We talked to Johannes Siebers, CEO and Co-founder at Holidu about the search engine for vacation rentals and he had the following to say about it.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Holidu.
Johannes Siebers: During my time at university, I studied International Business at Tübingen, also completing semesters abroad in both Sydney and Madrid. Upon graduating, my first professional role was working at Siemens in the field of venture capital. This experience gave me the opportunity to oversee the successful development and growth of a number of different startups, which certainly contributed to my strong desire to found my own company.
Holidu was founded in 2014 by myself and my brother, Michael, today the CTO Michael’s technical background compliments my business interests very well. Of course, our relationship as brothers is very resilient, and we cherish that we are able to found and run a company together.
We founded Holidu to create a platform that would finally make the search and booking of vacation rentals easy. The idea came to us during a surfing trip to Portugal, where we faced great difficulties in trying to find the perfect vacation rental for our friends and us during our stay. While there were comparison websites for flights and hotels, we couldn’t find this solution for vacation rentals, meaning we had to browse across various different websites that often showed the same house at different prices and availability. Our two first bookings were rejected due to overbooking issues. We asked ourselves why booking a rental was never as easy as booking a flight or hotel, and so the concept of Holidu was born. Since our founding days, we have rapidly grown. We now have a team of over 220 employees with over 40 nationalities being represented, as well as having offices in a number of our key focus destinations around Europe.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Johannes Siebers: The outbreak of the corona crisis hit travel companies particularly hard. Borders were closed and lockdowns imposed, and we felt this impact massively on Holidu, receiving hardly any vacation rental bookings at the end of March. Our revenues plummeted in the space of one week, at the worst stage we saw a 98% drop. This was an ice age like we had never seen before; therefore, all of our plans were turned upside down.
Thankfully, when the Europe-wide lockdowns began to be loosened at the beginning of summer, we were able to immediately see a bounce-back in our bookings. More than 27 million users visited the Holidu website in July alone, resulting in a 2.6x growth in year-on-year bookings and more than €130 million of newly generated bookings that month. We particularly saw a focus on travel within one’s own country, or to a destination that could be reached via car rather than by plane. We could clearly see that this summer Germans traveled in Germany, British people in the United Kingdom, and so on. We have specialized in this market for more than six years now, and since Holidu offers its platform in 21 countries, we were able to cover domestic travelers worldwide.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Johannes Siebers: The COVID-19 crisis turned our entire business plans upside down overnight. It was really an unprecedented crisis, so you have to come up with your own thinking, with your own hypothesis of what to do in your own framework. There’s no playbook or guide for this type of situation. Together with the management team, we sat down and developed plans for a range of various potential situations. We found that when we decided on a strategy, it got easier. Every member of the team needed to know which direction we were going in.
At Holidu we base a lot of our work around our four core values, one of which is “we win as a team”. We paid special attention to internal communications during the crisis, regularly holding entire company meetings to ensure that all employees were informed about the strategy and our plan. This high level of transparency meant that all employees had a good understanding of the situation. An internal survey during the crisis showed that employees felt that they were in good hands thanks to the speed of action as well as the care and empathy they received, despite the uncertainties. It is impossible to steer a company out of a crisis without the commitment of the team.
On top of maintaining transparency and clear communication within the company, we also pushed to sustain a positive and collective team spirit despite being pushed into a full home office set up for many months. For example, rituals such as virtual “coffee breaks”, a cross-team karaoke video challenge and joint participation in hackathons were encouraged.
In a crisis, the importance of a foundation of lived corporate values becomes apparent. With teams in many different locations due to our Bookiply offices in focus regions, we already had a good technical infrastructure as well as experience with establishing an international team spirit.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Johannes Siebers: During the first wave, when we had to make some difficult decisions which was understandably a very stressful time. To combat stress and help me sleep, I was doing many sports, especially running. During my runs is when I would come up with some visions I had for the future and how we would make it through the crisis as a company.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Johannes Siebers: With a synergetic interaction of two business models, Holidu covers the entire value chain: The eponymous search engine for holiday homes and flats enables travellers to find holiday homes on more than a thousand portals worldwide at the lowest price. Under the brand Bookiply, the company offers a software and service solution for holiday home renters. It supports them by advertising holiday homes on the largest travel internet sites, synchronizing calendars and creating multilingual description texts as well as professional photos.
I believe that COVID-19 will act as a catalyst for many travel trends that have been emerging for a long time: vacations in one’s own country, individual-travel, a more eco-friendly and sustainable focus. In addition, digitization and online business have made an enormous leap – also in the tourism industry.
Vacation rentals are a fairly safe way to travel during a pandemic, so the vacation rental market is booming, which is a great advantage for Holidu. People who previously wouldn’t have considered a vacation rental are now turning to this as an option, and this will give the vacation rental market a lasting boost.
Your final thoughts?
Johannes Siebers: Despite the crisis certainly not being over yet, we remain optimistic. We strongly believe that travel will continue to be a megatrend and that the vacation rental industry even more so. We also already know from our data following the summer months in 2020 that people will travel again as soon as they can.
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