digitalinfowave


Where others see bad traffic and chaos, this entrepreneur sees
opportunities. It was with this thinking that Fritz Demopoulus fearlessly
co-founded the first travel metasearch company in China in 2005, Qunar, which
is now part of the Trip.com Group.
Since his exit, he’s been keeping a watchful eye on travel tech investment
opportunities – he is an early investor in GetYourGuide, the tours and
activities unicorn. Other than venturing into new frontiers in travel, he is
also curious about other worlds – he’s on the board of SETI Institute (Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). In this one-on-one at WiT Africa, we find
out how he’s thinking about investments and startups, the balance between
humans and AI in the future of travel and beyond.

You were a big believer in metasearch, starting Qunar in 2005,
exiting in 2021 to Baidu. What do you think of how the whole space has evolved
– the blurring of lines between meta and online travel agencies, the dominance
of Google. What’s the future of metasearch?

Customers don’t care about business models. They only want to
meet their needs, i.e. discovering and booking travel services. If it means
doing more in the value chain, i.e. move beyond the business model, so be it.
That’s why we see a blurring.

It is true that some business models are better at scaling,
others at meeting customer needs, and others at generating more favorable
margins. Meta search is well suited to meeting customer needs and scaling.

Would you advise anyone now to do a metasearch in China? Or
indeed, any other online travel business there? 

China presents opportunities, for sure. But we’ll need to be
more thoughtful.

In any opportunity, we need to consider how big it is, how
difficult it is, and how crowded it is. During the most recent go-go period,
China was big, but it was very difficult and very crowded. Today, China is
still big but has slowed, its increased sophistication has made it less
difficult, and it is less crowded. So overall, it could be interesting for the
right entrepreneur or investor.

You were also a big believer in tours and activities, one
of the early investors in GetYourGuide back in 2009. That whole space is now on
fire, and is said to be a $250 billion market. What did you see that others did
not? 

I wish I could say I had some strategic insight. That’s what
we’re supposed to say at conferences. The reality is I was impressed with the
founding team – they were all ethical, smart and willing to learn. That really
convinced me.

You were also an early investor in Travelperk, which recently
raised over $100 million for a valuation of $1.3 billion. What did you see in
Avi Meir that you perhaps also saw in Tao Tao and Johannes Reck, co-founders of
GetYourGuide?

They are always curious, always asking questions. I remember
meeting Brian Chesky [Airbnb co-founder and CEO] for the first time and he had
a whole list of questions to ask me.

How do you see the tours and activities space evolving?
Will it be like OTAs where there are two to three B2C giants – who will they be
– lots of B2B players and lots more niche sites in the longtail? 

We’ll have only a few mega-scale platforms that aggregate
multiple supply and demand markets. GetYourGuide will be one of them. It is
hard to do.

However, we’ll see many local players aggregating local supply
for their own demand market. That supply will include all sorts of services,
including travel.

As an investor now, do you still like markets with bad
traffic and chaos? What are you invested in, and what are you keeping your eye
on?

I like education and the future of work. Of course, I’m invested
in a number of travel companies.

Which is your best investment? The worst? 

The best investment of my time was moving to China, getting
involved in startups and focusing on travel and tourism. The best investment of
my money was GetYourGuide.

You had time after Qunar to get into other interests,
starting a science fiction event in Hong Kong, Melon, for a few years. It is an
amazing event that brings together scientists with artists, creating a magic
combination of thinking power.

One of the privileges of success is you get to revisit what you
were passionate about as a 9-year-old. I guess I’m revisiting those.

Isacc Asimov had “Three Laws of Robotics.” A robot
may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come
to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such
orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own
existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second
Law. Do you think AI will change those laws?

Some argue AI is an amplification of our values. We as humans
have a history of not being nice to each other. I’d be worried that AI embeds
those negative values.

Space tourism. We have Space Perspective offering
space balloon flights, six hours to the edge of space at 100,000 feet, so far 1,650
people have purchased tickets priced at $125,000 each. First flight possibly at
the end of 2024. And Virgin Galactic sub-orbital flights at $450,000 each,
possibly 2026. What are your thoughts?

Some opportunities are big, some are cool and some are cool and
big. Metasearch is big. Space travel is cool, but it isn’t big. I’m a mass
market type of guy.

You sit on the board of SETI – Search for Extra Terrestrial
Intelligence. Tell us something we don’t know about life out there.

This is the best time to be a SETI researcher. We have more
advanced instruments, such as James Webb and the VLA [Very Large Array
telescope]. There is lots of funding. Today, there are roughly 8,000 full-time
astronomers. In 10 years, we should know if we are alone in the universe, or if
it is filled with all sorts of sentient beings.

If AI amplifies our values, how do you thinking finding other
life out there will help that?

Well, perhaps if we find out we are not alone, we might be
humbler and nicer.

Other than travel, tech, sci-fi, SETI – what else makes your
heart sing? 

Of course, seeing my kids grow and develop.

*This article originally appeared in WebinTravel.



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