Aug. 31, 2016


Julián Balbuena

Mexico

Julián Balbuena

Chairman, Best Day Travel Group

"In 2015, we took care of close to 4 million people."

BIO

Julián Balbuena has been leading Best Day Travel 27 years. During this time, he has positioned the company as the largest tour operator in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America.

How was best day founded?

In 1984, the founder of the group Fernando Garcia Zalvidea, after graduating wanted to take a few months off working in Cancun. While working at a marina, he met a tourist couple who wanted a guide to take them to some ruins. He agreed and brought them in his own car with a cooler and some drinks and snorkeling gear. When they came back they said to Fernando that this has been the best day of their stay. After that Fernando started a small private tour operation, which grew into a travel agency.

When did you first join the company and how has it grown over the past two decades?

I came into the picture as the systems manager when we were applying innovative technology. Very early in 1991, we were the first ones to start touch screen operations in Mexico. We put terminals at the airport so that when people were getting to the destination they could look up a hotel in the same way we look up these things today. That was the first application our group launched, selling services and enabling hotel reservations with technology. In 1994, we heard about the internet and thought we could try to sell hotel nights through the internet. We had to go to the University of California to get a prototype of the software that encrypted the information so the transaction was secure. When we went to the banks, they said we were crazy, but eventually we found a partner and we started reservations over the internet, the first in the world. Since then we have been adding services to our portfolio that are commonly found today on other website operators, but at the time we were pioneers. For example, we were the first to have rates in pesos, we were the first to allow payment in installments, we were the first to incorporate two different ways of payment. In 2010 we purchased Hotel DO; the original name was Hotels Discounts Online so it was reduced to Hotel DO, so we purchased that operation in Argentina and we had already operations in Brazil and Chile and Colombia.

What would you say are the biggest things that have changed in the tourism sector since you started Best Day?

We have a larger hotel offering and we have more destinations that are positioning themselves in the market. When we started the charter operators were the kings, nowadays with technology everyone has the possibility to make their own plans and do it on a smart phone and last minute and it is completely different. The channels that you are now using to promote your product to the market are completely different. The technology revolution has sharpened the market and I think this is key to the success of Best Day.

With the growth in size and technology, has Best Day lost its personal touch and local expertise?

No, that is precisely something that we work hard to keep. Alongside the kiosks and the online agency, we have provided the opportunity for people to have an agent that has local knowledge to recommend the best option for the clients face to face and give that quality of service that clients are expecting. We were the first ones to have Mexicans selling products to Mexicans so they know the local holidays, what the economy is like in Mexico, what are mayor issues in this destination, or where the best places are. The same thing happens in Argentina; we have the Argentinians being served by the Argentinians, the same in Brazil, the same in Colombia; therefore, we are trying to keep up in different channels the experience of the personalized service and giving the customer the opportunity to get in touch with a person who will provide that.

What portion of the business now is directed toward Mexicans who want to travel within Mexico?

In 2015, we took care of close to 4 million people. Out of those 4 million people, 70% were Mexicans and 30% international, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and the rest of Latin America. We have a five year plan, we want that to be the opposite, we want to keep Mexico to be the largest component of our market share but we want 30-35% in the rest of Latin America 65-70%. In 2014, we were 80-20 and now we are 30-70, so we are heading the right way.

What are your upcoming expansion plans?

We have four different branches of our business so we are multi-country, multi-channel, multi-currencies, “multi-problems" (joking), and what we are really trying to implement in this is a particular strategy on each branch to position each particular branch in the different countries to become a big player in each country and then turn it around with the personal touch I was mentioning. Now we are expanding to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos. For next year, we are planning to open in Cuba and probably Aruba and we have an operation that started in Orlando last year. In Cancun Mayan Riviera in 2015, we took care of close to 900,000 people that we received, transport from the airport to the hotels, and coming back and offering optional activities so plans are to duplicate those numbers by opening all those operations. Then we have BestDay.com in the entire region, which is our B to C channel and it has a large operation in Mexico and grown tremendously in Argentina and it is growing well in Brazil and last year we started with a big investment in Colombia to develop that market. We are also expanding in the Dominican Republic and we have plans for Peru, Chile, and Uruguay in the coming years and those are part of specific goals and through that five year plan to be bigger in those markets and grow ourselves and our market share in those markets to turn around the 30-70 to the other way around. That is the strategy to become the largest B2C online travel agency in the region. The goal is to keep doing what we are doing and become number one provider of Latin American product to the world. In Europe we have a very good opportunity for large tour operators that have an interest in Latin America but do not have the product we have, so we are providing the product to those tour operators so that they can offer a hotel in Latin America, including Mexico. The last area is something that we were pioneers in doing, which is BD Travel Solution, which in turn is our brand that goes from B2B2C, whereby we provide our platform and technology so that companies like hotels, airlines, tourism organizations, or any travel related company can have their own websites with all of our products in combination with their products so that they can create packages that can be offered to the public as the end consumer.

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