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Damian Gevertz

Damian Gevertz on bringing new content on board

By Damian Gevertz

Founder, Widgety

There’s a reasonable chance that, if you’ve searched for cruises online or in branch at a travel agent, you’ve come across the work created by Damian Gevertz and his team. His company Widgety, works with ocean and river cruise lines, supplying detailed cruise content to travel agents globally from Trailfinders to Hays Travel.

Beginning his first business venture whilst still studying at the University of Southampton, Damian created connections and built a lasting reputation of integrity within the cruise travel industry.

As travel reignites, Damian shares how the pandemic has launched him towards the next phase of his business.

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Have you always had entrepreneurial aspirations?

I briefly had one job after I left university, but I think I knew in my heart I was never going to be employed, it's just not really me.

In my final year at university, I set up my first business selling local directories. It gave me a good background and I got quite involved in the city. I had hundreds of customers but I made no money. I think a lot of business people hold on to something that isn't making money for too long because they've invested so much in it. I made my first really unemotional decision to move on and let that business go.

I managed to get a small contract with ABP putting magazines in cruise terminals. We managed to get a magazine stand in every cruise terminal in the UK, and a contract with Eurostar. We built a widget for hotel receptions to show the movements of cruise ships in the Solent for their guests. Widgety was built from there and we now provide the travel industry with detailed cruise content, guides, photographs, itineraries, pricing and availability.

How did you build your reputation and break into what was then a new industry for you?

I spent the first two years in a catch-22 trying to persuade travel agents and cruise lines to sign up. I then got a contract with Thomas Cook which was one of the catalysts for getting more businesses in.

You suddenly realise that, if you do things properly, there isn't as much competition as you think. How we get our business now is massively through recommendations from both the cruise lines and travel agents. We've managed to find people in the industry to back us but it has taken hundreds of hours of hard work.

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"You suddenly realise that, if you do things properly, there isn't as much competition as you think."

As a company forming part of the travel industry supply chain, what was the impact on your business from the pandemic?

When the pandemic happened, I had a complete panic. But despite the chaos and bad news, we realised that a chance to take a pause and really think about what to do next could be a good thing. We used the pandemic to talk to customers at length, we brought forward an exercise to rebrand the company, and we actually grew our business.

The pandemic has hit the travel industry really hard. Travel agents have had little-to-no sales for 18 months, so we started conversations and offered discounts or free periods to help out where we could. We took a hit financially, as did everyone else, but the great thing about the travel industry is that there is a sense of comradery, and the industry will come out stronger for it in the end.

In the last two years, we have signed up 50 tour operators and another 20 cruise lines, and next March we’re launching a global multi-currency multi-market API. We’re also bringing out a new white-label embeddable Holiday Search solution. We’ve signed up some important customers worldwide and we’ve got a really exciting pipeline ahead of us.

Is there a sense of optimism within the cruise industry at the moment?

Cruise lines are among some of the largest companies in the world. Royal Caribbean alone builds the equivalent of Westquay shopping centre every six months. They’re innovative companies, not just in terms of the technology, but in their attitude as well. No new ship builds have been cancelled and there is this enormous pent-up demand.

There’s been a summer of UK cruising, leaving from Southampton, which has been a real help for travel agents. There are many people who actually saved money during the pandemic, and they’re going to take two or three holidays next year. I think next year will be a fantastic year for holidays.

"I think next year will be a fantastic year for holidays, and cruises are very innovative."

Damian Gevertz - Founder of Widgety

How are the platforms for content creation evolving?

When I started up 20 years ago, the internet just wasn’t that big a deal. Magazines aren’t gone at all, but mass distribution is finished. In terms of technology, social media is the single biggest marketing tool, but it’s still incredibly hard to do well.

When you go on the internet, you pretty much want the answer to a question. My business focuses on supplying the content for those answers. Whether you are a travel agent, or an operator, we supply that initial content in whichever format, for whatever platform you want to use.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I have a daughter; we spend a lot of time together. I taught her during lockdown and that was really exciting. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d love to be a teacher.

I’ve taken up open-water swimming and I’ve got completely addicted to that. But I’m all consumed by work, I do think about the business all the time.

What was the last thing that changed your thought processes?

The big challenge for us is the skills that I had in starting a business are not the skills that are going to make the business successful in the future. The challenge going forward isn’t software or technology: it’s people.

We’ve just hired someone to help with the company’s future plans and how to maximise our effectiveness as a team. I’ve been inspired to realise that, although I’ve been in business for 20 years, we need to retrain, empower and hire the right people now to take the business where we want it to go next.