On The Beach's Simon Cooper: 'We have the platform to get personal'

By Travolution
By Travolution
May 9, 2014 11:18 AM GMT

Ten years since On The Beach took its first booking, founder Simon Cooper says the online agency has significant scope to grow. By Lee Hayhurst

Online travel agency On The Beach is confident it has the platform to become a £1 billion turnover business as it celebrates 10 years since it took its first booking this weekend.

The Manchester-based firm 
was set up in a terrace house by Simon Cooper, generating leads from Teletext’s analogue service.It took its first booking on May 11, 2004.

From humble beginnings operating a basic non-transactional website, the firm has developed to become one of the leading online travel retailers in the country.

Now Cooper believes the hard work done to create the technology on which On The Beach is based will ensure it leads the way as the web evolves to become more personal and bespoke.

“When I launched On The Beach I saw an opportunity to build a personalised on-site experience that mirrored what customers would get on the phone,” he says.

“At first it was very much hands on. I spent 50% of my time on the phone dealing with customer enquiries.

“What we set out to create was a site that made it as simple as possible to research and book the holidays people wanted. It needed to answer lots of questions about what they were looking for, what kind of holiday they wanted and how we could help them find it.”

Cooper says the key move in the development of On The Beach came in 2009 when it decided to take its IT in-house. Now almost half of the firm’s full‑time staff are involved in technology.

Having its own technology platform, he believes, has positioned On The Beach at the forefront of firms ready exploit how next-generation websites will operate.

“In terms of realising the fruits of what we are delivering, most of that is still to come, but as for the foundation that will allow us to deliver a truly unique proposition, most of the work has been done,” says Cooper.

“We are on the cusp now of starting to deliver a tailored site experience for each user and tailored for all kinds of devices from which people will come to our site.”

In 2007, On The Beach secured its first outside investment, from venture capitalist Isis Equity Partners, valuing the company at £35 million.

Last October Inflexion Private Equity took over as majority shareholder in 
a deal that valued On The Beach at just under double that.

Growth has been remarkable. Total transaction value is set to top £400 million this year, up from £10 million in its first full year.

But, unlike some web pioneers, this growth has not come at the expense of making money.

Cooper says On The Beach has been profitable each year from the outset and that over the past three years what it makes has been growing 50% each year.

As the business and its potential has grown, he has ratcheted up his expectations from millions of pounds worth of turnover to hundreds of millions.

“Certainly, we will move very quickly above £500 million and on to £1 billion,” he says. “There is huge potential. We have significant share, but are nowhere near the size we could be.”

Some of the growth will come from overseas where On The Beach has launched international brand eBeach, initially in Scandinavia. Expansion farther afield is slated for the next financial year.

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