“Superior content wins in the end.” Marc Hofmann, CEO of CheckMyBus.com, on success
WYSE Travel Confederation spoke with Marc Hofmann, Chief Executive Officer of CheckMyBus.com, a metasearch engine for national and international intercity bus service.
Based in Nuremberg, Germany, the company currently works in more than ten countries, allowing travellers to search and compare bus, rail and car share options. According to CheckMyBus, the USD 70 billion bus market still processes 90% of bookings offline.
CheckMyBus recently raised a seven-digit round of funding to further accelerate its international growth and global brand positioning.
How did CheckMyBus start?
When the German intercity bus market liberalised, the idea was born to provide a search engine that makes it easy for the user to find available trips from all operators and compare the prices. We also saw that the bus markets outside Germany were still very much offline and only a few services existed to compare trips online. It was clear pretty fast that we would focus not only on Germany, but go international at a very early stage.
Who is the typical CheckMyBus user?
This varies a lot depending on the different markets. In countries where buses compete against a good and fast rail network, the typical users are those looking for cheap travel and who will accept longer travelling hours. A big portion are younger people, such as students or young professionals who love to be mobile. There is also a big group of people above age 65. However, new bus services are fancy and comfortable and there are more and more smart users who find the best in price and time.
In markets where bus service is dominant you find all target groups. The longer the distances, the more you see the price-time differentiation as mentioned above.
Is the CheckMyBus app popular? What have you learned from developing the app?
We do offer apps, also for the Apple watch. Buses can be booked quite well with an app. In some countries we have almost 50% mobile visitors. However, searching via mobile the percentage of people who look for information and do not book directly is higher. Since bus tickets are rather cheap and the decision process is fairly spontaneous, the differences are not as significant as in other businesses.
CheckMyBus is a metasearch site. OTAs and metasearch sites are the subject of much debate in the accommodation sector with regard to rate parity, commissions, direct bookings, and their growing power to dictate pricing…have you faced similar issues with bus players? Do you have any opinion on or advice for accommodation operators and their ongoing debate?
In general I believe that OTAs and metasearch sites are good for a market. Transparency, access to information, and good presentation are making the life of users easier, reducing barriers and thus stimulating markets. It also helps small players without a brand, but a good offer to be successful.
In the bus market we support a shift from offline to online and thus push the growth of a market, bringing new customers because searching for the right bus becomes easy. Since all meta-searchers and OTAs measure by conversion the highest commission or the lowest price is not necessarily making the race. It is also the best offer and user experience during booking (if on meta-level) and while experiencing the offer. Travelling a lot, I experience many very unique and beautiful hotel or apartment concepts that may never have found a market without players like Booking.com or Airbnb.
Would you then say consumers benefit the most from OTAs and metasearch?
Sure, consumers benefit, but it also gives providers a platform who have an attractive offer, but not a major brand.
CheckMyBus works in more than 10 different countries across the globe. What has been essential to success in various markets?
In some markets we are just at the beginning, but from our experience we believe superior content wins in the end. Giving the broadest choice and presenting it in way that makes search and comparison as easy as possible – we are working hard on this every day.
What is an example of superior content?
More connections from more companies and more prices to compare, as well as information on the service provided by an operator.
What do you expect to see happen in bus markets that are still largely offline in terms of search and ticketing at the moment?
This varies a lot from market to market. Those markets that are offline will shift to online step by step. Growth drivers are the availability of information to the user by providers like CheckMyBus, as well as a smooth booking and payment process by either OTAs or the bus providers. We see differences of up to 5000% conversion through the whole sales funnel between different providers in a market. You can imagine how decisive this is for the success of a bus operator.
Do you think that young people opt for bus travel for more than simply budget reasons?
Absolutely. Times are changing. Individual transportation is becoming less attractive. Young people have other dreams than their own car. Sharing and co-ownership are becoming normal. Bus is an interesting offer for an individual mobility mix. They are cheap, becoming more comfortable, and smartly branded and managed. A really old economy is in full transformation and I’m happy to be part of this.
Marc Hofmann will be speaking at WYSTC 2016 during the session Online, but grounded: Developments in bus and rail travel on Wednesday, 21 September. He will also lead a WYSTC workshop, Intercity city buses: A major passenger transportation segment in transition.