewards programmes and individual preferences -- into the decision-making process of choosing a flight.

“Our service grew out of burning consumer needs related to rewards management and to understanding the value of rewards. In the same way consumers can manage their own stock portfolio, they should also be able to manage their own miles and points. We also see advanced search capabilities in other industries, why not in travel? Kayak is simply outdated, it’s not enough anymore to just list the same results for everybody. Travellers have individual preferences and we should incorporate them into search results since they’re part of people’s decision-making process,” Jonathan Meiri, Superfly's CEOtold EyeforTravel.com’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.



Meiri spoke about the company’s plans, its place in the travel planning and buying cycle etc. Excerpts:

What’s on your agenda going forward? Can you elaborate on your current status and plans?

Superfly’s goal is to personalise travel. We’re currently focusing on the flight search experience, essentially to help travellers find the best value flight. Our next step moving forward will be in extending that same experience to hotels and car rentals.

How do you think your offering is going to set a new benchmark in the travel industry?

We believe Superfly’s offering will be the industry standard. The Look-to-Book ratio will shrink dramatically as a consumer-centric approach is integrated throughout the booking experience.

How is your offering going to be beneficial for travellers in their travel planning and buying cycle?

We’re on both ends of this cycle. We’d like to be your first and only stop if you already know where you’re going and need assistance booking your flight and completing your itinerary. Once you’ve back home and your travel is over, we can manage the rewards you earned, which is often the starting point of your next trip.

One of the reasons why online trip planning is so broken actually has to do with structure of the industry and the technology it uses. The whole travel industry operates on request/response data systems that only give answers to very specific questions. How do you think Superfly is going to score on this count?

We know a lot about the users -- their frequent flyer miles, rewards programmes, elite statuses and individual preferences -- and our goal is to use that information intelligently to find the best possible services available within the best possible experience. That will be the new benchmark.

Superfly’s engine is a unique online platform that personalises flight search by adding an individual’s data. Can you cite an example how users are going to find the experience completely new and useful on your site?

Rather than sorting our search inventory based only on cheapest flights, we place the user in the center of the search process and sort based on each user’s profile. The results will therefore be different for every individual user.

The industry is witnessing new sites focusing on consumer travel discovery. The industry is witnessing the usage of Machine Learning, NoSQL databases and Big Data processing to transform raw web pages into structured and organised information. How do you think the way data is going to be analysed for personalised recommendations is going to the change the face of the airfare search, planning and booking process?

Users should expect nothing short of a revolution. Think about a trusted travel agent who knows everything about your travel needs and preferences, has access to the biggest inventory of flights and offers (including company-specific offers) and brings all that together into a small set of super relevant, one-click bookable options. This is where the industry is going.

A couple of years ago, social shopping for travel was being touted as the next big thing. In the recent past, the industry has seen services such as one that blends trusted recommendations from Facebook friends and the most relevant information from across the web. At the same time, it is pointed out that the overlap between a prospective traveller’s social graph and the travel options in consideration set is actually pretty thin. What do you make of such efforts in the industry?

These efforts are very exciting. Superfly developed something called an Elite Graph, it’s very similar to the Facebook social graph but based on your elite status and frequent flyer memberships (and other rewards programs). So for example, if you’re flying to Bangkok and you’ve never been to Bangkok before, we can recommend the Shangri La hotel because that’s where other travellers like you had a good experience. This is a powerful tool for increasing the trust and relevance around recommendations.

Which according to you is going to be biggest development in the flight search engine category in 2012?

Two trends. The first one concerns corporate travel, which will evolve towards the same user experience consumers already have. This is an ongoing trend, but in 2012 we will see a push coming from the corporations themselves, as they will want to take advantage of available time saving capabilities as well as to benefit from real time offers.

The second trend to look for has to do with how the OTAs respond to Google. Flight search has essentially been commoditised as a result of Google’s recent acquisition of ITA Software and the direct connect Google will have to the airlines. No company will have an advantage in pure search results. Many of the players in the existing travel value chain are disintermediated by this acquisition and online travel services are now working to differentiate themselves. This will push the existing players to innovate, which is good for the consumer and good for the industry.

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