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Interview – Radu Ciubotaru, wbe.travel: ‘Professionals Must Have a Strategy for 2021’

People will travel far more in 2021 than in 2020 and the question professionals should be asking themselves is ‘how am I targeting the new 2021 customer?’, Radu Ciubotaru, Director of Business Development of wbe.travel, says.

Speaking to GTP Headlines during a time when uncertainty is dominating the travel industry and the main topic worldwide is when a Covid-19 vaccine will roll out, wbe.travel’s Director of Business Development highlights that now is the time for travel companies to take action if they want to receive a portion of the bookings that were lost this year due to the pandemic.

“Adopting a strategy of ‘wait and see’ cannot be on anyone’s table in 2021,” Radu says.

Romania-based wbe.travel is an up-to-date company that provides complete, reliable software solutions for travel businesses all over the world, based on the strong technological expertise of its team of IT specialists.

Radu is a multi cultural negotiator who has successfully leveraged consultative sales for 12 years in the travel tech space. Having onboarded 100+ brands across 5 continents he has gathered a deep understanding of the mindsets that govern various geographical regions. Radu’s conviction of genuinely helping clients consistently increase revenues has allowed him to nurture personal relationships with a large network of executives that needed a professional and IT savvy tech partner.

In this interview, Radu shares the full story behind wbe.travel, which is now powering travel brands in over 30 countries with offices in Bucharest and Riyadh; gives his thoughts on how travel companies and software houses are dealing with Covid-19 around the world; and also shares his company’s vision and the future of travel tech platforms on the “pay as you grow” model.

  • GTP: Radu, please share some career highlights with our readers.

Radu Ciubotaru: I am proud to say that I do what I love. I work in technology and more specifically in software sales and I have been doing it for 14 years. I have concretely focused on the Cloud and SaaS regions of technology, but I am also a learner in regards to Big Data and leveraging data for strategic decisions. In my previous roles I have led the business development efforts of an 100 percent positive rating company on Upwork.com that was tasked with bidding on software projects for US, UK and Canadian brands. In my current role I manage the business development team, handle strategic client accounts, establish strategic partner sales funnels as well as handle reporting and business analysis on how to better our brand and market reach.

  • GTP: Can you introduce wbe.travel to us and tell us what makes it a unique company?

Radu Ciubotaru: wbe.travel started in 2008 when the financial crisis took a heavy toll on our mother company (DirectVision) and our visionary management decided it was time to pivot from creating other people’s software into building our own brand. This proved to be a winning strategy as wbe.travel is now our sole source of income. First and foremost we are innovators in travel technology and we offer unmatched flexibility in adding features, suppliers and unique designs. Case and point: our Greek clientele demands uniqueness without hiring their own internal IT department and we deliver on our promise every time we are asked.

  • GTP: Just how difficult is business development in Covid-19 times?

Radu Ciubotaru: We changed our business plan and strategy from a 12-month perspective to a monthly perspective. We offered incentives for resellers to present our trialed and tested software to their network. We reduced our server costs with a few short clicks to account for the reduced traffic. This allowed us to heavily discount our selling rates to the point where we were competing with Asian companies price wise but were offering a high quality software similar to competitors from Western Europe. All of this led to us signing close to 40 percent more clients in 2020 than our best year of 2019. The average value per contract was smaller by about a quarter, but we recovered with zero travel spending and larger client numbers.

  • GTP: This autumn, wbe.travel launched a “pay as you grow” model to support travel companies during the ongoing crisis to maintain, sustain or start their online travel business. Can you give our readers some details on this model?

Radu Ciubotaru: ‘Pay as you Grow’ means that you as a Greek travel brand decide to focus on your bottom line and entrust your tech needs to the professionals. You pay zero installation fees and have a digestible monthly rate that covers all the IT processes from hosting, support and maintenance or selling and buying via XML with global partners. If sales are up in a month you pay more to support the growth. If sales are down in a certain period, you just pay a small base fee. No need for large commitments and you benefit from using a Microsoft Azure shared infrastructure with tens of other travel brands from Europe, North America and Asia.

  • GTP: How are Greek companies dealing with the crisis?

Radu Ciubotaru: After speaking with quite a few Greek companies at virtual events such as PhocusWright or WTM London, I have seen an overall lethargy and willingness to postpone even crucial acquisitions for the time being. The most common approach can be described as waiting around to see what will come although 90%+ of the business has dwindled down because of the crisis. Of course, I have seen similar responses from clients across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, so this is a rather widespread response of an industry that simply cannot cope with widespread loss of revenue.

  • GTP: What have you seen other countries doing successfully to increase bookings?

Radu Ciubotaru: I have seen 3 avenues in which companies are getting results from. First of all, where governments stepped in and adopted a relaxed tourism strategy (like in Turkey and the UAE), this attracted a large portion of our clients’ business in the past two quarters. Second, we have seen a faster improvement (around 30 to 35 percent sales vs 2019) of hotel bookings done via major GDS systems where we are distributing our clients’ own accommodation rates. And third, most of the newer clients are betting on domestic travel and are now putting a more serious thought in alternative accommodation such as apartments and villas. While the first method depends solely on the Greek government, getting distributed in major GDS systems with our own portfolio of properties (non chain like) should be on everyone’s radar, as well as trying to launch a niched B2C booking website for the “stay at home” population who has now transitioned to always being online and doing everything from their mobiles.

  • GTP: Concretely how did you help Greek clients overcome the current period?

Radu Ciubotaru: We often give the example that if an atomic bomb were to go off in any region of the world, the impact on the travel industry would have been far smaller and more localized than what we and our clients have been going through. With this in mind, we stepped in and we offered our clients large double-digit discounts and various waivers to help them out with their IT costs. Besides this, our flexible server infrastructure and partnership with Microsoft Azure allowed us to downsize the servers and the monthly fees without clients feeling any impact whatsoever. Case and point: All of our clients’ platforms were live and working when major IT houses and bed banks were struggling to show 10 percent of the inventory they had before the pandemic. I think this two-pronged approach allowed our clients to feel that they are in good hands IT wise and that in all of this situation, at least the IT remains reliable. We made it a point to make clients not feel the pandemic from an IT perspective and we are happy to say we succeed with our goal.

  • GTP: While predictable, what are some thoughts for Greek travel agents for 2021?

Radu Ciubotaru: Here I would try to swerve away from general advice and try to bring something more concrete to the table. The situation has changed and with it, so has everyone’s business. Everybody is constantly online on mobile and the 90%+ fall of Q2 of 2020 would most probably never reach that low ever again. Right now, while we are doing this interview, the UK has accepted the first vaccine trials thus pioneering the new wave of optimism for a lot of EU countries.

In all fairness, widespread vaccine adoption is one to three years away, but something will definitely happen: People will travel far more in 2021 than in 2020 and in 2022 more than in 2021. There is no doubt about this, no matter on what side you are on in the vaccine debates. The only real question that Greeks have to ask themselves is “How am I targeting the new 2021 customer?” Many questions arise from this: How up to date is your brand, your site, your engine? Do you have any online bookable offers? Do you offer free cancellation or included insurance to your travelers? Do you provide alternative accommodation where people can feel safe? Can people easily find you online? How often are you posting on social media in a week? How much are you spending on advertising?
I would like professionals to understand that the new travel space will give them each a smaller “piece” of the tourism pie and that they need to attract attention and get noticed if they want to receive even a part of those future reduced bookings. Lack of action in this period can only lead to one outcome and I would leave the readers to fill it in with whatever scenario they will.

  • GTP: In your opinion, what do you think will be the long-term effect of Covid-19 on the travel industry?

Radu Ciubotaru: On a longer 10- to 15-year time scale, absolutely nothing. People tend to forget the most of dramatic of experiences so I am 100 percent sure that our beloved industry will recover fully and thrive even after this situation passes. The real question for me and one which I absolutely love to ask our leads is this: What is your brand doing NOW to ensure that you are going to be here 10 or 15 years down the line? For us, our brand started in the worst financial crisis of 2008 and we are thriving during the worst health crisis of the modern world and I can promise you we will be here in 2030 when Covid will be a thing of the past. And we are bringing with us a pool of clients that entrust us to power the brands and reduce their costs for years to come.

  • GTP: What is at the top of wbe.travel’s agenda – post-Covid-19 – for next year?

Radu Ciubotaru: We participated in all the travel fairs of 2020, we read the news, we spoke to leads and the direction is clear. 2021 cannot be worst than 2020 so we are preparing for the current and growing influx of requests for launching niched B2C sites for selling packages of accommodation focused services + various components added to them like transportation, activities or flights.

We recommend to all brands to still invest a portion of their earnings in Marketing and never forget that the smaller number of consumers which are going to exist in 2021 will still need to find out about their brand and know that they are alive and kicking. Adopting a strategy of “wait and see” cannot be on anyone’s table in 2021.

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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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