Author: Yolanda Wang, Translator: Athena Chen, Editor: Yunchieh Tsou
With the growth of budget travel, low-cost airline carriers have contributed to 30 percent of global markets in 2015, jetting more than 1 billion passengers through the sky. This upward trend shows no sign of stopping in 2016. In a move to disrupt the booming travel website market, Taiwan startup Outland Inc launched the world’s largest low-cost flight search website HelloWings.
After a massive website upgrade this November, HelloWings now provides flight options from 107 countries globally, featuring more than a hundred airlines, and 30 million real-time flight prices online.
Apart from this, a new offering of traditional airline flight prices, and the launch of HybridConnect– the world’s first combination flight comparison service, which looks to provide you with the lowest price options of different airlines combined, looks to target the ever-growing community of backpacking travellers.
Two years since its launch, HelloWings has since risen through the startup ranks, first as the winner of TechCrunch Taipei in 2015 and finalist in the 2016 Echelon Asia Summit. They have also been the only Taiwan startup to enter the top 4 of this year’s BDash Fukuoka and was chosen for this year’s Web Summit Top 200 Startups. Back in May of this year, a $10 million NTD seed round was closed with Taiwan’s Pinehurst Advisors– an early stage angel and seed investment fund (whose portfolio includes cacafly, pal+, GoodLife, WritePath, Viscovery) as lead investors, and both Singapore Venture Capital Firm KKfund and COENT Venture Partners on board as well.
Price Comparisons Visualized: Easy to Identify Dates for Lowest Prices
While most flight search sites work by pulling data from airline and travel agency sources once the search is queried by the user, HelloWings secret weapon is the more than 100 web crawlers that the team has written to retrieve data from low-cost carrier websites. “We differ from our competitors in that we directly update the annual daily flight prices of the low-cost carriers worldwide, and then create a detailed graph of yearlong flight price trends in real-time on our site,” HelloWings Co-founder Mark Hsu explains, “With the graphs, you can easily spot the days with the lowest prices and plan your trip accordingly. We use our own machine-learning algorithms, which emphasizes the refreshing of popular dates and airlines to ensure pricing is up to date and accurate.”
Apart from this, the most anticipated, however, is HelloWings’ flagship feature– the new HybridConnect search function.
Mark Hsu tells TechOrange, “In general, customers usually choose low-cost carriers if the total flight time is less than 6 hours, and choose traditional airlines for longhaul flights. What our HybridConnect does is that it calculates the top ten flight combinations with the lowest price out of the 100 thousand possible airline combos. From our calculations, we recently found out that on a trip from Taiwan to Nice, France, you can save up to 30 – 40% on plane tickets, with a combined flight of low-cost and traditional airlines. This also helps expand the journey of the HelloWings customer from just short haul flights to longer distance backpacking trips.”
The combination flight search results of HybridConnect not only recommends the lowest price combos but also has the option of shortest flight times for customers to choose from.
Automated Marketing Bot Brings On the Hype
The idea for HelloWings was born out of a mutual love of travelling among the four co-founders. When it came to planning a 20-day graduation trip amongst them, they realized the numerous difficulties they came across when finding flights online was an overlooked opportunity, and decided to start a company together shortly after.
With most of the team coming from a computer science background, they have applied their programming skills to their marketing mix as well. “In order to get a higher ranking on Google search, both the name of the site and the web address need to appear at a high frequency on other websites, for Google’s search engine to deem it worth of “information value”. What we have done is written our own marketing program, that searches for terms related to low-cost carries in social media groups, and an automated messaging robot will paste an intro and link to HelloWings, introducing it to these backpacker communities to getting more exposure, ” said Mark Hsu.
Currently, more than 30 percent of HelloWings user base comes from Southeast Asian countries. Taiwan’s neighbouring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, have a large number of travellers who frequents low-cost carriers when travelling to Taiwan. HelloWings have also made an effort to post Taiwan travel tips on Southeast Asian travel forums and online communities.
Since closing their seed round, they have opened offices in Singapore, with plans to base their marketing and business development teams here, as part of their strategy to further grow their presence in the Southeast Asia market, whereas the Taipei office will stay focused on technological product development.
Building Up a Profitable Business Model Through Travel Agency Services
Though steadily gaining traction, the next big step for HelloWings proves to be finding a sustainable and profitable business model.
“We have founded a travel agency subsidiary in October this year, and in the next six months, we plan to focus on building the customer experience around the actual booking of flights, after comparing prices. We hope to achieve a fully automated and speedy Hybrid Connect flight booking service, expanding it to beyond to being just a useful tool, but becoming an integral part of a good flight booking experience, that would also become profitable for us,” Mark Hsu said,
“When we first started out, it was very hard to gain access to flight tickets from traditional airlines, as they did not think we were up to scale compared to other agencies, and did not want to work with us. Luckily, we had an agency that we were friendly with help us pull some strings, and finally were we able to get inside those ironclad doors to do business.”
Not going the route of traditional travel agencies which is intensive in human capital, HelloWings will rely on software programs to fully automate their services, keeping operating costs low. New Year’s resolution for them is to continue their momentum in gaining traction, along with rolling out their ticket booking services to effectively gain market share and move towards profitability.