Global Hotel Card powered by EAN (Expedia Affiliate Network) Hotels is fast expanding its global offerings. Its individual travel gift cards, which give recipients access to its database of more than 250,000 properties worldwide, have just increased from five different currencies to 20, with plans to expand to 30 currencies and 10 languages within the next few weeks. Incentive spoke with Global Hotel Card Founder Peter Friend to learn more about the company's growing offerings and the advantages of making such a global play.
Describe how Global Hotel Card is going more global.
About 25 percent of our business comes from relationships outside the United States. A week ago, we went from five currencies to 20 currencies and in another six weeks we will have 30 currencies. It will be one of the first gift cards able to issue closed-loop denominated digital cards in 30 currencies. We can issue Chinese yuan, Danish krone, and so on. It will be available within country-specific catalogs and will be more compatible with what other merchants are offering -- in the local language, with custom branding for each country, and compatible with what we believe the consumer expectation will be.
When recipients redeem them, they select the currency and dates they want to go, and there may be specific hotels only available in that country. Travel is an international product and because our booking engine is powered by Expedia, they get the supply chain through them.
How did you begin this global approach to gift cards?
About five years ago, when we rebranded to Global Hotel Cards, we added the pound sterling, euro, Canadian dollars, and Australian dollars, which was unusual at the time. We were very early on the curve. Because we're a privately owned company and I've attempted to be more innovative and entrepreneurial, we try to get these products first to market and have been observing growth of what was then called the globalization of gift cards in the incentive industry. They were all digital and my business internally is all b2b, which makes it easier because you don't have fulfillment and the requirements other countries impose on b2c.
What has been your experience with this globalized approach?
I am aggressively pursuing globalization in the marketplace, but it's evolving differently than I expected. Some think globalization means those who are successful with incentives expanding that into other markets. But from my experience, successful globalization of our industry is dependent upon localization. You're still applying best practices to international clients, but will be more successful distributing products to other countries by working with local merchants, and localizing your offering with additional currencies, languages, and cultural norms -- as opposed to having the same product in over 200 countries.
I originally believed I would be able to form a relationship with big international distribution channels where an agency might aggregate merchants, putting them into their catalogs worldwide. But now I believe the successful model is having alliances, with a solution within each country.
Where do you see the greatest opportunity for growth in the individual travel gift card segment?
Asia-Pacific is where we're getting some of the strongest feedback. We're taking the position that we're going where we have agencies and partners most receptive to our business model -- sometimes that's not the biggest country, but just a good agency that has good b2b technology in place.
The challenge was really going from one currency to five. Now we've proven the model in Britain, Canada, and beyond, we want to develop relationships around the world. We want to form relationships with Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, Malaysia. I'm confident that the success of the gift card product internationally will evolve and mature. It's just a matter of time.