The Future Of Travel: “I believe that ‘augmented reality’ is going to be integral to any travel company offering.” with Michal Hubschmann & Candice Georgiadis
I believe that “augmented reality”, the interactive experience of a real world environment, is going to be integral to any travel company offering so that people can experience a place before traveling there, and use this information to make better decisions.
As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michal Hubschmann, CEO of VDroom, a leading 360° content management system for property owners. She is a veteran of the travel industry, and sold her first start-up, Easytobook.com to Dutch based Travix (BCD holdings), one of the largest travel companies in the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entrepreneurial journey began while touring Europe in my twenties. When I ran out of money, I went to a hotel in England and told them, “I don’t have money, I will do any job you want, for a place to sleep.” That’s how it all began. While working the hotel front desk, I felt inspired by the dot-com boom, and bought the domain easytobook.com for $3. I saw the growth of the web as a huge opportunity to shift travel agency services online, and decided I wanted part of the action.
In 2011, we sold easytobook.com to BCD holdings, one of the largest travel companies in the world. At that time, we had 80 employees and a turnover of EUR 100 million.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Several years ago, I decided to compete in the “polar bear pitch”, a start-up competition with one small catch: I needed to deliver my pitch while immersed in a hole cut through the frozen Baltic Sea. I trained for the competition for weeks, taking ice baths and cold showers to acclimatize my body to new temperatures. By mentally preparing myself, I was able to keep my eyes on the prize, ignore the cold, and deliver a pitch as if I were standing in my own living room. And the preparation paid off — I won first prize in the competition, along with lots of media exposure for my company. I also met a mentor there who still advises us until today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s not a funny story, but rather something that taught me a great lesson. Around the time that we were selling easytobook.com, there was a company who seemed very interested to buy us. But we soon realized that instead of being interested in us as a company, they were actually fishing for information that they could use for themselves. What I learned from this is to be much smarter about the way I expose company information, to use confidential agreements and terms sheets with timelines. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My co-founder and I all come from the world of competitive sports. I was a European Long Jump Champion and my co-founder was a Judo Champion from South Africa. There are a lot of similarities between entrepreneurship and competitive sports — in terms of perseverance, discipline, focus, and projecting confidence. I believe that the traits we developed as athletes are the same ones that will ultimately lead our company to success.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
I believe in fostering company spirit. It’s important to be flexible, allowing people to work from home, for example, or have flexible schedules. Giving team members equity in the company is a great way to motivate them to do their best. Of course, as a former athlete, I also believe in the importance of physical activity to stay healthy and avoid burnout. My team likes extreme sports and enjoying physical activities together is a great way to bond and keep people energized.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I lived in Holland I had an mentor named Paul Gruijthuijsen. He’s a lawyer who advises companies on legal and commercial issues. He helped us find the right buyer and prepare easytobook.com for our sale. But he’s actually so much more than that. He is a people person who instinctively knows how to moderate between negotiating parties. I learned so much from him about how to deal with people. Travel is such a competitive marketplace, but at the end of the day, as in any field, it all comes down to your relationships with people. Paul was a master at fostering relationships and his “golden touch” was integral to our successful sale.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
VDroom brings innovation to the booking process, helping property owners better market themselves, and increasing customer confidence and conversion. Through the VDroom platform, property owners can create and distribute a 3D gallery of visual assets to market leading booking sites, with one click. VDroom uses machine learning to serve up and present the best images, in the best order, from the best angles to most effectively appeal to customers. Hotels using our service have enjoyed up to 50% more views than hotels using regular images.
While many travel companies offer the ability to create virtual tours, none of the other available solutions incorporate smart marketing analytics. We saw this as a missed opportunity, as websites incorporating 360 and virtual reality technology have much greater visibility in search engines, which favor 3D content.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
VDroom solves a critical pain for property owners by helping their property stand out in a competitive marketplace. While consumer booking habits are primarily influenced by images, the largest booking companies and OTAs (online travel agents) have not updated the way they present their imagery. VDroom solves this problem, at the same time increasing consumer confidence in their accommodations. According to one client: “VDroom offers a new world for tourism in the sense that today we do not have to physically be in a place in order to see and feel it. VDroom lets you experience the place before you arrive, and gives you the confidence and comfort of knowing this is the room you want to be in.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
The rise of Airbnb has shaken up the traditional hotel market. As the apartment sharing market continues to grow, hotels are getting into apartment-sharing game themselves. VRroom technology alleviates the biggest problem with apartment rentals — whether the photos accurately represent the apartment. Through the use of sophisticated techniques like 360 imagery, guests can know exactly how the apartment looks, from every angle, as if they were actually there. As guests and properties discover the benefits of this technology, I believe it will become the accepted standard for property marketing and booking.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
Consumers love to know exactly what they are booking, and to have all relevant information in one place, at the click of a button. They also want to feel like they are getting a great deal.
- The first and foremost trend I see is that companies will be changing the way they present their properties, both in terms of presenting better images and in smarter ways. In other words, images will become more “intelligent”, will be shown to the right people, in the right order, and personalized, based on data and business intelligence.
- I believe that “augmented reality”, the interactive experience of a real world environment, is going to be integral to any travel company offering so that people can experience a place before traveling there, and use this information to make better decisions.
- I think we will see more travel services that are essentially one stop shops, allowing people to book everything through the same site, and have one bill for everything. It makes the experience seamless and convenient for the travellers.
- Travelers like to connect with other travellers — people who have “been there before” — as well as to tap into local knowledge. In the next few years, there will be more products and services facilitating these connections and encouraging authentic experiences though connections with locals.
- I believe companies will change the way they present offers and deals to their clients. In the next few years I believe booking sites will embed interactive coupons into their offerings, which will be fun and game-like. In this way, they will engage people to stay on their site longer, as well as encourage people to take advantage of great deals.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
From the planning stages to the actual trip, travel should be an enjoyable experience. I believe that the process of finding my perfect vacation should be seamless, whether I’m going to a city in Europe or on a tropical vacation: This means I should easily find accommodations that suit my needs, as well as be able to book shows, taxis, train tickets, everything I need in one place. Privacy is also a big concern. On the one hand, I know I need to give a lot of personal data in order to create this seamless experience. However, I want to be assured that my personal information remains protected.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that doing good and giving back is very important. In all my companies, I dedicate at least 10% of my time towards public service. For example, while I built easytobook.com I was living in Holland and volunteered to help children who had cancer. We organized a special fun day for 200 kids, importing drums from Egypt and drummers from my native Israel. It was a wonderful way to bring joy to many children, as well as increase company spirit.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to bring transparency and trust back to the internet. While there is an overwhelming amount of information online, you don’t actually know who and what you can trust. This is especially a problem when it comes to travel and tourism when you’re trying to figure out where to stay and what to do in a new place. There are many fake reviews and marketing tricks being used which are not beneficial to travellers. For many people, taking a vacation is a rare luxury and it’s a shame when their holidays go awry. I want to change this by giving people new tools to make travel choices with confidence.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you for joining us!
The Future Of Travel: “I believe that ‘augmented reality’ is going to be integral to any travel… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.