ROOM WITH A VIEW

Mexico 2018 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Julián Balbuena, President of the Board of Best Day Travel Group, on becoming the first vertically integrated tourism group, promoting Latin American brands to the world, and replicating best practices in new locales.

 Julián Balbuena
BIOGRAPHY
Julián Balbuena joined Best Day Travel Group in 1988, four years after it was founded. In 1994, he helped develop a booking and operations system that became a pioneer in internet-based reservations. He has a degree in electronic engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana.

What is your strategy to become the top tourism company in Latin America?

We want to become the first vertically integrated tourism group with a central focus on the customer. We are expanding our geographic footprint, starting with Mexico, and now have offices in São Paolo, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, and Punta Cana. We have four main business lines. The first is bestday.com, our online travel agency. We also have what we call our B2B2C, our BD Travel Solution that seeks to power the booking engines of different industry players such as hotels or airlines. For example, we can do a hotel booking combined with round-trip airfare and create a package for those hotel partners that do not have that capability to put everything together. We are expanding to Latin America with that business line. In Mexico, we use BD Travel Solution with Aeroméxico, Volaris and Viva Aerobús as well as with large hotel chains such as AM Resorts brands and several others. We also do it in Mexico as a country under Visitmexico.com. This is a business line that is also growing rapidly in Latin America. Our third division is HotelDO, a hotel site for travel agencies, which promotes and sells Latin American products to the world.

What criteria does Best Day use to set up shop in new markets?

We analyze the larger markets, internet penetration, and active position of online travel groups in those destinations before combining all our Latin American business knowledge to choose markets with the potential to replicate our business model. We started in Argentina in 2010 through a merger with a group that had HotelDO. There was a division within HotelDO in Brazil, so we decided to go there next. Punta Cana is like another Cancún, and, therefore, it made a great deal of sense to open there as well. We had a great experience replicating our services and technology at these places.

How does the company keep up with its philosophy of technology disruption?

We created a division that we call “IN4H," or innovation for hospitality that is dedicated to keeping up with innovation and any new technologies that provide opportunities. This explores those opportunities in order to apply, customize, and localize any part of these innovations for our different business lines. We have an entire team dedicated to this kind of disruption.

What are the factors behind the massive success in tourism to Mexico in recent years?

We have a great deal of natural wonders to showcase alongside our culture, cuisine, and diverse country. The most important thing is that Mexicans are natural hosts. We are extremely hospitable, and it is natural to welcome visitors to our country. We have great products, traditions, culture, cuisine, and diverse landscapes, not to mention our deserts, beaches, jungles, and many other things that make the country a world on its own. Mexico truly has it all.

What is your opinion on travel platforms such as Airbnb? How are they regulated in Mexico and Quintana Roo?

We are all still learning about these social collaborations and shared economies in Mexico. It is something that is growing, and in terms of competitiveness, it is important to have everyone on the same page or else it is tough to compete. If there are many regulations and taxes on hotels that the shared economy does not pay, this is unequal. Still, it is an interesting development and we see a great deal of potential in that market. Competition is great—without competition one becomes complacent. Such platforms need to be better addressed to ensure they are fair to everyone. We do compete with such platforms and have a project we will launch in the same area. We want to improve on it and add services that these platforms do not currently have. For example, we are combining accommodation rental with flight and transportation services and offering optional activities such as car rentals.