Johannes Reck, CEO and co-founder, recently gave a keynote speech and interview at the Digital Festival in Zurich. The four-day conference brings together a community of leading tech professionals to challenge existing practices and look towards the digital future.
The Digital Festival in Zurich was a homecoming experience for Johannes. GetYourGuide was founded in the Technopark building 500 meters from the conference hall.
He warmed up the audience by recalling the early days of the startup in that first office space. The room was so cramped, he and his friends from college would often trip over the server cables, bringing down the entire site. Today, with roughly 3000 attendees in the crowd, the CEO identifies travel innovation trends and offers a glimpse of who he thinks the next big disrupters will be.
"[As an innovator], you shouldn't look to big companies, look at the young and crazy guys who have nothing to lose," says Johannes on competitors. "They will be the next to disrupt us at some point."
In fact, the next phase of disruption in the travel industry has already begun. The 34-year-old co-founder explains how travel experiences are already replacing online booking of flights and hotels as the hot new commodity.
With the explosive growth of platforms like Booking.com and Airbnb, Johannes explains how travel experiences via agencies and packaged tours had fallen off the grid as hotels and flights moved digital.
But "With the help of a little app called Instagram, experiences are undergoing a renaissance," says Johannes. The online booking of travel experiences is growing two times the rate of the overall travel industry.
Travel experiences have become a 170 billion dollar market. "Just think about what the average picture in your feed looks like," the 34-year-old co-founder reflects. "It's probably someone traveling and just having an amazing experience."
Johannes brings the point home with a case study. "In Bali, we recently launched the Bali Instagram Tour. Within three months, the photography tour became the best selling product not only on GetYourGuide but in all of Bali with thousands of people booking every day."
The Berlin-based company leader addressed many of the pain points associated with mass tourism: Traditional packaged tours leave tourists with few options. Often, travelers must consume whatever is offered and pay the price for it.
There's a real lack of accountability for the satisfaction of the customer. He explains how the internet has made trips different, modular, and transparent. “Now, you can book hotels and flights and experiences separate. By using data from the site and feedback from our tours, we're able to improve upon the traditional travel experience.
Johannes is referring to GetYourGuide originals, "A new line of hand-curated tours that provide the best-in-class travel experience." The tours use customer feedback on previous trips to create new ones based on elements that people liked.
Comparing the approach to how Netflix revolutionized television, he explains, "Netflix didn't just offer a streaming service, they also wrote the script on what makes an interesting series or movie. So we applied that to our tours”
In an interview with Digital Festival following the keynote, Johannes explains how Originals is redefining the tour experience.
"Tour guides have been freelancers for a long time," the CEO says. "They may work for different agencies and tour operators. Originals enable guides to innovate by working directly with GetYourGuide's platform if they have new ideas and incredible tours to offer."
With this new initiative, tour guides have the opportunity to take all their creativity and put it back in the customer. Johannes elaborates, "I believe there are so many more interesting experiences out there than what we see today. That, to me, is the next generation of the product that we're offering."
"Staying fearless is incredibly hard," he admits. "Because, as the company grows, people get more risk-averse, and my job as a founder is to lead. As a strategy, every year, the company selects a few areas they want to take risks and innovate."
By reshaping the perception of fear and risk, Johannes and his team can simultaneously grow and innovate. "We invest aggressively in these risks, being mindful that many of these innovations may fail. But what I try to promote as CEO and co-founder is that it's OK to fail. It's more about not giving up, rather than thinking of failure as a risk."
Johannes believes that the next step in customization is bespoke experiences finely tuned to the customer's taste. "Hotels and flights aren't that customizable, but travel experiences are," he says. "People have been talking about personalization for a long time, but it wasn't possible because the inventory wasn't online nor accessible." But today, “GetYourGuide has pioneered bringing in a new class of inventory online.”
"It's been relatively easy [to bridge that gap]," says Johannes, "We've always been a tech company first and a tourism company second."
The co-founder goes on to explain how the real challenge is actually how the team can actually get as accurate data in the offline world as they have in the online world. He explains, "Over time, the company has built excellent technology, and as a result, these two worlds work very much in unison."
The theme for this year's Digital Festival in Zurich was, "Get it done." When asked what "Get it done" means to him, Johannes' answer is pretty much what you'd expect to hear from the leader of a rapidly growing business.
"The job is never done," he says. "'Get it done' means staying on your toes every single day. Coming back re-energized. Staying agile, staying focused, having the long term view, and never stop thinking that it’s day one."
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