The bottom line: true innovation equals money, motivation and spontaneity

The judging for this year’s Innovation Award at the Travel Distribution Summit, North America is now over and Options Away, a travel planner with a difference, is named as winner. hears some interesting insights from the company’s co-founder about what it means to innovate in travel today.

It is a fast-moving and competitive sector, and some might argue saturated but in spite of all this there is still plenty of room for innovation in the travel space.  Recognising this, regularly runs awards for young and exciting companies that are shaking things up and moving the bar yet again. Options Away, which beat off five others to take home the innovation crown - Superfly, Dwellable, WanderWe, Triptuner and Freeppie – believes it is doing just that. caught up with the Robert Brown, chief executive and co-founder of Options Away, who is still buzzing from news yesterday in Chicago that his company had won.

EFT: Big congratulations to you for winning the award. What does it mean to you?

RB: The biggest thing for us is validation. As entrepreneurs we are walking in uncharted waters and taking a risk with a new business idea. Having our industry peers vote for us as the winner for the EyeForTravel Innovation Award is a wonderful stamp of approval from the people that know the most about this industry. It makes me feel that we have truly built something unique.

EFT: Being truly innovative is a real challenge. Why do you think you were chosen?

FB: In the travel startup world I think ‘innovation’ really means “how can we generate new revenue for the industry while engaging with customers in a new way”. Options Away does both. We are creating new revenue for the market with our option fee (fee to hold a ticket) and engaging with customers at the very early stages of the travel planning process. All of the companies that presented had great business ideas, but I think we stood out based on the strength of our business model to generate real bottom line revenue.

EFT:  What exactly makes your solution so innovative?

FB: There are lots of companies that have been able to engage with customers early, but the ability to monetise this, and truly motivate the consumer to move further down the planning and booking funnel makes Options Away unique. We are also one of the first companies to focus on generating ancillary revenue in the pre-booking stage of the travel lifecycle. We saw in some of the presentations at the conference that the post-booking ancillary revenue generation (eg. baggage fees) is reaching a plateau (albeit at a $25 billion level!). Options Away has found an innovative new way to build ancillary revenue in the pre-booking stage by creating a product that consumers are willing to pay for. Options are not an unbundling, they are a brand new product that give customers peace of mind and time to decide on their trip, thus making it an easy expenditure for them.

EFT: Why is innovation in the travel space important?

FB: The travel industry has a noticeable impact on the underlying economy and its ebbs and flows can actually tip the economy in and out of recession. New innovations are therefore hugely important in driving the growth, not only the travel industry but other peripheral industries too. It is also an industry that is very large and often dependent on older technologies, innovation allows newer and better solutions to proliferate through the travel lifecycle, often generating technologies that are used everywhere. 

In the late 1990’s I was actually speaking to a London Business School professor who asked this question: “Do you think the Internet will ever be useful outside of the travel industry – in other words for researching destinations”. We all know the answer to that question now but it reminds us that travel was really the first to make use of the Internet. Who knows what other travel innovations will proliferate throughout the entire global economy!

EFT: So it’s still early days but do you see any big trends happening in travel and how are you preparing for those?

FB: Of course the usual answer to this question is mobile, but I like to answer it differently. I believe the real trend is spontaneity. If we look at company like Hotel Tonight (2011 winner), it is of course a mobile application. But the real innovation was the last-minute ‘spontaneous’ ability to book a hotel room. Interestingly, Options Away, while at the top end of the funnel in the planning stage, is also focusing on spontaneity by allowing customers to make a small purchases to kick-off the travel planning and booking process. People today are short on time and expect to be able to accomplish something with the simple click of a button. I think we will see an ongoing trend of simplicity, efficiency and thus spontaneity in travel…  Let’s hope Options Away can continue following in the footsteps of Sam Shank and Hotel Tonight!

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