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Online travel company eDreams Odigeo attributes much of its success to machine-based learning. Company CEO Dana Dunne tells Sebastian Shehadi how it has achieved European dominance with its plethora of brands.

Anyone living in Europe and booking flights online will probably be familiar with at least one of Opodo, eDreams, GO Voyages, Travellink or Liligo. All are owned by eDreams Odigeo, founded in 1999 in Silicon Valley as one of the first online travel companies.

With 30% market share of online bookings in Europe, eDreams Odigeo (now based in Barcelona) is the continent’s leader, and one of the global ‘big three’ together with China’s Ctrip and the US’s Expedia.

A smarter provider

The boom in smartphone technology has given life to e-commerce. Twenty-five years ago, online penetration was low. Ten years later, it had grown, but people still shied away from online shopping, according to eDreams Odigeo chief executive Dana Dunne. This has all changed, however. Over the past five years, purchases via mobile phone have rocketed, and one in three eDreams sales is now made from a smartphone.

However, the industry’s latest trend is customer individualisation and personalisation, and at an extreme level, driven largely by machine-based learning, according to Mr Dunne. “Very few companies in Europe, across all sectors, use machine self-learning,” he adds, and eDreams Odigeo is investing heavily in technology that predicts people’s behaviour and tailors its offerings to their needs, such as cheap, indirect flights. 

The autonomous machines use internal data taken from the company’s websites – such as customers’ travel search criteria or IP address and location – and combine it with sociodemographic data. Every month the company's consumer psychology unit, the Insights Lab, hosts 300 people to observe their online behaviour using technology such as eye-tracking cameras. “What an individual says they do and what they actually do are often different things – the cameras track that,” says Mr Dunne.

Playing to the regions

Despite – or perhaps because of – its unusual split-brand structure, eDreams has done very well. It has five different brands that perform strongly in different locations. Opodo is well known in Germany and the UK, but unheard of in Spain where eDreams is king. In the Nordics, meanwhile, Travellink is widely known.

“So why don’t we just change the brand and make it under one name? Well, consumers love these brands already and we’ve spent so much time getting that emotional attachment. It would be wasteful and counterproductive to rebuild around something new,” says Mr Dunne.

He is bullish about the industry’s future, with the number of international tourist arrivals seeing seven years of uninterrupted growth, according to the UN World Travel Organisation.

“The past 30 years show that tourism is growing in line with GDP. Even through the recession of 2008, figures only plateaued while office vacancy rates and investment dropped dramatically. Humans are curious and want to see the world, which is becoming ever smaller,” says Mr Dunne.

Cheaper flights are another key factor. For example, there has been large growth in travel from the UK to North America, thanks to low-cost carriers – and possibly Brexit – according to Mr Dunne. “We’ve identified a noticeable increase in long-haul flights, generally since Brexit. New York hasn't been in the top 10 [destinations for the UK before], and this year it is,” he says.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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