Flight Centre’s new focus on technology and youth – witness its late 2015 investments in Travelonomy and BYO Jet – shows no signs of abating with news emerging the retail giant is behind a Gold Coast garage startup called Aunt Betty.
Funded by Flight Centre, Aunt Betty is being developed by several long-term staff – including Sean Sutherland, Head of e-Commerce – who have been told to start from scratch and create a brand new web travel business.
The result is Aunt Betty. “We’re positioning in a new category we’re calling virtual travel,” says Sutherland.
It’s essentially a hybrid with the Aunt Betty website an online shopfront offering the very latest in web search and booking technology.
The marketing hook is that there’ll always be telephone support available to help complete transactions if necessary.
“Travel agents offer personalized service but inconsistent delivery because humans are involved,” Sutherland said.
“Then on the other side you have the Online Travel Agents but they are impersonal, machines.
“Aunt Betty will offer the best of both worlds.”
It’s still early days for the project and all that exists of Aunt Betty at this point is a holding page to get some Google traction.
However, it can be revealed the team is looking at a soft launch in late February/early March with marketing to start a couple of months later when the inevitable bugs have been ironed out.
On the tech front, Aunt Betty is definitely a global traveler.
The technology platform is being developed in Israel, while he booking engine is HitchHiker out of Germany.
It’s a departure on every level from how things are done at Flight Centre.
As is the name. “We were going to be called Flights Plus but decided that sounds like everyone else,” said Sutherland.
“We had a working title of Aunt Betty and thought we’d go with that instead.”
As a brand it also offers more potential to expand well beyond flights into hotels and holidays as the site evolves.
So who is this woman, Aunt Betty?
Everyone’s favourite, slightly eccentric aunt is the simple answer.
She’s a 46yo from country Australia who has seen a lot of the world – in every sense – but has finally settled down with her Brazilian husband Gilberto.
“Now she enjoys telling us all her stories, and helping us explore the world the same way she did,” reads an anonymous first person on the Aunt Betty home page.
“Everyone we know goes to Aunt Betty for advice, she always knows just the right place to visit.”
Plenty of marketing potential there…
Once it’s up and running, Aunt Betty will be pushed long and hard – as you’d expect from Flight Centre alumni, who know exactly how competitive the online booking space is through direct experience with the head company’s many websites.
Most of the initial brand building will be done through meta-search, which Sutherland believes is more cost-effective than Google.
It’s also where many of its target market (25-45 inner-city, tech savvy individuals) now search for their travel.
Whatever the destination, it promises to be an interesting journey for Sutherland and his team – just as it was for Aunt Betty when she left home to chase adventure.