Euromonitor International Interview Series: Hichame Assi Chief Operating Officer of HotelsCombined.com – Part One

Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Hichame Assi, Chief Operating Officer of HotelsCombined.com.  HotelsCombined.com is a hotel metasearch engine founded in 2005 in Sydney, Australia.  The first part of the interview focuses on the company’s overall business while part two will focus on its international expansion

Can you please explain HotelsCombined.com’s various business models?

On the consumer side, we offer a free price comparison service for hotels and other accommodation categories that allows users to search all major travel and hotel sites. Ultimately, this empowers consumers by enabling them to save time from clicking through numerous sites and easily allows them to find the best possible accommodation rates and availability. We’ve found that consumers appreciate the convenience factor and impartiality of our metasearch technology.

We are also an effective B2B tool that provides a market-driven distribution channel. Our affiliate program – which numbers over 20,000 partners worldwide – offers a high-quality white label platform, custom-design options, personalised support and a lucrative commission model.

You have a very strong B2B model with partners such as Ryanair.  What opportunities do you see in this space?

As we continue to develop our desktop and mobile solutions- which are available in over 40 languages – we anticipate that our affiliate community will only continue to strengthen and grow worldwide. In the last year alone, we’ve partnered in the last year with Spain’s official tourism site (Spain.info), with the Sydney Airport’s official site (SydneyAirport.com.au) and with U.S. travel-planning app Desti (Desti.com). We’ve also recently partnered with a number of major publications and travel sites across South Korea, Israel, the Middle East, Japan, Brazil and Thailand.

Are you seeing interest in metasearch from peer-to-peer sites such as Airbnb?

Yes,  particularly in Europe and Asia. However, it’s a difficult challenge to solve in meta-search as there is very little overlap (most properties only list on one site). Overall, there’s not a lot of room (no pun intended) for aggregation or comparison.

Are hotel chains becoming more interested in being present in metasearch engines?

Yes, hotel chains as well as individual properties are beginning to show a lot of interest in the metasearch medium. Properties around the world are constantly looking for incremental distribution channels and ours is an efficient one that allows them to attract and acquire direct customers.

Which are the marketing/advertising platforms you are using and which you are finding most effective to promote your services?

We acquire our traffic and users through a variety of platforms across the world – including search engine marketing, social media, affiliate marketing, mobile marketing and most recently through some TV advertising. Our marketing initiatives will vary depending on the region involved; we’ve found that different mediums have differing relevance across markets.

Are you making moves to provide a more personalized service (eg. in terms of personalized search results) to your customers?

This is something we’re constantly looking into. Our search results are evolving daily with the objective of providing the most optimal search results. While we haven’t gotten to the point of providing fully personalised results yet, it’s something we’re continually striving towards. And it is worth pointing out that our site already offers a number of different search filters – from hotel features to property type – that help narrow down users’ searches so they can more easily find their ideal accommodation fit.

What is your strategy with regards to mobile?

Mobile is key for future growth. We’ve  seen a big increase in visits and searches on mobile (downloads of our app alone have increased by 320% over the past year) but conversions are weaker than on either tablet or desktop. In addition to weaker confidence from users for booking/paying on mobile (although this is improving rapidly),  the other issue we have to contend with is that we are dependent upon the travel sites that we compare having well-optimised mobile sites – and not all of them do. We are currently looking into how we can connect the tendency to search on mobile with desktop bookings and create a holistic, multi-device experience.