Juan Otero, CEO at Travala.com tells us about international hotel bookings.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Juan Otero: The family is great. We live in Western Australia, where the pandemic has been handled very well so other than no international travel, life has been almost normal for the last six months since cases dropped off here. I’m going a little stir crazy being stuck at home but, considering the situation, I feel very lucky to be where I am.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Travala.com.
Juan Otero: My background is in tech and my passion lies in building, scaling, and leading disruptive companies. I co-founded Travala.com back in 2017 with the goal to disrupt the online travel booking industry. Travala.com is now the leading blockchain-based travel booking service with 3,000,000 travel products worldwide including hotels, homes, flights, tours, and activities. Backed by industry giant Binance, Travala.com is a champion of cryptocurrency adoption, accepting over 40 leading cryptocurrencies in addition to traditional payment methods.
How does Travala.com innovate?
Juan Otero: We have a clear direction of where we want to be, and we work backward from this vision. I like to say that Travala.com is the online travel agency (OTA) killer, but the important question is: how do we get there? We believe the answer is we receive better product pricing (which allows us to provide our customers with rates up to 40% cheaper than traditional OTAs), we offer more choice in accommodation options (hotels, homes, B&Bs, etc.), we allow for more choice in payment options (40+ cryptocurrencies, as well as major debit cards and credit cards), we have more transparent tokenized loyalty and rewards program where rewards have a real market value that isn’t arbitrarily set, and we give a better experience by fulfilling the whole travel experience in a self-service product.
Travel is competitive so for us to achieve this vision, we need to tap into new users who want to travel and have the means to travel. Crypto is the perfect place to find this since plenty of people across the globe have benefitted from this new, disruptive technology.
We partner with other blockchain-based projects that have sizeable communities and help them expand the use case of their cryptocurrency by enabling them as a payment option on Travala.com. Our competitors (OTAs) do not accept crypto, so it is a powerful advantage. In fact, about 70% of travel on our platform is now booked through crypto. We also see interest in Travala.com among more mainstream consumers, which is validated through the purchases made via traditional payment methods, such as credit cards, by people wanting better rates and rewards on travel from a more extensive range of products.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Juan Otero: Despite being in the travel industry, we managed to turn the past year into the perfect storm for us. The first couple of months of the pandemic (when no one was sure what this meant), like every other travel business in the world, our sales collapsed. However, this downturn was short-lived and we would go on to be hitting record sales month over month by the year’s end.
There is undoubtedly an element of luck here, but we managed to swing this in our favor. While we are still a startup, we don’t have huge costs that became unaffordable from the decline in travel sales. We saw it as our chance to scale up and focus on building the product to over-deliver on the initial number of projects planned.
By year-end, the marketing and business development we were able to keep in place meant that, since July, our sales are breaking records every month. Our growing sales rebuking the trend of other travel providers has meant our suppliers have given us more attention and we have built relationships that, in my view, mean we won’t be seeing this trend ending anytime soon.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Juan Otero: We had to implement several contingency plans to allow us to conduct business as usual for the long-term, even in a worst-case scenario. However, the situation improved significantly for us from July onwards without the need to make any significant changes.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Juan Otero: We operate in a niche market with very limited competitors. Travala.com is a first mover and the market leader for blockchain-based travel bookings. We ensure our users are loyal to us, preventing a business case from larger OTAs to try and connect with this market segment. There are smaller travel players trying to replicate our model within the cryptocurrency space. However, they are far behind and it is unlikely they will be able to catch up.
Your final thoughts?
Juan Otero: Travala.com is the world’s leading blockchain-based travel booking platform, emerging as the world’s web 3.0 OTA with a clear purpose to enhance the travel booking experience with blockchain technology. We believe that travel is the ideal venue for the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies and the decentralized technology we’re building will play a significant role in solving the broken relationship between travel suppliers and travelers.