In The Big Chair – Mathias Hedlund of Etraveli


Mathias Hedlund, CEO Etraveli

Mathias Hedlund become CEO of Etraveli Group in 2014 but was a board member from 2010. Prior to joining Etraveli, he held executive positions at companies in the financial, gambling and e-commerce sectors.

Etraveli Group comprises a number of brands including Gotogate, Flygresor and Mytrip. The Sweden-based company recently acquired TripStack and Flight Network as part of a strategy to boost presence in North America.

Etraveli acquired TripStack in June to boost your presence in the U.S. and add further airline integration capabilities, can you update us on achievements since the acquisition?

We are pleased to see how we are about to establish ourselves in North America and how we now measure up very well in terms of the air content that is relevant in this market.  

I just looked at an internal benchmark study comparing our air content with the market leaders in this region and we come out extremely well. We currently enjoy a very rapid growth YoY in North America explained by the benefits from the acquisition and an increasing share from Google Flights, but we are just getting started.

Website:

https://etraveligroup.com

In 2017, Etraveli acquired eTravel in Greece saying you wanted to become Europe’s leading flight-focused OTA, do you believe you have achieved this, why?

We do. I do not think anybody doubts that we are leading within flights in Europe, we have got the size, the growth, the profitability and the tech to show for it.

Now, we are in the process of redefining ourselves from an OTA to a search, book and fulfillment provider delivering air tech solutions to anyone facing the consumer, latest proven by the co-operation with booking.com supporting their integrated solution for flights.

Where do you see Google in the flight distribution landscape?

I see them rapidly improving and making progress also outside the US within flights.

I see them working faster than many of their competitors and I am convinced they will be successful. They are aiming to provide a user-friendly experience and they seek co-operation with the carriers and tech companies that can support them with that.

We have a good co-operation with them that I foresee will develop significantly in the coming years.

Etraveli itself was acquired from Germany’s ProSiebanSat 1 in 2017 by CVC Capital Partners Fund, what kind of pressure does this put on the business?

The pressure of having a very competent and interested owner with resources to support us and skill to challenge us in a constructive way. I said it before – we have never had a better owner. 

Unfortunately their business idea is to exit eventually but that is just the name of the game and we will find a new hopefully even greater purpose.

Many OTAs and some airlines are trying to cover and integrate all elements of the trip but your strategy differs, why do you think it will work?

Because in an increasingly global competition where scale matters only a few can manage to pull off such a vision. We see ourselves as the flights experts, the ones these larger players would like to work with for flights to succeed with their visions.

We will never be as good as Booking.com within hotels, as good as Airbnb in home-stays or Uber in ground transportation – so we do not bother to try.

But we can actually beat anyone within flights, hence there is where we put all our efforts and passion.

You have hinted that further acquisitions might be on the cards, what are the gaps you see in your portfolio?

Well, we are busy integrating Flight Network and launch TripStack with a higher ambition so nothing to expect in the next quarters, but we are always on the hunt for international expansion where we can put our playbook to work with better unit economics and efficient execution providing both revenue and cost synergies.

The airline distribution landscape has changed more in the past five years than in the previous 20 years. What are the greatest shifts you are expecting in the next five to 10 years?

Increased complexity. One might think that NDC and other standards create harmonization but, as an intermediary, complexity is just increasing.

One might think that NDC and other standards create harmonization but, as an intermediary, complexity is just increasing.

Mathias Hedlund

Airlines pursue different strategies and the distribution landscape with the rise of Google Flights, Booking.com’s venture into flights and others to follow opens up a more diversified scene. 

However, all of this development will benefit the larger players – the ones that can master and afford the increased complexity and tech investments.

In our company we cherish complexity, it creates the possibility to create differentiation. I foresee smaller and local OTAs to suffer while a few larger intermediaries actually will benefit from this development, we of course aim to be one of them.

What are the greatest challenges of your role?

Scaling the company while preserving the entrepreneurial spirit that has taken us here.

I see so many examples around us, colleagues in our industry, where that is lost and the companies lose speed. It is natural and understandable but still, I hope and believe, avoidable.

Complexity is on the rise for us as well with multiple offices on multiple continents and we add new business models, additional partners and more employees.

We have to constantly challenge ourselves to keep up speed and make sure people that join us have the same high demands on themselves as we have and that we can provide the right circumstances for them to thrive and succeed.

What trend in travel are you most watching right now and why?

I do not know if it is necessarily a trend, but I constantly watch consumer behaviour when it comes to ease of booking and price sensitivity, the two most important factors when buying flights.

It was five years ago and still is – but the consumers’ demands are increasing because they get used to better experiences from other industries online.

What can you tell us about your deep integration partnership for flights with booking.com? Will we see further b2b integrations of this nature?

Yes, I sincerely hope so because they make a lot of sense. Somebody has the traffic, the brand, the user experience and we have the best air content and tech solutions on a global level to make their vision a reality.

Flights are complex to do well and we are willing to do the dirty and cumbersome job to make it look easy at the front end. 

The co-operation with booking.com is exciting and we believe they can truly change the landscape for flights if they put their right foot forward and I am sure we will have launched a few more similar co-operations within the next year.

And a few questions about you… How and why did you get into travel?

I got into the supervisory board of Etraveli in 2010 and then stepped in as CEO in 2014.

I like traveling myself but I think the reason I am still here is the combination of changing industry dynamics, the possibility to internationalize while being asset light and a great team.

My background is from management and board positions in other online industries (Fintech, gambling, directories, books, online gifting etc.).

If you could change any element of travel booking, what would it be?

Well, our industry cannot be proud of the consumer booking experience for flights.

Ours is a consequence of the economics and the competition in the respective sales channel as well as legacy technology in the provider systems. 

We have a long way to go before I can say it is good but we now do have a lot of great underlying technology that in the right context can become really good customer experience.

I think we will see improvements from players such as Skyscanner, booking.com and Google Flights in the coming years where I hope and think we can be instrumental contributors. There are also a few other potential disruptors but it requires investments, determination and a supporting profitable business next to Flights to do really well. 

What are your thoughts on “flygskam” (flight shaming)?

Flights generate 2% of CO2 pollution globally and as human beings we have to change the course of our activities not to destroy this planet for future generations

Anyone doubting global warming is seeking short term gains, politically or financially. 

But we can not stop flying, it is crucial for trade, interaction between people to widen our perspectives, jobs etc. Therefore I do not believe shame to be the answer. We need to develop alternative fuel and it is a job for all of us in the industry to support this. 

Of course we climate compensate our own travel at Etraveli Group and facilitate for our customers to do the same but more importantly we are also looking to co-operate with actors working to establish sustainable fuel and making that more affordable.

The industry has a role to play and the threat is real but shame is not the way and all actions count.

More from our In The Big Chair series

PhocusWire talks to leaders across the digital travel landscape.

 



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