“If you’re not ready to embrace automation, you will lose out”
About 3fullsteps: Founded in 2015, 3fullsteps is an exclusive B2B wholesale platform that provides travel agents, tour operators and every kind of company – including outside the tourism industry – with services like accommodation, transfers and activities. Its name stands for the three key elements of any trip, which 3fullsteps can take care of: where to stay, how to get around and what to do once you are at your destination.
About Savvas Kampouris: The General Manager of 3fullsteps, Savvas Kampouris possesses a decade of experience in the tourism industry. He has previously worked for Travel Exchange, one of the leading DMCs in his native Greece, and for the major German tour operator Alltours.
Arturo: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What inspired you to go into the travel industry and how did you wind up as the General Manager of 3fullsteps.com?
Savvas Kampouris: I was born to work in travel. I didn’t choose it; it chose me. It was love at first sight! I grew up and studied in Greece, where I did a degree in technology management and then an MBA in tourism management. 3fullsteps is the second company I’ve worked for: I was previously at Travel Exchange, one of the top DMCs in Greece, a family-run business with more than 150 employees.
After I finished my studies, I spent a year at one of the biggest tour operators in Germany, in the contract department. Next, I came back to Greece and rejoined Travel Exchange where, over the course of almost five years, I learnt about the core of the tourism industry, especially contracting, costing and sales. After that, I got the offer to become the GM of 3fullsteps.
After my second degree and the time in Germany, I said: ‘This is it! I want to do this.’ And I’m still happy doing it today.
What are the main pillars of 3fullsteps‘ business model and how do you differentiate from your competitors?
Our pillars are the four p’s: people, product, price and pioneering. By ‘people’, I mean that we don’t talk about employees; we say ‘colleagues’ and ‘friends’. We have no strict protocols, dress codes or working hours. The business is growing every year, our turnover is constantly increasing, as is the number of destinations we work with – from Cyprus to Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and sometimes Italy and Malta – but we always try to focus on our colleagues. We give them the best possible working environment and I always look forward to going into the office.
My life motto is to keep things simple. It’s the most difficult thing, but I try to apply it to myself and my colleagues. I tell them, ‘Guys, just do what you want, what makes you happy. If you don’t feel good, come back tomorrow.’ We also let a lot of people work from home.
The second thing is the product we offer our clients – other businesses. What represents a good product? With accommodation, that means variety: we have a large range of products, from small houses to villas, through 5 or 6-star all-inclusive hotels. For transfers, a good product means being on time and having nice buses or cars. They are easy, simple things, but they count for end-customers. For us, the final customer is the business, but for the business, it’s their clients. So, if the clients have a problem, we have a problem.
Where price is concerned, the market is very price-sensitive. With the financial crisis, the first thing that everyone considered cutting was holidays. So, we try to give our clients the best possible rate. But I don’t mean the cheapest one; I’m talking about the best value for money. I want to offer a nice hotel at a nice price, but I don’t want to give a lower rate if it means reducing the quality of the accommodation. The same goes for transfers and activities. My two main criteria are that every service should be affordable and high-quality.
Lastly, we seek to be pioneers in our technology and I think we are in our regions. I believe our technology is among the best in our sector. Technology platforms are hugely important. What we’ve done is fully digitise our product and provide all our services to the biggest channels all over the world through XML.
I’ve spoken with a lot of big clients, including some of your previous interviewees, and they’ve said that we are the fastest company that they work with in terms of giving them the API and doing all the development.
What are the key markets that 3fullsteps is focusing on today? And what is your next expansion plan?
We don’t have key markets. We love them all! With a bed bank like us, we have every destination, every region, so we deal with all markets and all potential clients. But if I had to pick out some of our major markets, I’d say Europe, the United States and China. We launched in the Chinese market this year with a very big client, Ctrip, via XML connection.
However, the point is that, if we’re speaking about [visits to] Cyprus, Greece or Croatia, for example, we have to consider every possible destination. If we’re talking about people who want to stay for more than seven days, the market includes [clients from] Germany, England, France, Poland and so on. With a small island like Ibiza, Santorini or Mykonos, the market is more for three or four days, and it comes more from the United States or China. So, I can’t say that we have to focus on one destination; we have to see what the needs and market are for every destination.
For me, the next step is to establish ourselves as one of the most reliable B2B bed wholesalers in the industry in the regions that we work in and gradually step things up in different places. For example, we currently have some things going on in Turkey and Romania, and now I think we’ve got to turn this ‘some’ into ‘a lot’.
Also, for me, to expand means to improve your direct product, your direct portfolio. A big project that we started two years ago – and which we’re still working on – has been a dream of mine since my first day at 3fullsteps: to create the ultimate portfolio of activities in the regions we work in.
Activities are the next trend and next challenge in our sector. Everybody has hotels and it’s a well-developed segment in B2B, with a number of wholesale platforms, so there’s a lot of know-how. It’s a similar story for transfers. But, if you ask me, the activity sector needs to be rebranded. From my experience at Travel Exchange, I know that many suppliers only offer basic, classic activities, and the point is that we can deliver something extra and add value to their portfolio. I would like to create the ultimate guide and portfolio, containing all the relevant information, prices and so on. To build something like that, you need the know-how of a DMC, a bed bank and the online B2B sector. I think we have all that.
I would like us to be an excursion bed bank, so to speak, or rather an ‘activity bank’, and give clients something they can’t find anywhere else. By 2019, I think we’ll cover 80% of all possible activities in our regions.
We are seeing an increasing push for automation within your sector. What is your view on this and in which key departments does this affect 3fullsteps?
I’m an advocate of automation in a lot of cases. Naturally, it affects 3fullsteps significantly across all departments.
For me, automation ties into what I was telling you about before: it keeps things simple. Of course, there is complex technology and a huge algorithm behind automation, and a lot of hours go into creating the software, but after that, it makes everything simpler. It enables you to reduce the number of mistakes the company makes and be faster.
With bookings, through XML technology, I receive the reservation by email and I don’t have to send anything. Whereas traditionally, if you had a reservation, you’d first get an email from an agency saying, ‘I need these rooms’, then you’d send an email to a hotelier and maybe have to wait two days for a response about whether or not they had the rooms. Then you’d send the answer back to the agent and they’d say, ‘OK Savvas, confirm’. The whole thing took five days.
We have to be fast and adjust to changing technology, because it has an impact on revenues. At present, 50% of the business is automated. I don’t know if it could be more; perhaps it could be as high as 80%. For me, if you’re not ready to accept this kind of automation, you will lose out. End of story.
What’s more, the data that we receive and export through automation, all the analytics, is unbelievable. It’s very useful – you can take a decision in five minutes thanks to it.
Speaking of changing technology, what do you think are the most relevant technology transformations taking place in your industry segment (e.g. dynamic packaging or online sales)? And how is your organisation facing them?
The first thing that springs to mind is artificial intelligence. This is something that everyone knows about and that a lot of companies right now are trying to incorporate, and I predict that AI will do big things in our business. For example, this kind of technology could define pricing according to the need, the place, the preferences, the period and the neighbourhood, although it may take five years or more to really see how to use it.
That aside, I’d say blockchain technology, which we’re already seeing in use in the financial industry and voting systems. I don’t know how big the impact will be on payment procedures in travel, but blockchains aren’t just about moving values – they’re also useful for handling and protecting data. And everyone knows that user profiles and security privacy have long been the talk of the town in the tourism industry.
Last but not least comes mobile technology. It’s already in the market, everybody has it, but I think it will grow enormously in the coming years. For me, mobile technology is the future in terms of the point of sale. Mobile apps and technology can give you the opportunity to sell or buy something on the spot. They can help you get the best price all over a destination and find the best things to do in the area.
In general (and this is a question we’re asking all of our interviewees), what do you see as the biggest challenge facing tourism and the travel industry today?
I’m very optimistic about the future of the tourism industry. Having said that, I believe the big challenge is how to distribute our products – which, if you ask me, are the best – around the world while maintaining their quality. I think that’s a concern for everyone linked with the tourism industry.
I saw an infographic the other day saying that Airbnb is now the biggest accommodation provider in the world, despite not owning a single property. The same goes for Booking and Expedia; they dominate the market, despite not owning so much as one hotel room.
Similarly, at its peak, Bitcoin has been one of the world’s biggest banks, even though there is no ‘Bitcoin bank’ anywhere in the world. Uber is one of the biggest providers of transportation, if not the biggest, without owning even one car.
We need to follow technology trends and adapt to the new world. If you don’t do that, you will lose the game; that’s the biggest challenge. Technology is moving very fast and what’s new becomes old very soon, so you have to invent new things and use them while they’re fresh.
You mentioned Ctrip earlier. They are obviously more focused on travel, but there are other Chinese tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent who have vast ecosystems that encompass all sorts of industries. For example, Alibaba have both a marketplace and a travel vertical. These kinds of players, which also include Google and Amazon, are not focused on specific industries; they’re trying to do everything. Could this mixed business model challenge more traditional tourism business models?
All these businesses have the structure to support this kind of services even if they don’t have the know-how from dealing with them in the past. Still, if these giants alter the game, we obviously have to follow them – though they may have to follow us in some cases.
However, the point is that if they want to enter the tourism industry, it means that they see a future for the industry. They see possibilities: the potential profits or potential market.
If Amazon, Google or Facebook really entered the travel industry, they would be competitors, of course, though I don’t know if they’d dominate the market. On the other hand, they would definitely teach us things and give us some weapons to be like them. I’m not sure if they want to make a big investment now, but they’re certainly keeping an eye on the market and they will one day make a move.