Is this retail travel’s Airbnb?
Exclusive to Canadian Travel Press
In late March of this year, San Francisco start-up, FlyEx rolled out a personalized, on-demand, peer-to-peer travel booking and messaging platform (called Travel Chat) at SXSW (South By Southwest) in Austin, Texas.
It allows any traveller with a smartphone (once they download the free App) to connect to a global network of FlyEx Aviators who will help those travellers book flights and hotels and have on-demand access to comprehensive, 24/7 travel concierge services and support.
As FlyEx’s vice-president marketing, Adam Gershon Meron explained to Canadian Travel Press in an exclusive interview: “We’re kind of going back to the future when you had a trusted travel agent that you went to and you said ‘I want to book a trip to X destination’ and they gave you some recommendations; they found you a flight; they booked your hotel; they maybe made some recommendations for a place to eat – really that personal connection with travel agents that existed 20 or 30 years ago – before the Internet.”
Now Gershon Meron does admit that that kind of consumer-agent relationship still does exist to a certain extent. And that’s a good thing, considering that: “If you look at some of the statistics around how Millennials value their time, they’re the generation most likely to use a travel agent offline. I think, from our perspective, the fact that a typical [online] travel booking requires a visit to 38 different websites, tells us something’s not working quite right – the only company that benefits from clicking around that much is Google.”
He continues: “What we’re providing is a virtual travel agent, where [the consumer] can go to that agent and they can help [the consumer] book travel. [Consumers] can, of course, do it on [their] own with the App, which works as a traditional Search platform. So [they] can Search [for travel], but [they] can also reach out to what we call FlyEx’s Aviators.”
As Gershon Meron explained it: “For the traveller, the proposition is very simple – simplify the process, reduce the time you waste and reduce the lack of trust that people have in the whole [online] booking process” and along the way have “a kind of revolutionary experience.”
On the FlyEx Aviator side of the equation, Gershon Meron told CTP: “The analogy here is similar to what Uber did and what Airbnb did. Uber said: ‘Well, anybody with a car can become a transportation provider.’ Airbnb said: ‘Anybody with a spare room or house can become an accommodation provider.’ What we’re saying is anybody with a phone, some pas-sion about travel, some flexible time or interest in flexible income – part-time income, or for the really passionate people, full-time income – can download this App and become a virtual travel agent.”
The key here, FlyEx’s marketing VP said is that the Aviator “is a virtual travel agent. So you’re more of a promoter. You’re not doing the selling. We manage the booking and selling. We’re the agent of record and you’re really promoting and pushing that to your friends and family, to your social networks. There’s always that one person that knows everything about where to go; who makes [all the arrangements] and books [all of the] travel for people. The idea here is we leverage that passion and we give you a way to make part-time, flexible income on the Aviator side.”
As to the pay, Gershon Meron told CTP that Aviators “get the full difference between the wholesale fare and whatever retail fare they set. Aviators also have the ability to fully customize the fares for each traveller.”
So the obvious question is, what kind of requirements do people have to have to become a FlyEx Aviator?
“The big qualification for us, if you go through the qualification process on FlyEx.com, is that you are socially connected. That you can actually bring some people into this new, vibrant, travel ecosystem,” Gershon Meron said.
And he continued: “So we ask you to add a social network and you do need a minimum qualification, right now, I think it’s about a 100 people in your network. We’ll do some checks. We have to make sure you’re a real person. And you have a bank account, if we’re going to pay you. And, right now, Aviators have to be US-based.”
He also pointed out that Aviators don’t do the actual transaction, they don’t process any credit card transactions, that’s all done by FlyEx.
“The way that it works, though, is we have a pretty good sense of who’s really good at this; of who really responds to their travellers very quickly and we can help them. We can market for them and identify those stars who really want to make, not just part-time income, but some pretty good income,” he said.
What about Canada?
So what about Canada – when will FlyEx Aviators arrive here?
“I think Canada is the easiest one for us to go into. So give us a year or two and we’ll be there. We already have, obviously, access to Canadian content, so it’s just a matter of opening an office there.”
Asked about Canadian regulations governing the sale of travel, Gershon Meron said that: “Everybody who’s involved [in FlyEx] has been in this industry for a long time. It was great that you brought up some of those regulation requirements in Canada for being an agent in Ontario, Quebec and BC. I think we’re well aware of those regulations, so as we expand our global footprint, we have the domain knowledge to make sure we’re not stepping in wrong potholes.”
While FlyEx’s content is currently air and hotel, Gershon Meron told CTP that: “The motivated Aviator can put it together and start creating their own packages,” observing that while there’s no dynamic packaging as of yet, “I think in the future there will be. We’ve got the personal part. We have a technology layer that’s very sophisticated. We provide unique itineraries that you’re not going to find anywhere. We’re providing customized deals in the App. And we have AI [artificial intelligence] that’s being layered into it. So dynamic packaging is absolutely on [our] road map.”
Now, while FlyEx is clearly a disruptor, Gershon Meron made it clear that what it is aspiring to be is “a supplier-friendly, partner-friendly model.”
He told CTP that with FlyEx, the idea is “we’re going to collaborate” and like Amazon, the San Francisco travel start-up wants to create “a whole new class of entrepreneurs who are providing this wonderful [service]. Here’s Dianne who lives in Des Moines or who lives in Nelson, BC, who just wants to help you go to Bali because she knows Bali really well. Sophie knows France or Provence really well and she can get you a ‘kick-ass’ price and she can get you an awesome B&B. They can put together a unique itinerary, and I don’t care how much technology you’ve provided, you can’t duplicate the knowledge of a travel agent or travel Aviator.”
New generation agent
Again an obvious question: Is this the new generation of travel agents?
“Absolutely. They’re the next generation armed with the technology platform that gives them information, data and customers – that’s hard to do on your own. You get the content. You get the technology platform that’s also creating unique itineraries; that’s helping you with recommendations; that’s providing weather for your client; that’s providing you with restaurant recommendations; and you’re able to take advantage of that and you get customers. I think it’s groundbreaking,” he said.
For FlyEx, it’s still early days, and Gershon Meron agrees that right now, it’s all about potential and possibilities. However, he also points out that although numbers are being kept confidential for the moment, things are going well.
“We’re trying to take this slow. We don’t want to blow the doors off everything before the infrastructure is ready. It’s nice steady growth,” he told CTP.
As for the take-away, Gershon Meron observed: “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – this is potentially disruptive. What’s more it brings a lot of excitement to the industry. It’s a new way to book travel. It’s a new way to sell travel on all levels. I think it’s a very exciting space. There are other peer-to-peer travel booking [sites], but none on the side that we’re on.”
For more on FlyEx, go to http://www.flyex.com or to download the
App, go to https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flyex-travelers/id1181108711 .