German travel e-tailer plans international expansion

Controversial German travel e-retail entrepreneur Thomas Wagner plans international expansion and a hotel chain, he told fvw in an exclusive interview.

January 06, 2012
Unister chief Thomas Wagner plans further growth.
Photo: Martin Jehnichen

Unister, the Leipzig-based internet group owned by Wagner and four other founders, is already Germany’s leading online travel retailer through several websites, including ‘Ab-in-den-Urlaub’, ‘Travel24’, ‘Urlaubstours’ and ‘fluege.de’. Last year it generated sales revenues of more than €1 billion, according to fvw estimates. The company runs about 40 portals in total, including private finances, shopping and even partner searches.

However, Unister has been criticised for controversial marketing methods, including using the logos of other companies on its websites to generate more Google search results and thus increase its traffic. It has tried to improve its image with prominent advertising, including using German football star Michael Ballack.

In the interview, Wagner defended the company’s marketing methods and stressed its travel portals contained exclusive offers, genuine holidaymaker hotel evaluations and unique discounts. In 2012, the company aims to maintain its fast growth through expansion in Europe and worldwide, and to grow within the tourism value chain, he said.

Unister plans to create a subsidiary budget hotel chain under the Travel24 brand. “We are in negotiations with investors and want to open our first budget hotel under the brand Travel24 Hotels by 2013 at the latest,” he disclosed.

International growth is also a priority. “I believe that half of our business can be generated abroad in the medium-term. We want to be very active globally,” he declared. Unister already owns diverse international online travel portals and plans to expand with more unique contents and a new dynamic packaging tool, he explained.

Wagner stressed that Unister does not plan an IPO and is not seeking investors. “I want to concentrate on pursuing long-term targets and not the next quarterly report,” he commented. The Unister chief also stressed that the departure of several senior managers last autumn had not left any ‘management gap’ and said the positions had been filled internally. He also wants to maintain the ‘start-up mentality’ at the group, which now has 1,500 employees.

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