Matthew Waugh Director of Sales and Business Development

Tech Focus Thu 29th September, 2022

6 things I learnt about what technology can do for your business

Luxury Escapes is a high end travel retailer founded by entrepreneurs and old school friends Adam Schwab and Jeremy Same. Throughout the Covid pandemic they bucked the trend in the travel industry by deciding not to scale down to protect their business, but to use the time to undergo a complete technological transformation. They are now one of the most innovative travel technology users in the industry, and have taken the business from a last-minute deals booking model to a global ecommerce travel experience brand that is leading the market in its capabilities. 

I asked Adam how he’d approached this massive shift from small travel retailer to global technology trailblazer, and what it has meant for his business. It was an eye-opener! Here’s what I learnt about tech, and how it can deliver incisive customer insight that can transform mindsets and culture, scale teams, and grow revenue.

1.Technology shifts mindsets

There has been very little technological change in the travel industry over the last 2 decades. Luxury Escapes had evolved to be a deals-driven travel business with incredible short-term offers, with a basic, self-built ecommerce platform. The focus on technology had been minimal, using it primarily to back-fix complications arising on the road to delivering the customer proposition. As founders, none of the team had technology backgrounds, but they essentially found themselves in the role of product manager. This meant the tech was built up piecemeal around strong business goals, without the structure to support where the business eventually wanted to go. 

What they found when they combined their incredibly strong negotiating skills with a fully structured technical team was that their entire culture shifted to focus on what might be possible, rather than what had always been done. It’s this transformation that has enabled them to transform the business into a fully curated travel experience company that turns over almost a billion dollars annually and has 400 team members across four continents. 

Technology now drives the verticals of their products and defines what they can do with dynamic pricing. Technology is now the differentiator rather than a cost that came with the process of supporting business transactions.

2.Product needs tech; tech needs product

“It’s having people who can think of what the customer wants before they even know that they want it.”

Adam believes that a great founder can only stay great if they remain close to their product: 

“A great founder stays in product roles forever; Steve Jobs, Evan Spiegel, Mark Zuckerberg – all of these founders are still product owners, despite the size of their businesses… The holy grail is to establish entrepreneurial product teams who take what the founder does and improve it with their own commercial drivers. It’s having people who can think of what the customer wants before they even know that they want it.”

Technology allows him to do this at scale, highlighting more insights to analyse and more opportunities to enhance the customer journey. Product feature teams are responsible for making improvements based on user testing data; this is where platforms that utilise event-driven architecture can shine. 

What he learnt is that creating head of product and design roles is essential if you want to use technology to leverage the opportunities in your business. A product manager is the critical translation point between the commercial and technical sides of the business. With the pivot to being more technology-driven they’ve had to build an incredibly complex curated travel platform that leverages supply and demand factors to provide dynamic access to the best experiences, at the best prices in the world for their customers. 

3.Great technology means a happier customer

While most companies focus on single domains within the travel market, e.g. hotels or cruises, hospitality or flights, Luxury Escapes aims to connect the whole range of travel experiences in one place. The dream was to do everything an old-fashioned high street travel agent would do, but online or via an app, with customers able to book and manage every aspect of their holiday through a single app on their mobile phones. 

There are so many points in a travel experience where technology can enhance the journey, but currently doesn’t. Luxury Escapes aims to change that. For example, what do you want when your economy flight ticket is delayed and you’re already at the airport? One-off access to the first-class lounge seems like an enjoyable addition to your itinerary – a swipe of a QR code in the app can make that happen. Rather than queuing to check into your hotel, how would it be to head straight to your room, scan your phone at the door, and get ready to enjoy the room-service dinner you ordered in the cab on the way there? Or when your flight home is delayed, wouldn’t a discounted massage be welcome before you head to the airport? 

The tech suite the team has built can achieve all that for their customers, and more. Instead of selling you a hotel room, Luxury Escapes is with you throughout your entire trip. Adam wants to target every pain point – and fulfil every opportunity for added joy – in a customer’s travel experience. And the ideas keep on coming, all facilitated by an exceptional technology package. 

4.No tech, no scale

During the journey from startup to scale-up, and eventually to a mature business, engineering teams have to completely transform the way they work, to persistently retain domain expertise and evolve their technology. Building and delivering is not the end of a product life cycle; instead, teams grouped by product feature work on specific functionality ‘forever’, to support the evolving long-term vision and goals of the business. 

From an offshore startup model, Luxury Escapes has quadrupled their tech team to pivot from being a great deals-driven travel company three years ago, to a goal within the next two years of being the leading travel technology customer experience business in the world. This kind of transformation inevitably brings issues of scale, but what we’ve found at Equal Experts is that such issues can always be solved with a phenomenal technology setup. 

5.In a bear market you should build

This transformation has taken place against the backdrop of Covid disruption. Originally, Luxury Escapes could offer limited numbers of offers on specific deals. They wanted to broaden their scope to support more locations whilst still delivering value customers wouldn’t find elsewhere. 

Instead of making the business smaller in response to Covid, Luxury Escapes was the only travel business to grow their team, by concentrating on developing this new model. They’re now able to capitalise on this innovation; they effectively became a thriving technology-based business during a time when most travel organisations didn’t survive. 

6.Great tech makes great teams

Adam says that working on such groundbreaking technology has had the additional benefit of helping to create a highly motivated team. The product is innovative and offers repeated opportunities for personal development in the tech space. Adam has deliberately chosen entrepreneurial people for his tech teams, who constantly push the envelope to build the technology that enables more for the customer. He encourages informed experimentation; mistakes are seen as a way to break through business limitations, and to learn:

“I’d rather my people make ten mistakes than try nothing at all. There are asymmetric returns in business, get something wrong it’s 1x, get it right and its 100x” 

What’s next?

Adam now wants to leverage technology to create a customer loyalty programme that delivers real value for customers and grows the customer base and frequency through an international platform.

The newest part of the business’s technological transformation comes in the form of brand new trip planning software. Instead of scrolling through lists of destinations, hotels and flights separately, then trying to match those together with restaurant and attraction bookings, a Luxury Escapes customer can piece together their entire trip using drag and drop options within the app. They can plan an incredible personalised trip, then book that trip through an app which offers the best price globally. Now that’s something to get very excited about!

You can find out more about this incredible travel technology transformation, and hear more about Adam and the team’s process at Luxury Escapes in the following Expert Talk: