‘Transformational’ tech to power Malvern Group growth
Travel tech firm Malvern Group expects its new technology platform to become the core of the company’s business for years to come.
Last week the company behind Super Break and Laterooms.com unveiled a strategic partnership with National Express which allows the UK’s largest coach operator to offer a range of hotels and experiences – including attractions, tours and theatre tickets – to customers.
‘Holidays by National Express’ uses Malvern Group’s proprietary platform to enable the dynamic bundling of multiple products in one basket, at better value to the consumer.
There were almost 22 million journeys made on National Express coaches last year while the operator serves 750 destinations daily.
“One in ten people in the UK got on one of our coaches last year,” Chris Hardy, managing director of National Express UK Coach, told BusinessCloud. “That gives us an unparalleled reach across the UK to move people to where they want to go at exceptional value.
“We already know that the people travelling on our network are leisure users – they’re travelling for holidays and short breaks. We were seeing a lot of people coming to the coach stations and going on Google and asking for National Express to provide this. We clearly already have a customer base which wants this and is asking us to provide it. Now we have the tool to do that.
“‘Holidays by National Express’ allows us to sell them all the fun at the end of that journey on one ticket – the coach trip, the attraction, the hotel – and all at a super price enabled by the Malvern technology.”
Malvern Group, which plans to launch with other strategic partners, has worked on the technology for two years and spent a year before that consulting the market to ensure it built exactly what customers wanted.
“The gap we were seeking to fill has been present in the trips and travel market for a while,” Malvern Group executive chairman Hugo Kimber (pictured, right, with Hardy) told BusinessCloud.
“You need travel and you need somewhere to stay, but what you’re doing in a destination when you get there is the thing that has always been least enabled in one place. The data shows us that people want to be informed about attractions: there is an ‘inspiration gap’.
“In the travel industry everyone has talked about dynamic packaging for years, but it’s really un-dynamic. Our platform provides full end-to-end, rather than focusing on the booking funnel, which most travel technology does.
“This truly delivers fully dynamic basket function, allowing the customer to understand whether they qualify for wholesale or retail rates and therefore providing much better value – whilst bundling up to five things in real time. Nobody else does that.
“We have around 75 people in our tech and product team in Manchester and this has been the bulk of what they have been doing for the last two years.”
Kimber is keen to stress that the platform – which is broken down into nightlife, restaurants, art and culture – includes free activities, giving it greater value than the simple sales tools already on the market.
“It’s a travel companion, not just a booking platform,” he said. “For example, there’s a particularly niche event in Manchester, axe-throwing. That’s a very small provider but people want to be able to get to that. We, at this point, don’t enable booking for them because it’s too small and cumbersome, but we’ll direct people to them. We’re making all of these things available.
“They don’t have to be bookable through us: we’re helping to provide the widest possible experience in-destination, which is very unusual because most travel businesses traditionally have only put things in the shop window they can actually sell.”
There are currently 500 bookable attractions in main centres on the platform, with many thousands of non-bookable attractions.
“Anywhere you go in the UK, you will find information. Not all of it is bookable because you’re talking about hundreds of minor locations. There isn’t anything bookable in my local market town!” joked Kimber.
Malvern Group commissioned a YouGov poll which found that concerns over unfavourable exchange rates and Brexit have inspired UK travellers to trust in the multi-element packaging market more than ever.
The poll of over 2,000 respondents also showed that the days of standard accommodation and flights package bundles appear to be on the decline, with consumers now coveting a broader choice of options and experiences under one booking facility.
“We were excited from the beginning and thought it was a great idea – but we remained patient and did a lot of consumer research before we ploughed ahead,” explained Kimber.
“National Express and one or two of our other existing partners could see exactly how this was going to work for them and that made it all the more exciting even before we’d finished the build. We could see that it had applications for so many different people in different ways.
“We didn’t just build this for ourselves because the application for this is obviously much wider and it was a much more interesting commercial proposition on a B2B basis.
“With National Express, for example, we have full nationwide coverage: it’s not something that just applies to London or Edinburgh. It opens up the whole country for people to travel anywhere they want to go and access the things they want to do.”
The low prices people pay to travel on National Express means they may have more disposable income when they reach their destination, according to Hardy.
“The average coach price in the UK is £11. The cheapest prices get down to £2 or £1,” he said. “You could spend £100 just getting down on the train.
“You get the leather seat, the good journey time, the reliable driver, the safety features… and now the super things to do and the nice place to stay.
“We have enormous brand recognition in the UK, even among people who don’t use our coaches who have driven past hundreds of them on the motorways.
“We are a trusted brand to sell to people because you’ve already got that customer relationship.”
While Kimber could not reveal the other companies which will deploy the new tech on to their platforms, he did speak out the verticals they operate in.
“Our other partners span different verticals from transportation through travel into hotels and airlines. Lots of different people who are in the pipeline at the moment and they all have varying needs,” he said.
“We’re going way beyond a slight pivot: this is transformational for us. I expect this to become the majority of our business. By the end of FY21, I would expect that the volumes would exceed the total bookable transaction value of the existing businesses.”
The platform is primarily designed for the UK in the first instance but there are plans to take the product global.
“We would expect within two years that we will have gone outside the UK. The important thing was to fully expand the platform to the best of its potential here first,” he said.
“From a consumer point of view, there is no end to the amount of services and support we can put in.”