In the green room at Phocuswright with… Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes, vice president of corporate development

Tim Hughes is vice president of corporate development at Agoda and has spent the past two decade in the online travel industry. He has a background in law and venture capital and has also ran his own blog – the Boot (Business Of Online Travel) as well as contributing is expertise to other site and publications.

In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Florida in November, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick. Welcome, Tim Hughes of Agoda.

When was the last time you spoke to one of your customers, and why?

My friends and family are big users of the product. I talk to them all the time as they are some of our best “bug hunters”. Is great to pass on fixable app bugs to our tech team that have come from my F&F. I also meet non friends and family customers in the general world – all the time. In restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and more. When people I meet find out where I work, it is great opportunity to get feedback.

What are the gaps in your experience and knowledge of the industry?

The area I am keen to learn more about is hospitality tech. PMS, CRS, POS and all the other acronyms that are so important in the day to day lives of hotel GMs and individual property managers. As a consumer and traveller I see so many opportunities to use technology to help the post booking, pre-stay experience and the on-property experience. But to offer that help I need to continue to gain more experience and knowledge about hospitality tech.

What assumption about travelers have you found not to be true?

That travelers can be put into any type of basket or demographic. There is a high level attraction to putting customers into groups like Flashpackers, Bleisure travellers, Grey Nomads etc. But there is little to no functional benefit from that definition for online travel companies.

To drive efficient ROI, conversion and customer repeat behaviour, you cannot target broad groups of customers based on a consultant created fancy term.

You need to be lazer focused on data and target each individual during their individual travel search and experience.

What was your childhood aspiration?

To be a commercial airline pilot. My step-father worked for Qantas for almost 40 years. As a young child his life seemed so amazing to me. Being paid to travel the world and experience a wide-range of destinations. By the end of high school I had ditched that goal and switched to studying law and becoming a lawyer. But the pull of travel was in my step-DNA and soon I joined this fantastic industry.

Who is the person you most admire within the industry or externally?

Admiration questions – especially ones that allow you to step outside your industry – are challenging to answer.

I have friends that arrived in Australia as refugees that are now doctors & lawyers, I have met Holocausts survivors that have the most amazing sense of humour and love of life and I have seen the real impact that people have made in improving the state of the environment. None of whom are famous names. All of whom are amazing. So, I avoid that side of the admiration game and focus on naming a person that I admire for the development of technology, teams, products and business.

While at the same time avoid the trap of naming people in your own organisation. With that background, I admire Leon Kamenev, founder of both HotelClub (sold to Cendant/Orbitz) and Menulog (sold to EatNow). Two amazing exits after having built two incredible companies by a genuinely nice guy.

What travel trend are you watching closely right now and why?

Two areas have my attention. Travel industry specific – I am watching closely the changes and adjustments in the payments side of travel. Including the rise of eWallets , other tools to allow the unbanked of Asia to book online and enhancements in the supplier payments sector.

Once these trends play out, we should see a dramatic expansion in the range of customers available for online travel players and a drop in costs for collecting and paying money.

General Technology industry – I am keeping a close watch on funding trends for start ups. We have seen so much money pour into the tech sector. But it is heavily concentrated in a small number of companies. With the lower valuations in the actual floats of Uber, Lyft and Slack and the proposed IPO of WeWork, I am interested to see what this means for fundraising among APAC companies that are losing substantial amounts of money.

If you weren’t in travel, what company would you like to be part of and why?

Hard to imagine a life outside travel. My daydream jobs have travel elements to them like Safari guide, owning a diving shop on an island or working for a travel conservation company. If forced to pick a non-travel area, my dream job would be an afternoon (drive) radio host.

What do you consider to be the best important invention in the digital world in the last 20 years?

Data over mobile networks. GPRS, 2G, 3G, 4G, etc. Wow! All that we can do on our phones is owed to the engineers that changed the way “air” works. That cracked the literal code of the universe to allow packets of data to be sent through the air and reformed at the other side. Magic.

You’re explaining the industry to a new employee – complete the sentence: “Beware of the ……….”

…one sentence answer.”

This industry is too nuance and complex for a one sentence answer. If given a bit more time to explain I would focus on how important relationships are in this industry. It is probably the smallest, big industry in the world.

In the sense that despite the fact the travel industry is some 10% of global GDP, there is a genuine community and bond among the people that work in this industry. This has the immediate upside of being able to build networks and do deals on trust.

It also means that you have to take care in how to treat a supplier or partner. As chances are a badly treated partner of supplier can end up on the other end of another deal, working for another company.

What travel industry development or brand do you wish you’d thought of first?

Who doesnt wish they had the smarts to have created the algorithms behind Google. The dominant force in global travel marketing for almost two decades.

Finance and Startups at The Phocuswright Conference 2019

Hear from Altimeter Capital, Certares, RBC, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Deutsche Bank. Network with many others Founders Factory, Highgate Ventures, General Catalyst, Nomura Securities, Thayer Ventures, SIG and Cambon Partners.

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