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Kiwi.com‘s proprietary algorithm, Virtual Interlining, allows users to combine flights and ground transportation from more than 800 operators, including many that don’t normally cooperate with each other. This gives them the ability to provide customers with cheap flights that other search engines simply cannot see.
According to Mario Gavira, the platform’s vice president of growth, this is going to benefit them to come out stronger from a crisis that has been hitting the travel industry hard for more than a year.
Kiwi.com was born 7 years ago to differentiate itself from traditional platforms, which involves generating unique content that can only be found on its platform.
From there they went on to combine their flight itineraries with ground transportation itineraries into one. “We can make a single reservation for a client to go from London to Benidorm, using various means of transport,” says Gavira in an interview with Business Insider Spain.
Gavira, who took up his post in January and has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, was managing director for France at Edreams Odigeo and, most recently, managing director of Europe’s leading multimodal metasearch engine, Liligo.com.
Now, the expert talks to Business Insider Spain about what lies ahead for the industry, and especially for Kiwi.com, when travel returns to normal.
Every crisis is also an opportunity
“The pandemic was a huge blow for the whole industry and like any other player, especially in the airline industry, we had a dramatic drop in sales, especially in the first wave when our sales fell by 95%,” he recalls.
Faced with that slump, the platform began to take measures to ensure its survival: they cut costs as much as possible and made sure they had enough cash to survive for as long as possible.
“We didn’t have any major layoffs because most of our employees are in the Czech Republic and there were subsidies there that allowed us to be flexible and keep our employees.”
Kiwi.com records more than 100 million searches a day and employs 2,000 people worldwide. Of these, 30 are based in Barcelona.
Ingredients to stay afloat
“We foresee that there will, unfortunately, be some players that will not survive or will have to merge with others, but others are going to emerge stronger and at Kiwi, we have all the ingredients to make it.”
As a global player, Kiwi.com benefits from each country’s different rates of vaccination for recovery. For example, as he points out, traffic in the US is still very active, although not as much as at pre-pandemic levels.
“Because we are an ambitious company, we believe that every crisis is also an opportunity. We have started working very aggressively on improving our product both at the content level and improving the capabilities to promote an application that is more comprehensive so that when tourism comes back again we can benefit from that,” he notes. Twenty-five percent of the employees are engineers working on improving the product.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that this crisis has accelerated digitalization. This, according to the expert, will mean that traditional players based in physical offices will suffer more if they have not managed to transform themselves and offer a product that is on par with what pure online players can offer.
Despite this, Gavira points out, the pre-crisis financial strength of each company also plays an important role, and this is another point in Kiwi.com’s favor. The platform has “very important” financial support from General Atlantic (a U.S. growth capital firm that has also bet on big players such as Airbnb), which invested in the company in 2019 and bet on them as a “winning horse” in the world of tourism.
“We have all the cards to come out on top and become one of the major players in online travel the future,” he says.
In 2019, the company had a turnover of 1.3 million euros, according to its website, but Gavira does not reveal figures for the results of the worst year for the sector, although he notes that they expect to recover the same level of turnover prior to the pandemic in the summer of 2022.
As they focus on preparing for the recovery and maximizing their technological potential “to be one of the winners in this tourism turnaround,” they are keeping an eye on the trends that will shape the future of travel.
“There is another challenge that I think after this crisis is going to be more important, which is sustainability,” he notes.
Air transport is one of the most polluting industries and, according to Gavira, being a multimodal player that offers greener transport alternatives (such as buses), gives them an advantage.
On the other hand, the future of tourism is inconceivable without technology.
“We are great believers in artificial intelligence. Our ability to combine 20 billion possible itineraries a day requires algorithms that allow us to process all that massive amount of data. We are a beneficiary of this technology and we are obviously applying it more and more to the whole process,” he says.
As for blockchain, Gavira explains that they are not investing aggressively, although they are studying it.“If cryptocurrency becomes democratized, it may be a form of payment that we offer in the near future.”
2 out of 3 people believe they will be able to travel before the summer
“The search volume has increased sharply for summer. We see that there is a willingness and desire to travel again. When you reach a certain percentage of vaccination, people start looking for flights because they see the end of the tunnel and start dreaming,” he says.
According to a survey of global citizens conducted by Kiwi.com in February, 67.4% of international travelers are optimistic about the future of the industry and believe they will be able to travel in the next six months. In addition, 79.6% of participants would be willing to get vaccinated if it would allow them to travel sooner. In fact, 62.5% say they plan to travel more in a post-pandemic scenario than before.
Kiwi.com’s goal is to be prepared for when this happens.
“When the skies open up, my main goal is to get Kiwi in a position to be able to maximize its technology and be as present as possible in the consumer’s mind to be able to sell as much as possible and generate significant growth,” he says.