Is the creation of HelloGbye the result of a hole in the travel industry and customer service or is it about making travel more efficient?
A hole in the travel industry. And I think that hole is really around planning and booking either the most simple trips or the most complex itinerary quickly meaning under a few minutes. I think that there’s no problem with online travel today in the sense that if you want to book a flight or a hotel you can just go to said website and book it. However if you’re booking a flight or accommodation and your significant other is going to meet you for two nights and then fly back makes planning complicated. Booking multiple passengers to multiple cities with multiple segments online can become unpleasant. It’s very difficult and time consuming and after a while you just don’t want to deal with it. HelloGbye is a result of a hole in the industry in the sense that it hasn’t been addressed in the last 20 years but it’s also about making travel more efficient.
What was the aha moment that led to the creation of the business?
This is a story that Jonathan Miller, the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of HelloGbye, told me. Jonathan, his father and 3 other people were driving in a miserable rainstorm near Scranton, PA in 2009 circa iPhone 1. They couldn’t find flights, couldn’t find hotels, they just couldn’t get anything off their phones. And Jonathan said to his father, I wish I could just pick up my phone and say “find me a hotel tonight” or “show me the next available flight out to Toronto.” Jonathan thought what if we could create an application where you literally just speak your travel plans to your phone, have it understand your preferences and book your itinerary. That’s what lead to the inspiration and creation of HelloGbye.
The app assumes a kind of communal and social aspect to travel. Is this for business travelers or leisure?
For both. It’s for anyone and everyone who wants to book the most simple itinerary to the most complex trip quickly. There’s a social component to the platform that is real-time and collaborative. If I’m a business traveler and I have a few colleagues who are planning a trip to New York but I also need to leave a day later and meet you in the morning and then fly to another city. If I create that itinerary as an organizer, yourself and the other person will get notification saying they’ve been invited to plan the trip. They will get the notification on their phone using the HelloGbye app and they’ll be able to see their portion of the itinerary which they can change. Once they make changes everyone else is notified. This applies to the business traveler as well as the leisure traveler. In terms of the content with which we’re initially launching, we’ll be offering flights and hotels. In the future we plan on expanding to car rentals as well as travel vacation packages. It’s really for anyone who wants the utility of booking travel very quickly and in a very bespoke manner.
To give you another analogy, when you go into a shopping mall you could easily spend hours upon hours going into every single store. That’s what the online travel industry is like. You’re given tons of options, you’re overwhelmed, you’re unsure of what you want. Our model is similar to a Best Buy mobile airport kiosk where there is a finite number of things that I may want as a business traveler like earphones, phones, iPods, etc. That’s what we display to consumers, we give them a very good screen choice of options to help them make a decision faster.
Who is the “typical” HelloGbye user?
HelloGbye is a B2C application, launching in 2016 that’s targeting initially the unmanaged business traveler. These are 14 million business travelers in the U.S. or 25% of the U.S. market but our goal is to attract the world’s 3.3 billion passengers. We’re really for anyone who knows what they want and what I mean by that is we’re not a discovery platform. You can’t say to HelloGbye “I want to go to New York” and just expect it to give you an answer. You have to say “I want to go to New York next week Thursday, I want to stay in a 3-star hotel near Central Park and then I want to come back to Toronto.” As long as you tell the app where you’re going, when you’re going and with who you’re going that’s all the information it needs. We have no issue with people going to Expedia and Trivago. The average traveler spends approximately 28 days researching their purchase and visiting 22 different websites. We have no problem with people who prefer continual searches but when they actually want to book, we want to be their digital travel assistant. With something you would typically give your travel agent to do and get results a day later, you can leave it to us and come back in 15 seconds.
An app like this seems to invite the idea of partnerships with other travel brands. Is this something you’re going to pursue?
Absolutely. The travel industry is really predicated around volume and if we hit our volume target we already have potential partners with who we would like to work. We would like to offer beyond hotels, for example booking unique travel content like Airbnb or HomeAway. We would be open to expanding our content from beyond hotels and even working with other partners to provide in-destination content like tours or site-seeing.
Yes, the inspiration for the name HelloGbye is a Beatles’ song. The name of the app will change based on the country it’s in; In Italy users will log into CiaoCiao, and in Israel ShalomShalom. After its North American launch, the app will debut in Asia in Mandarin in the fall of 2016.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.