“We are obsessed with creating new solutions”: Inigo Valenzuela, Smartvel

BHN speaks to Inigo Valenzuela, CEO of Smartvel, about his B2B2C travel technology solution, machine learning and what the future holds for experiential travel.

  • Who are Smartvel and what were your motivations for setting up the company?

So I am the CEO and founder of Smartvel, which I launched back in 2013. Smartvel is a B2B2C solution for destinations, cities and travel companies. We are a kind of a trip planning company and I founded this company because I had been working for many years in the business travel area and I thought that the TMCs, end suppliers, airlines, hotels etc were not giving the right information about destinations.

I thought there was a need for a solution because we were sending millions of passengers worldwide and we didn’t tell them anything. We only told them if anything bad was happening, like strikes, and we weren’t informing them of the good things about the destinations. I thought it was not only in the TMC business but also in leisure and in hotels, OTAs etc. Therefore, I thought there was a need to create a solution for inspiring more people, selling more auxiliaries, adding more value, engaging more with customers and getting more engagement in return etc. That is why we created Smartvel.

  • You provide live destinations guides for hotels – how does it use AI and machine learning to carry out such tasks?

We provide a solution which includes three kinds of big groups of information.

One is the up-to-date content of what is going on everywhere. This is the most complex content to get because we are promising more than one million events in this moment. To do this manually is impossible as that content changes every day so you have to have a technology that generates and reviews that content automatically. We are a big AI company because the process of training and structuring data is done using AI, machine learning etc. It is adding more value to the rota that we get from thousands of different websites, API, open data etc. We have invested around 100,000 hours of developing these. It is quite complicated. This is one part of information that we provide in up-to-date content.

Another aspect of information that we provide will be the standard classical information about events, restaurants etc.

Last but not least, we provide a layer of information that customers, corporations or cities want us to provide. For example, Singapore Airlines is integrated with third party players like Booking.com or others and we provide that integration within our system.

  • Smartvel recently received over one million dollars in funding from companies including Singapore Airlines, Air Europa, Buenos Aires Ciudad. What will the investment go towards and what is the significance of working with these sorts of brands?

The investment is going to be focused on international business development and upgrading our solutions to the other needs that we are funding at the moment. We are a solution, not a consulting company that develops and customises a solution 100 per cent.

We have a solution but it is the same solution. It has to grow to other areas and that is what we are doing. To be able to generate a lot of cultural actions, we have to improve many things. However, we have to grow, we have to integrate more auxiliaries, we have to be more focused on giving you what you want and understanding your behaviour for example if you’ve got CRM that has got tags and the data of our users.

I would say 60 – 70 per cent of the investment will be dedicated to international growth, mainly Asia and the US, and the other bit would be dedicated to the improvement of our solution. All of the money will go towards investing.

  • What do you envisage for the direction of the company in the coming years and how will you be able to take on the competition?

I think that our main differentiator is our technology. There are many players that provide good planning solutions but most of them have been born for the B2C area and there are not many B2B solutions. They do not integrate their content in their apps because it is very complex to do it. You have to invest a lot of money in that case.

Last but not least, there is no sort of end or an ultimate solution for a corporation. We have been born thinking about the corporation from the very beginning and thinking about its needs. I think that we are very linked to our solution for any airline, hotel chains, destinations or other companies that want to take advantage of the content, to gain visibility, add more value, have more presence in the customer journey, inspire more travel etc.

In fact, what we’re doing is something that the big players in the space like Airbnb or Booking.com are really doing so we have tools that our customers can use to liberate the level of competition.

  • Are there any specific challenges you are currently facing in the travel tech industry?

There are many, many challenges that are not necessarily unique to us. In a company, you have to always be on the edge of improving your solutions. If you do not do it, you are dead because sooner or later, someone is going to do the same. We are obsessed with creating and investing in new features that the customer really needs. We are obsessed with creating different solutions for our customers, adding more aesthetic content to our solutions and adding more value.

We don’t see a huge disruptive player in the industry against us because the big, big ones are very focused on the B2C side like Google for example. I don’t know if one day they will come to the B2B area but at this moment it doesn’t seem to be so.

  • Do you believe there are any particular trends that are emerging in the experiential travel space?

Yes of course. There is a boom in experiential travel and we are trying to take advantage of that. There is an increasing usage of specific content made to measure for the customer’s needs. The customer wants to have their own bespoke solution for their state of mind.

People don’t want to travel like anybody else. People like to have their own solution and a trip that is made to measure for each of them. At the end of the day, that’s very difficult because an airline or a hotel has millions of travellers so they have to provide the technology and the knowledge of the customer. That is how you can then provide them with more value. They want to do what they really want to do and they like to be proposed with what they want to do.

This is an emerging trend and it is unstoppable.

For more information, visit the Smartvel website at www.smartvel.com.  

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