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Online Travel Booking Service RateHawk Expands to Greek Market

The team of Emerging Travel Group (RateHawk, Ostrovok, B2B.Ostrovok and Zenhotels) at the ITB Berlin 2019 tourism trade show.

The team of Emerging Travel Group (RateHawk, Ostrovok, B2B.Ostrovok and Zenhotels) at the ITB Berlin 2019 tourism trade show.

RateHawk, a global innovative online travel booking service for professionals, has launched operations in Greece, making its inventory of over one million properties in over 220 countries worldwide available to travel businesses in the Greek market.

“The Greek travel market is an important market, one that is very fast growing and of course we want to be a part of it,” according to Felix Shpilman, CEO of Emerging Travel Group.

Felix Shpilman, CEO of Emerging Travel Group.

Felix Shpilman, CEO of Emerging Travel Group.

RateHawk, which saw its turnover grow 300 percent in 2018, is owned by Emerging Travel Group, an online travel group that operates four brands and today employs more than 700 people across Europe, the CIS, Middle East, and South Africa.

Combining innovative technologies and extensive professional experience, RateHawk aims to provide travel players with the most comprehensive hotel booking backend technology.

RateHawk’s mission is to offer users the best prices for any type of accommodation in any geography. “We do this by scanning retail and wholesale players for the best rates and connecting them to our platform,” Felix said, adding that he believes the product will work very well for Greek travel professionals.

GTP Headlines met with Felix on the sidelines of the ITB Berlin 2019 exhibition in Germany and got an update on the plans of Emerging Travel Group for Greece.

GTP: Felix, can you introduce Emerging Travel and its brand RateHawk to our readers?

Felix Shpilman: RateHawk launched in 2016 and is an innovative B2B hotel booking engine. It is a brand of Emerging Travel, an online travel group that began operations in 2010. We originally began as a B2C OTA in Russia by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. I was the first investor in the company and the original vision was to create an Expedia for the Russian customers traveling in Russia and abroad. However, during the last couple of years we brought the business from a traditional Russian OTA to a multi-brand and multi-product group, so we have B2C and B2B, Russian and international.

GTP: But Ratehawk is not the only brand of Emerging Travel.

No, actually it is one of four that we operate in 100+ source markets: Ostrovok and B2B.Ostrovok for the Russian market where we power offline travel for over 18,000 travel professionals and CIS; and Ratehawk for international B2B, for over 5,000 travel professionals all over, including Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. We also have Zenhotels, our international B2C brand that is live in 50 markets, mostly via performance marketing.

All of these brands combined, last year generated over $700 million worth of growth booking value. The group grew 50 percent year over year for the last 2 years and we are re-investing everything into growth and are growing from a Russian player to an international company. Actually at this moment our non-Russian revenues are already 35 percent of the total transaction value of the whole group.

So Russia is becoming a smaller and smaller piece. We want to grow our business some 70 percent internationally. Russia will forever stay our home market, where we learned the beginning of the travel industry, but we want to grow and become a bigger company.

GTP: What made RateHawk explore to enter the Greek travel market?

Felix Shpilman: The Greek travel market is an important market, one that is very fast growing and we believe there is a meaningful outbound component and think the product is aligned very nicely. For us, when the Greek market wants to travel we will have a very strong supply. Our supply stack works really well with where Greek customers want to go. We sort our supply from 80 of the worlds best hotel consolidators, DMC’s and wholesalers, as well as from a 28,000 direct contracts that we have. We believe that when we put all that in a vertical search box and kind of match the supply, hotels, room types, categories, cancellation options, we have something that works very well and we think it will work very well for the Greek market.

GTP: What will RateHawk’s Greek product be? What will Ratehawk’s sales representatives in Greece introduce to the country’s travel agencies?

Felix Shpilman: First let me mention that in addition to booking accommodation, RateHawk also provides group and individual hotel reservations, transfers, car hire, and other travel-related services.
Now, our sales representatives will introduce a very simple concept to Greek travel agencies. We are a huge online travel group and we have a combination of a very strong product DNA because we came from B2C where we had to build beautiful high converting products for the B2C world. We have translated that DNA into our B2B products. It is an easy-to-use product but also has powerful features on the back office that helps the agents do their work quickly. So you have a great, attractive product with great features and our very strong supply base with a great number of hotels and great pricing. And the agent or the travel professional, for leisure or for corporate, will get all that just in one window and one accounting relationship.
At this point I would like to add that RateHawk is represented in Greece by Stelios Bekyras, Giorgos Kakaroumpas and Alexia Liati.

GTP: Following your entrance into the Greek market, are there plans to expand to other countries in Europe?

Felix Shpilman: Ratehawk is already present in many European countries. We are actively expanding in all of the large markets, we have a lot of open positions and open roles for sales, for account management and for support in different countries. In Turkey for example we have a full team on the ground and in some Balkan markets we have sales and account management staff and we are looking to staff up more. In western Europe, we kicked off in Italy and the UK at the end of last year and we are now observing the progress. We also recently launched in France and we are looking to expand to Portugal as well.
So, to sum it up, RateHawk’s inventory of over one million properties in over 220 countries worldwide is available to travel businesses in France, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, UK, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Cyprus.

GTP: What is Ratehawk’s relation with the market of Cyprus?

Felix Shpilman: Cyprus is a very special region for us. We have legal and physical presence in Cyprus. Ratehawk is primarily being sold by the regional sales staff, but we also have some Ratehawk top management. Part of Ratehawk’s
management is already residing in Cyprus and part of the management is still in Moscow and will move. So,
for us Cyprus is like a home market, you could say that the country is our second home.

GTP: What is your competitive advantage for travel partners?

Felix Shpilman: RateHawk is product and product is everything. We continue to invest more and more into product to make sure that our distance from the competition is increased overtime.

GTP: Who are your competitors?

Felix Shpilman: Well, there are different types of competitors. Our biggest competitor is when a travel agent picks up the phone and calls the hotel to make the booking. We want to eradicate that behavior completely. We have some
traditional B2B players like GoGlobal, MetGlobal and MTS, but we think that if we continue to push the gas of product, we will be unreachable. We have a very strong supply, over 80 suppliers plugged in, integrated and matched up on the platform, who can provide us with a big sustainable competitive advantage that allows us to move ahead. And we have more suppliers that we want to plug in. We are looking to add more apartments and more alternative accommodation inventory later in the year. We are also adding various hotel chains that we previously used to buy through third party partners.

GTP: What would your message to your potential Greek travel partners be?

Felix Shpilman: My message is we are all very excited to enter the Greek market and to work with all travel agents to help grow their business, service their customers and to help them service their customers to our best ability. We are very hopeful that they will try working with us. We have account managers on staff who will help them come on board and teach them how to use the product. We hope that over time they will start trusting us with customers and we will do our best for their business.

* Felix Shpilman joined Emerging Travel as VP of Strategy at Ostrovok.ru in April 2013, was promoted to the COO role in 2014 and during his tenure at COO oversaw all the commercial, operational and financial business functions. In 2017 he replaced Serge Faguet as CEO of Emerging Travel Group. Felix attended University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business where he studied business strategy and received a dual degree in Finance and Strategy.

About the Author
Nikos is Greek-American born in New York, USA, and has lived in Greece for over 30 years. He is the managing editor of Greece's leading monthly travel and tourism guide, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) since June 2008 and of news site GTP Headlines since its launch in September 2012. Nikos has also served as international press officer for the City of Athens and for the mayor. He has a degree in Mass Media and Communications, specializing in Journalism. Nikos is a native English speaker and speaks Greek fluently.

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