EDreams ODIGEO chief executive calls for new EC to protect consumers from market abuse by online giants. Lee Hayhurst reports

As the boss of one of Europe’s biggest e-commerce companies, Dana Dunne is awaiting confirmation of the make‑up of the new European Commission with particular interest.

The chief executive of Barcelona-based Opodo parent eDreams ODIGEO doesn’t mince his words when he accuses the old commission of failing to protect European customers and companies.

And he vows to use the influence that eDreams ODIGEO has to demand the new commission, which was due to be approved by MEPs this week, acts to level the competitive playing field.

“I think the commission has been failing to do its job,” Dunne says.

“Its job is to protect European customers. I do not think it has lived up to that in the travel industry. It has not protected the consumer.

“There are bigger, dominant, non-European players that use their position to preference their own products and services at the cost of European consumers and at the cost of European companies. I thought the commission was there to protect European customers and European companies. It’s their job to do that, and they need to do their job.”

Online giants

In March, Google was fined €1.49 billion for breaching EU anticompetition rules after it was ruled to be abusing its market dominance by placing unfair contractual restrictions on advertisers. However, there remains concern that Google, as well as other major non-EU retail platforms such as Facebook and Amazon, stifle competition or use their status as ‘platforms’ to avoid regulation.

Dunne says he agrees with complaints made by former Abta chairman Noel Josephides, who claims online platforms are enabling non-EU firms to flout EU package travel rules.

“The platform defence is nothing more than an excuse not to do anything to stop this,” Dunne says. “I’m hopeful this will be addressed now we no longer have the old commission. Change brings hope.

“We are one of the largest e‑commerce companies in Europe and we feel that we can at least bring this to people’s attention. We want the new commission to really understand the implications of this. It’s also not just a travel industry issue – there are other companies in other sectors that have the same kind of view as us.

Dana Dunne is due to speak at this year’s Travolution Summit, at which the 2019 edition of the Travel Weekly Europe Annual Report will be launched. The day-long conference will take place at The Brewery in London on September 12.

Focusing on the Power Of Partnerships in the online and digital travel sector, the event will also hear from technologists from software developers Intuitive, Zolv and Atcore. Google’s director of customer solutions, Alice Mansergh, will give a keynote speech on emerging trends in online marketing and how firms can build for the future.

The event will see the launch of a white paper on how the UK travel sector is rising to the challenges of personalisation using insights from customer data. Data analytics specialist Intent has partnered on research among Travel Weekly and Travolution readers to gauge opinion in the sector and will be offering thought leadership on personalisation.

The summit will also hear from some key technology and online specialists including Expedia, deals publisher Travelzoo and review and client experience platform Feefo.

The summit hosts about 300 people from across the online travel sector and offers advice and inspiration, and the chance to network and forge new business partnerships.

Tickets for the Travolution Summit 2019 cost £299 plus VAT. Book at travolutionsummit.com

“We want the new commission to be far better than the previous one. I expect them to do the job that they have been voted in, employed and funded to do by European consumers.”

EDreams’ scale gives it something of a bird’s-eye view of the European travel market and, although there are pockets where there are challenges, Dunne says the prospects, overall, look good. He cites three factors that underpin his optimism: economic growth and growing affluence; increasing interest in and propensity to travel; and access to a larger array of low-cost travel options.

“I’m very bullish about the future,” he says. “I think the trends and underlying factors will only continue in that direction and will be very positive for the European market.

“Economically we are at a very good point. If you look at GDP growth now in Europe in general, this is not like 2008-10. Relatively speaking, we are in a good economic cycle. Given those positive factors the fundamental longterm prospects are good for the travel industry. Many other sectors that are in decline would love to have the same good fundamentals of our industry.”

Announcing a fourth consecutive year of revenue and profit growth last month, eDreams pointed to Phocuswright figures that forecast the European travel sector will be worth $358 billion by 2021.

And with Europe leading the world in online penetration, 80% of growth is predicted to come online, with mobile expected to see double‑digit annual growth over the next four years. This is why eDreams is focusing its efforts developing a mobile presence, incorporating artificial intelligence, to enable it to offer a full “end-to-end” branded experience for its customers.

“Not everyone is looking for that one trusted brand to deliver everything, but I see an increase in that trend both within travel and outside the trade industry in e-commerce,” Dunne says.

EDreams claims its brands are ranked either first or second in core western European markets, with eDreams dominant in Germany and Spain, GOvoyages in France and Travellink in the Nordics.

Dunne says there is growing appetite for travel among young professionals in eastern Europe as well as interest from western European holidaymakers in destinations in the east.

Social changes

“If you look at the past 10 or 20 years, income levels in eastern European countries have grown very substantially and a lot more people want experiences outside of their own countries,” he says.

“Social dynamics are changing so much. If you think about social platforms and all the interactions and news and information you consume, it’s becoming increasingly international. So there’s a fundamentally big socio-economic and cultural change going on, driven largely by millennials but across all generations, that is seeing people want experiences across borders.”

Dunne says it is hard to predict what the impact of Brexit will be on travel in the long term, although he remains positive the average Brit will continue to want to travel and have good holidays.

“In the short term, it’s driven by how much confidence consumers have and how much money they have,” he says. “Outside of those factors, I really do not know what Brexit means. It’s unclear. In Europe, we’re seeing no impact at all. In the UK, I am sensing a level of uncertainty that is definitely restricting some people from spending their full potential in travel.

“I think that’s quite natural and normal. You read headlines in the papers and it raises doubt. You really do not know as a consumer what the impact of this is, so you wait.

“But it’s really a British question. We are a European business, so I will leave it up to the British government and electorate to decide what’s best for the UK.”

Find the agenda for the Travolution Summit 2019 and secure your place at travolutionsummit.com