Irish firm CityHook aims to establish itself as the Skyscanner of the ground transport market by solving the onward travel issues faced by passengers arriving at airports. Founded in 2012 by Kevin O’Shaughnessy and Tommaso Solesin, the company already provides services in 60 countries through a range of airline and other partners and will soon offer a consumer solution.
Using the CityHook solution, airline passengers are able to seamlessly book all trains, taxis, buses or whatever other form of transport they require to get them from the airport to their eventual destination.
“We spotted a gap in the market a number of years ago,” says O’Shaughnessy. “There was no single resource showing how to get from the airport to your onward destination when you arrive. There was a real gap there; no one had brought it all together. Every way we measure it, passengers spend €25 billion in Europe getting from A to B when they arrive at airports. The figure could be close to €75 billion globally.”
Having established the scale of the market, it was then a question of testing the proposition. “We started as an information-only service and we went out to see if there was a demand for that. We attended a number of travel trade shows in 2012 and the response was electric.”
The next step was to move from information to bookings. “That’s when the fun started,” O’Shaughnessy recalls. “We raised funds and grew the team.”
“We are now in 60 countries and we partner with taxi companies, coach companies, train companies and so on to make local transport booking internationally transactable,” he continues. “We developed our own standards and built our own payments and booking engines. We are adding more and more transport options all the time.”
Reaching the target market, the passenger, meant partnering with airlines. “The European travel market is massive, with 1.5 billion people arriving in airports each year,” O’Shaughnessy explains. “The most effective channel is the airlines and they are, therefore, our partners of choice. This market is growing rapidly, and brands are looking for better ways to serve this airport mobility challenge. We built our own ‘Indigo Connect’ API technology to make it easy for them to connect their systems to ours. The whole process takes about half an hour at their end.”
To this end, the API is popular for use at travel-themed “hackathon” innovation events, featuring at IATA and American Airlines events in the past.
Multiple innovation award winners
“We’ve consistently gained recognition and awards from industry bodies, including Phocuswright and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) awards for payments innovation,” says O’Shaughnessy. In 2015, the team achieved European Innovation of the year (runner-up), IATA Passenger Innovation Award. In 2016, another Passenger Innovation Award for their payments technology and ancillary merchandising solution, “UP”. Both founders are regular speakers at travel conferences on mobility and technology for the travel industry.
CityHook sees consumer gap still untapped
The company is now moving into the consumer market. “We are in the process of launching the consumer product,” says O’Shaughnessy. “Consumers using our service at the moment usually find it through a partner. For example, if you use the Lastminute Group app to hail a taxi in Milan, you are actually using the CityHook service. The same happens with the Alitalia website for other ground transport options. Skyscanner solutions for the last part of the passenger journey are also delivered through CityHook. This was the right approach for us up to now. We wanted to make sure we have the right product. That’s our strength. We have developed a very good product.”
The beauty of the solution is that it is targeting money people are spending anyway. “People have to get out of the airport. We offer them a real price and real-world information on the best way to do that. There is still no centralised direct source of airport travel information for passengers, and we are going to offer them a live guide of how to get from A to B. We want to be the Skyscanner for ground transport. We have all the different elements, the train companies, taxis, coaches, buses and so on. We are connecting all the dots; that’s where the opportunity lies. If you need to get to Sligo from Dublin Airport, what’s the best way? That’s the opportunity. We will cure that arrival anxiety for passengers with a universal mobility app for airports.”
The strategy for the future will see CityHook continuing to provide solutions with partners and direct to consumers. “We will always have both,” says O’Shaughnessy. “One makes the other strong. Consumer and B2B are two sides of the same coin. Our tiny team of five people has managed to conquer 60 countries. We’ve done an awful lot with very little. We will be investing later this year in scale and will be growing very quickly. Our aim is to triple the team within a year. We are not the only one in this market, of course, but we have done an awful lot so far and no one has taken advantage of the consumer market yet. We are really happy and excited about that.”