Making women’s group travel a top focus. Women travelers are getting a premium marketplace as El Camino Travel switches focus on becoming an experiential marketplace for women travelers. The group travel startup raised $1.1 million in pre-seed funding to develop its technology and boost awareness of its brand as a “premium marketplace for women travellers that connects them directly to exceptional experiences. The company offers small group trips to destinations such as Morocco, Guatemala, Egypt, Greece, with an average order value of $3,400. The firm also partners with destination management companies and offers a membership program called El Camino Clubhouse, offering travel recommendations and guides.
Need a break from a noisy and hectic environment? The nature-focused hospitality group Unyoked which offers immersive off-grid experiences has secured €18 million in a new funding round. After establishing a strong presence (and always booked cabins!) in Australia and New Zealand, the funding will be used to expand its solar-powered cabins across Europe and the UK. Unyoked offers fully off-grid hideaways that are carefully hand-picked and equipped with solar power, rainwater tanks, wood fires, and composting toilets.
Meet the city charging a tourist entrance fee. In the second post of our “Meet the City” content series, we talk about Venice: the Italian city known for its canals, gondolas, and art, is pioneering a controversial initiative to combat the impacts of excessive tourism. The city plans to charge a €10 tourist fee for daily visitors, which raises questions about the future of travel and tourism. Despite being a vital part of the local economy, the city’s exploitation is not an option anymore. With the clear message of making tourism more sustainable, Venice is taking a position to create a more sustainable tourism ecosystem, inspiring other cities to follow its example.
An accelerator focusing on impact.Travel Impact Lab has launched the world’s first accelerator program for travel startups that are all about impact. The program aims to empower and support founders in the travel and impact industry to develop solutions for customers to make sustainable choices of where, when, how, and why they travel. It’s a 5-month hybrid program that will start in May 2023 and will give founders a chance to learn how to measure the impact of their activities, receive expert coaching and mentoring sessions, and access to strategic partners and investors. Travel startups will work together during the program, and each startup will receive a €100,000 investment in the company in exchange for an 8% equity stake. Applications are now open!
Joining forces in the same app.A shared booking platform between Greyhound and FlixBus has been introduced by their parent company. This will allow travelers to book rides to almost 2,300 destinations throughout North America from the websites or apps of either company. Customers can expect new features like reserved seating for a small fee and new payment methods.
Smart vehicles for a better airport experience. As part of Schiphol’s goal to make traveling as easy as possible for everyone, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is partnering with Axxicom Airport Caddy. The airport is testing smart vehicles from personal transportation company WHILL to help travelers with reduced mobility find their way independently and safely around the airport.This includes elderly travelers, people who can’t walk long distances, and anyone who worries they might get lost. passengers can enter their destination, and the vehicle will drive them there – and then back again.
Billionaire French deal, oui.European Camping Group, the owner of Eurocamp, has tripled its campsite portfolio by acquiring French Vacanceselect Group for €1 billion. The acquisition will add five-star resorts across France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, and The Netherlands to Eurocamp’s portfolio of destinations. The move aims to capitalize on the growing demand for high-end holiday experiences and will allow the group to offer more resorts with premium mobile homes, water parks, activities, and entertainment. The expanded group is targeting a turnover of €700m this year.
Have you ever imagined paying a €10 ticket to visit a city?
It is Venice’s plan to charge a €10 tourist fee for daily visitors as a way to combat the impacts of excessive tourism, becoming a pioneering and controversial initiative by a city that is now debating the future of tourism and travel.
The Italian city of Venice is known for its canals, gondolas, architecture and art, as well as being host to the famous Venice Film Festival. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Venice is an extremely popular destination that receives millions of tourists from all over the globe annually, which makes the travel and tourism industry of paramount importance to the local economy.
So why create a tourist tax if they are a vital part of the local economy?
With the low demand of tourists due to the pandemic, the canals of Venice started to breathe
There is a larger and very interesting context of what happened in Venice in recent years, and triggered the creation of this measure.
The COVID pandemic affected tourism, we all know. But what many travelers don’t know is how much cities’ infrastructures are impacted by tourism.
In Venice, what happened between 2020 and 2021 was astounding: when the traffic became much lower than usual, the canals started to become cleaner, with clearer and less polluted waters — because, obviously, the means of locomotion for people are walking, biking and gondolas.
The first city to charge a fee for tourists
Venice has been discussing ways to control, rethink and distribute tourism for many years due to the “over tourism” situation it faces. Today, with 50,000 residents, but thousands of tourists visiting the city daily — during the 2022’s Easter holiday there were 125,000 daily visitors —, the choice was to apply a fee for one-day visitors, with exceptions for people who stay overnight, visit relatives, among other reasons.
“Manage tourist flows” was Venice’s goal with this initiative. Putting itself as a protagonist, Venice is innovating on managing tourist flows and working towards more sustainable travel and tourism, with the clear message: the exploitation of the city is not an option anymore. Even though there is a desire to increase tourism and move the tourism sector forward, how to make it more sustainable is an urgent agenda across the whole industry — after all, in 2019 Venice generated tourism revenue of 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) being with 30% from day trippers.
How overtourism impacts cities and destinations
This makes us think of Venice, but also of Paris, Barcelona, New York, among so many other cities in the world that deal with the normality of intense tourism in their daily lives.
Although over tourism can cause damages, there are ways of being optimistic towards the future while making tourism better. The conclusion here is: we can take lemons and turn them into lemonade.
Venice is taking a position to create a more sustainable tourism ecosystem, inspiring other cities to follow its example. Charging a tourist fee can be a first step towards educating and making the public aware of the topic, and paving the way for a new way of traveling.
Looking towards the future, the travel industry may address it by offering longer experiences in the city with customized itineraries, engaging local restaurants and cafes, hotels and accommodations with discounts for long stays, tax incentives for establishments, transport, and tourists themselves.
Airport management revolution. AeroCloud just raised a massive $12.6 million in Series A funding to bring their AI and machine learning airport management platform to new heights. With lightning-fast passenger processing, improved self-service options, and better stakeholder communication, AeroCloud is flying high above the competition. It’s no wonder they’re quickly becoming the go-to solution for airport efficiency, customer satisfaction, and juicy operating margins.
Electric bus network for Indian cities.Ixigo, the Indian online travel app, is investing $3.1 million in FreshBus, an electric bus startup. FreshBus is set to launch an inter-city electric bus service across India with 24 e-buses, expanding to 1,000 over the next couple of years. This move is a huge win for the environment and all parts involved!
Rise of robotic automation in hospitality. They’re already the number 1 robot manufacturer in the industry, with exports to over 60 countries and shipments of over 53,000 robots in 2022. With major hotel brands like Marriott and Hilton on board, Pudu is also taking over the service industry. With labor shortages causing all kinds of headaches, businesses are turning to Pudu’s solutions to automate their workflows and lighten the load. Pudu scored $15 million in fresh funding to expand its production capacity and develop commercial cleaning robots. Seems like hotels will see more robots around their halls.
Strategic acquisition targets nomadic workers.Blueground, the globetrotter’s favorite furnished rental company, is joining forces with Travelers Haven, the on-demand rental service for nomadic workers in 20,000 US cities. This acquisition, whose details are being kept under wraps, is set to make the combined organization a major player with over 1,200 employees and projected revenue of $600 million in 2023. This deal follows Blueground’s second acquisition in just three months.
Anticipated developments in hospitality. Andreas Scriven, Deloitte’s top hotel consultant and industry insider, spoke with Skift and shared his predictions for a flurry of asset sales in the latter half of 2023. Scriven discusses the outlook for Europe, what it will take to boost the hotel asset market, why major players are not prioritizing consolidation, and why Amsterdam is currently the hottest city for hotel investors. He also shares insights on where hotel development is most innovative, which includes the Middle East and scrappy startups. Hospitality industry professionals seeking insights on what to expect this year won’t want to miss all the juicy details.
New partnerships to boost competitive advantage. The UK’s consortium for independent TMCs, Focus Travel Partnership, has welcomed a new partner: TakeTwo Travel Solutions. TakeTwo is an innovative global boutique TMC specializing in bespoke services for high-net-worth individuals, VIPs, and groups. The partnership brings the total number of TMC partners in Focus Travel to 52, and the consortium now boasts a group buying power of £1.3 billion. Not bad, huh?
Game-changing AI for the travel industry. While many companies are still trying to figure out how to incorporate AI into their businesses, Trip.com has already launched a game-changing chatbot within its app. Dubbed TripGen, this innovative tool is built on an API from OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. It offers users real-time travel tips, inspiration, and itinerary suggestions through a conversational interface. Trip.com says users can ask complex or vague questions and instantly receive tailored itineraries and advice for flights, hotels, transportation, and tours. And that’s not all – TripGen also provides personalized travel routes, itineraries, and booking advice in multiple languages. Trip.com has truly set itself to become the ultimate travel companion, thanks to its fresh and cutting-edge AI technology.
Taxis will be flying around Osaka. Flying taxis are coming to the World Expo 2025 Osaka, and visitors may get to be the first to experience them. Joby Aviation and ANA Holdings have been selected to showcase their electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, hoping to connect the Expo to other locations in the Osaka area. Joby’s four-seater eVTOLs are all-electric and have already been certified in Japan, with plans for a future Japanese rollout. With 28 million visitors expected at the Expo, this could be a flying start to the future of transportation! Exciting!
Upgrading the airport experience.Taking the passenger experience into account in every detail, Helsinki Airport is providing travellers with its new ‘MyFlight’ service, aiming to make their journey as smooth and stress-free as possible. The service offers a range of personalized information, including a passenger checklist, an airport map, and up-to-date details on airport services en route to the departure gate. No more running around trying to find the gate – ‘MyFlight’ will remind passengers about boarding and any last-minute changes.
It’s time for chatbots. Two giants from the travel industry, Shiji and Amadeus have integrated their AI chatbots to facilitate the process of researching information and making bookings. The integration will enable Shiji ReviewPro Guest Communications users to be directed to the Amadeus booking flow. Once users fill in their details and are ready to book, they will be redirected to the iHotelier Booking Engine page. The chatbot will also enable guests to receive more personalized offers and shopping experiences, while hoteliers can add value to their direct booking channel.
Smart tourism kick-off. The city of Montevideo is about to become the latest Smart Tourist Destination, joining six other Ibero-American cities. The methodology analyzes governance, innovation, tech, accessibility, and sustainability. Being a smart destination is no easy feat, as it involves a major challenge that requires public and private entities to work together – but we can’t wait to see this process unfold!
Go ahead and pitch it!Are you a startup founder looking to make a big impact in the industry? Then this is for you. The EU-Startups Summit is hosting a Pitch Competition in Barcelona on April 20-21; trust me, you do not want to miss it. Rub shoulders with the top people in the industry and get the exposure your startup deserves. I’m hoping to see plenty of travel tech enthusiasts in the audience! But hurry, applications are closing soon…
Amenities on autopilot. Owners of short-term rentals can count on Sojo to forget about running to the store to stock up on shampoo bottles and toilet paper rolls for their short-term rental guests. The Texas-based startup has just raised $6.2 million in Series A funding. With this cash injection, Sojo plans to take its amenity automation platform for short-term rentals to the next level.
From here to there, and everywhere. Amsterdam-based startup Transferz has raised €6.5 million to help expand its mobility solution. The startup works with travel companies to offer pre-booked transportation products, letting them add their own branding for a customized touch. The platform already counts more than 750 airports, train stations, and seaports in their pocket. The fresh funding will enhance their tech and expand to offer even more options, including public transit like trains and buses.
No more crazy hours.Paris-born startup Brigad has secured €33 million in a funding round. Brigad is the platform that connects talented and flexible chefs, waiters, bartenders, and front-of-house staff with the businesses that need them, allowing both sides to be more dynamic and adaptable. The startup aims to give employees the ability to regain control over their schedule and get better pay and prospects. The investment will take Brigad to new heights, with plans to expand to more European cities and offer the community even more tools and events. Seems like there is a new go-to place for management teams looking to streamline their staffing and payroll administration.
Streamlining tours and activities distribution. Tours and activities technology platform Holdbar has secured $1m in pre-seed funding. The Denmark-based company plans to use the funding to expand its team and develop an all-in-one software platform for tour and activities operators to help them distribute their products and services and drive efficiency. Holdbar intends to overcome the current problematic systems that prevent operators from integrating into distribution channels and negatively impact the customer experience.
Fly me to Hong Kong.Tourism recovery after the pandemic has seen many strategies implemented by destinations. However, one, in particular, has captured widespread attention: Hong Kong is giving away half a million airline tickets to fly in tourists. The program launches on March 1st and will continue for roughly six months, with tickets being distributed in phases. Tourists can also take advantage of special offers and vouchers, including over a million vouchers (valued at €11.60) that provide discounts on food, drinks, transportation, hotels, shopping, and attractions. Can we all agree that this approach to boosting tourism will change travelers’ perceptions when considering their next destination? I’m ready!It appears that Macau is following in Hong Kong’s footsteps with a similar program.
Boat Sharing Revolution. With the goal to make boating more accessible, Finnish boat-sharing startup Skipperi has raised €7m. The Helsinki-based company provides a shared-use boating subscription service and a peer-to-peer boat rental platform, both of which can be accessed via the Skipperi app. The startup currently offers over 400 boats across six locations and it aims to make boating more accessible, especially to those who find boat ownership too expensive. Skipperi offers practical and theoretical training to ensure safe boating and uses geofencing and AI to provide real-time information on boating conditions.
Vietnam’s Unique Offerings. Travel and experiences platform Klook has formed two partnerships with two of Vietnam’s top attraction players Sun World and VinWonders, aimed at increasing the visibility of Vietnam as a destination for international travelers. The digital marketing initiatives will feature promotional content and campaigns, and the partnerships will be vital in driving tourists to Vietnam, which is expected to welcome 8 million visitors in 2023. The country recorded significant growth in demand in 2022 and the partnerships will play a role in capitalizing on the rising demand.
Stronger tech and European expansion. Canadian startup RocketRez has raised $15 million for its ticketing and business operations platform for mid-sized tours and attractions companies. The platform offers e-commerce ticketing, revenue management, business intelligence, customer management, and retail and food sales. By capturing data from multiple digital touchpoints, the platform provides robust insights into customer behavior. The funding will strengthen the technology, add key leadership positions, expand sales, and develop partnerships.
Elevating travels with a fresh app.Lufthansa’s new app offers a streamlined booking process, improved check-in, and a digital wallet for seamless payments. Acting as a “digital travel companion,” the application proactively supports passengers throughout their journey with real-time updates and relevant offers. The app’s clean design and intuitive use make travel more accessible and convenient.
Meet the city. Get ready to be inspired as we embark on a journey to explore the most innovative destinations in the travel industry! Our new series, “Meet the City”, takes you on a monthly adventure to discover the latest and greatest in tourism. Budapest, the city that has robots as guides, is our first stop. The hunt for the most forward-thinking cities in travel starts now – here we go!
Flying low. The travel sector has been hit with some surprising news as of late and the European travel landscape is undergoing major changes. Two well-known airlines, Flybe and Flyr, have recently announced that they will shut down. Despite differing circumstances, both companies could not secure the funds required to maintain their operations.
Expanding footprint in LATAM. Mondee, a tech-driven travel marketplace, has acquired Orinter, a travel provider with a strong presence in Brazil and LATAM. The acquisition expands Mondee’s geographic footprint and strengthens its presence in these markets. Orinter’s direct relationships with Latin American hotels and its 4,800 travel company clients will provide valuable cross-sell opportunities for Mondee.
Fresh Indian Acquisition. Easy Trip Planners, the company behind the popular EaseMyTrip brand, has made a strategic move by acquiring 55% of the hotel booking app, cheQin. This acquisition will strengthen EaseMyTrip’s position in the hotel booking market and give its customers access to a wider range of innovative solutions. CheQin’s algorithm presents the top five most affordable options from hotels and lets hoteliers view real-time booking requests.
A ticket to ride. A French startup that allows travelers to book low-carbon transportation, has raised €2 million in funding from various investors to support its growth. Tictactrip allows users to compare, combine, and book bus and train tickets and carpool from over 200 transportation providers in Europe. The platform calculates the carbon impact of each journey and aims to help address the environmental and societal challenges by promoting low-carbon transportation options. Pas mal.
Well, it’s not a humanoid robot as much as a robot-like-intelligence that will guide tourists in Budapest. The technology, developed by The Trip Boutique, matches Budapest itineraries with visitors’ interests, styles, tastes and desires to make each one a personalized itinerary.
It is truly remarkable to see Budapest, a city steeped in traditional culture and renowned for its majestic architecture, embracing high-end technology to provide visitors with a truly unique experience. The integration of cutting-edge technology enhances the city’s traditional charm and offers visitors an innovative way to explore and experience the city. Whether it’s through custom travel itineraries crafted by artificial intelligence or other tech-based offerings, Budapest is demonstrating that tradition and technology can coexist and enhance one another.
Also, taking the lead as a city caring for tourist’s experience means it is aligned with customer trends, and creating curated products takes experiences to a whole other level. The benefits it can provide are vast: the itinerary’s pinpoints are assured, research time is saved and, because it is customized by their own tastes and preferences, the content is relevant. With so much information laying around, having good, useful, relevant information is gold.
With that in mind, Budapest will likely provide an excellent experience for visitors, establishing the city as a strong brand and a trusted source of information, potentially leading to increased tourist interest and recommendation.
We caught up with both Fernanda Barrence, CEO of The Trip Boutique, and Csaba Faix, CEO at Budapest Brand, to gain a deeper understanding of the exciting project they have been working on. Keep reading to learn more about their thoughts and insights on the project.
Csaba Faix, Budapest Brand
FutureTravel: Budapest Brand partnered with The Trip Boutique to adopt AI technology to create travel itineraries for the city’s visitors. How did this idea come up and why did you decide to implement it in Budapest?
Csaba Faix: Budapest Brand has been looking for more interactive features for the official tourism information website. Because of the limitations of our current website, we were looking for a solution that could be implemented with ease. This is how we came across The Trip Boutique’s solution.
CF: We have created itineraries, articles and top lists about Budapest on our official website before. They were targeted at travelers in general and lacked the personal touch. We understood that not everybody travels the same way and wants to explore the same attractions.
Budapest is an open and diverse city. We wanted to show more diverse suggestions to the different types of travelers. We wanted to include more personalized articles without cluttering the website with dozens of articles and suggestions.
AI technology is a game changer in this field as it allows the visitor to really experience their own and unique Budapest. These visitors are offered POIs (points of interests) based on their preferences and choices. This will make them more engaged and excited before or during their travel to Budapest.
FutureTravel: What were the main objectives with the collaboration? What are your expectations from now on?
CF: Budapest Brand was fascinated by the The Trip Boutique platform. The POIs are curated by the Trip Boutique editorial team and local curators, which means that many local and off the beaten places could be included in the suggestions. If someone wants to get away from the central districts and explore the hidden parts of Budapest or venture off to tiny cafés, the AI-powered tool gives options for that.
We also wanted to promote the Budapest Card on the platform. The official city pass gives visitors free public transport, free guided walking tours, free thermal bath and free or discounted attractions. We inserted a small icon on all the suggested POIs if they accept the Budapest Card. With this we showed how you can see more and save more in Budapest. The direct sale of the Budapest Card was not a priority with this collaboration, the main objective was to create a cool and interactive addition to the website.
Budapest Brand believes that we should offer the same or at least very similar attractions and experiences for both locals and visitors. We understand that many visitors are interested in local spots and want to visit restaurants, bars, clubs and baths that locals frequent. These spots are not always easy to find but with the help of local curators and The Trip Boutique’s AI solution, visitors have the chance to feel like locals in Budapest.
Our expectation is that by introducing and suggesting new points of interests travelers will venture away from the central areas of the city and explore spots that have a more local feel. The amazing thing with AI on the platform is that if someone prefers the major historical sights in the heart of Budapest, the AI-powered system will recommend those to them based on the user’s preferences.
Another benefit was the data-analytics that we received from The Trip Boutique about the most liked points of interests and traveler behavior, length of stay, etc. This can help the Budapest Brand team to make better-informed marketing decisions.
FutureTravel: What was the most challenging aspect of making this collaboration happen?
CF: Most DMOs (destination marketing organizations) are public organizations that are operating under local municipalities, city halls or governments. Administration, the feedback from all stakeholder departments and thus a final solution may take longer compared with the commercial sector. We appreciated The Trip Boutique’s resilience and perseverance and that they understood how this system works.
FutureTravel: How are people — residents and visitors — responding to the use of the tool/feature so far?
CF: We have seen an outstanding interest by visitors who were planning their trips to Budapest. Our social media channels directed the users to try out the platform. The Trip Boutique’s AI solution has done a good job in creating 3-day itineraries that would fit the traveler’s preferences.
The tourist information website is targeted at leisure visitors to Budapest and is translated to 7 languages. The AI solution at this moment is available in English at our website. We are looking at how to expand our cooperation with the TTB to bring more languages and to make this solution available to an even wider audience.
Locals who have tried the TTB’s personalized planning tool were excited to find points of interest that they may pass by every day but haven’t noticed. We believe that we could also offer them new and exciting spots to discover in their own town.
FutureTravel: We wonder how cities will adapt to the tourism of the future, considering technology and innovation as means to connect with new generations, habits, and behaviors. How is Budapest working with technologies (such as AI) to attract visitors and enhance business prosperity?
CF: Budapest’s tourism has not been an early-adopter on technological innovations so far. There is a paradigm change taking place and we are tirelessly working on digitizing and using the latest innovations in our projects. Digital sales promotion tools and online advertising are already a part of our marketing. Data and research driven decisions are also important. As a cultural organization we are also working on bringing technology and contemporary developments to the art and festival scene. For the Budapest Spring Festival last year, we opened the Cinema Mystica exhibition that blended technology, art, light and sound design. Creating experiences involving technology in the offline space is also part of our mission.
At the end of the day, we believe that first hand experiences in Budapest, local stories and the atmosphere and vibe of the city will be more important than the new technologies. Eventually people will put down their smartphones and will visit destinations where they can really be offline. The Metaverse does not enable visitors (yet) to feel the invigorating warm water at the thermal baths of Budapest, to smell the freshly roasted espresso at a historical café, to dance the night away in an eclectic ruined bar in the Jewish district or to make eye contact and smile with a fellow traveler on the trams while looking at the World Heritage panorama along the Danube river.
We have to find the balance between real and digital experiences at destinations. They do complement each other.
Fernanda Barrence, The Trip Boutique
FutureTravel: Can you tell us about The Trip Boutique? What was the motivation to kick off this collaboration with Budapest Brand?
Fernanda Barrence: The Trip Boutique focuses on the AI-based personalization of travel experiences, giving destinations (and the most diverse types of travel brands) the superpowers to provide individual advisory to their travelers and visitors. By combining artificial intelligence with human expertise, The Trip Boutique has built a suite of proprietary tools and a match-making technology to identify the hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, attractions, and experiences in a destination that best fits each traveler’s interests, lifestyle and tastes.
The partnership with Budapest Brand was therefore a great match: Budapest is an amazing, culturally rich, diverse and sizable city with no shortage of interesting offers. It is a fantastic case for the adoption of personalization tools like ours to help visitors discover the version of the city that appeals the most to them, beyond the main touristic sites and the typical top 10 lists. Besides sharing our vision on how individual travel experiences should be unique, Budapest Brand also saw the opportunity to elevate their visitor’s experience by helping them conveniently plan their stays and enabling them to have a truly authentic local experience.
And we can measure the success of this approach easily and in real-time: the feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly good! We’ve been receiving comments like: “It made everything easy and helped me focus to make the best of my short stay”, or “So clever!” and even “Every city needs to have this!”. That says it all!
FutureTravel: How does The Trip Boutique’s tech solution stand out from competitors?
FB: Tech-based personalization is not easy to do well, it can come across as robotic and imprecise. That’s why our focus and motto have always been: “Technology with a human soul”. Our system augments 2 very human aspects: high-quality curation and smart personalization. Good recommendations can only come from good knowledge about places and about people. When well-curated data meets rich traveler profiles, you get great recommendations.
FutureTravel: With so much information laying around, customized services matter to customers to decode their wants and needs, organize them and facilitate decision-making. How can this curation mindset be applied to the travel industry?
FB: The travel industry is the perfect case for curating information, for several reasons. For one, the travel and leisure sector offers so many options to choose from – thousands in some destinations – that it is actually humanly impossible for travelers to process all of them. Information overload is a source of stress and can lead to decision paralysis – and who wants to feel stressed when planning for or enjoying their next holiday or getaway? The information overload affects not only travelers, but also travel professionals and advisors, and AI-based curating solutions will help them perform tasks better and elevate their roles.
Second, there is a massive amount of data either generated by travelers themselves or that they are willing to share about their dos and wants while traveling. This data is precious and in most cases underutilized, kept in isolated silos, or even uncollected by travel brands. Since personalization is about curating the right things for each individual, knowing those individuals well would be game-changing in the travel industry.
Recent research by Google (2022) shows that travelers are investing more time pre-trip (77% of their time on the preparation, planning, booking and dreaming phases) than on the trip itself (16% only). This is a real unbalance, a lot of it is spent on decision-making, and travel brands that help travelers navigate those phases with a curated and personalized approach will take a head-start in this inevitable transformation that will come. For that, established travel companies need to invest in getting to know travelers’ wants and unmet needs and derive solutions from it, but very often they move slowly, as they face the barrier of legacy business protection. Collaborating with start-ups in the field, such as The Trip Boutique, can be an easy and agile way to apply the curation and personalization mindset.
FutureTravel: While for many people AI is still a stereotypical remote reality; though, we are aware that it is used for creating algorithms, discovering patterns as well as decoding people’s behavior in order to improve their experience, especially when it comes to travel. How do you see travelers responding to adopting AI to their travel experiences?
FB: I believe that travelers are more than ready to experience AI. AI is already pervasive in many areas of life, and personalization, for example, is a reality in so many different industry verticals. The travel industry just happens to be a bit behind in some aspects, even though demand is there for AI-enabled services. For example, surveys show that travelers have overwhelmingly been demanding more personalized offers for years, and yet few established players have managed to attend to this demand. At The Trip Boutique, we can already observe the response from travelers: their feedback to our service is not only overwhelmingly positive but our service is also rated way above the industry average. That is thanks to AI tools and smart algorithms, which create a delightful and simple experience for our partners that are really different from the status quo.
FutureTravel: When we are talking about the travel industry – what are the key players that need to gather to apply tech innovation and bring AI closer to a larger public?
FB: In the travel industry, the large established players have the means and the reach to shake things up and bring AI closer to a larger audience, but are sometimes not nimble enough, or depend on legacy systems and processes that make it more difficult to bring innovation to the market. That’s why, as is often the case, we see the change starting slowly at a smaller scale with early adopters, until it gathers momentum. Look at the electrification of cars: it took years to change the industry until it reached a tipping point when almost every established car brand started to produce electric vehicles. That’s why we believe innovation and change in this area will come from collaborations between start-ups and established players. The Trip Boutique and Budapest Brands’ cooperation is a great example of that.
FutureTravel: In your opinion, what is the potential for tech innovation in the travel industry? What are the opportunities in the sector?
FB: There are many opportunities, which often center around providing better information or helping with the administration and logistics of traveling. Customer support is an area that could massively benefit from AI, greatly reducing costs and transforming the traveler experience.
The main opportunity that The Trip Boutique and Budapest Brands are addressing together are in travel planning and personalization. With such a significant amount of overwhelmed travelers who want and even need technology to help them navigate all the options and manage their trips better, there is a real and untapped opportunity ahead of us. Travelers want to be able to focus on the enjoyable part of vacations, which is experiencing the places they visit and their culture, history, food, architecture, and way of life.
But the opportunities don’t stop there: sustainability is on everyone’s mind, and technology can help travelers make better-informed decisions, and choose from socially and environmentally conscious companies. It can, in many ways, also help travel providers reduce their waste and carbon footprint.
Indian Railways’ Green Future. Siemens Mobility just scored a major win with Indian Railways, landing the single largest locomotive order in the history of Siemens Mobility. That’s right, 1,200 state-of-the-art, 9,000 horsepower are headed to India for serious freight hauling. But it’s not just about the number of locomotives; it’s also about the commitment length – 35 years of full-service maintenance. The locomotives will be assembled in Gujarat and maintained in four depots across India. This order is a game-changer for the railway sector and a big win for the environment, as it will help India achieve its goal of creating the world’s largest green rail network. The Siemens Mobility team will use their platform to ensure these bad boys run like clockwork. It’s a true partnership between Siemens and Indian Railways to transform the country’s transportation sector and reduce CO2 emissions.
Contactless Approach for Hospitality.Akia, the customer experience automation platform that’s shaking up the hospitality industry, just raised $6 million in a Series A funding round. Consistently achieving 3x year-over-year growth since it launched in 2019, they are a game changer for the hospitality industry by streamlining processes and automating monotonous paperwork. With the current market conditions and ongoing staff shortages, Akia’s contactless approach is in high demand and is helping thousands of businesses better serve their customers and increase efficiency. The company plans to use the funding to expand its reach and impact. “Akia is like the superhero of the hospitality industry. We’re thrilled with Akia’s momentum and have complete confidence in its leadership and long-term vision.” said Jim Dai, Partner at Altos Ventures.
Global Expansion and Digital Transformation. Ready to transform the hospitality scene, B2B SaaS company Onda has just announced its Series B funding round. With their integrated sales platform already dominating 60-70% of South Korea’s online hotel and vacation rental market, they’re now setting their sights on world domination. With the new funds, they’re planning on accelerating their digital transformation efforts, developing systems to attract inbound travelers and expanding their reach overseas. Onda’s CEO, Hyun-seok Oh, is leading the charge for their expansion into Southeast Asia, with plans to assist outbound Korean tourists in finding local hotels. It’s a win-win for both hotels and travelers, and with investors believing in their “capacity and drive for growth,” it’s clear that Onda is a name to watch in the hospitality industry.
Setting up a Glamping Empire. Spain-based camping startup Kampaoh secured €14 million to take their unique “glamping” business model to new heights and countries! Founded in 2016, Kampaoh works with campsites and offers a new type of camping that doesn’t require guests to bring their own equipment or even set up their own tents. With this funding, Kampaoh plans to quickly expand by setting up 3,500 fancy tents in over 70 campgrounds, a 350% increase from the previous year. They also expect to exceed €30 million in sales this year and expand their business through Europe.
Digital Tipping and Same-Day Pay Services. A Texas-based startup scored $4.25 million in seed funding. Grazzy is all about making life easier for hotels, bars, and restaurants with their digital tipping and same-day pay services. With Grazzy, customers can easily tip staff by scanning a QR code and the staff can access their tips instantly. The funding will also be used to integrate Grazzy’s platform with property management systems and point-of-sale technology. This means guests get a P2P payment experience they enjoy, while businesses get enterprise-level branding, compliance, and reporting. With this funding, Grazzy is set to expand and bring its innovative services to even more large hotel brands, restaurant groups and salons looking to improve employee experience and reduce costs.
Dine like a local, anywhere in the world. Madrid-based startup Velada, founded in 2021, has raised €1 million for its next-gen restaurant guide and booking app that aims to provide global food lovers with the best local, authentic experiences. Curated by food critics and local tastemakers, Velada’s app offers travelers a dedicated local guide to the best dining experiences in Spain. With this new funding, Velada plans to expand to more cities and partner with brands and restaurants to bring users more content and offer a subscription service for its community of local gourmands.
Big Score for Hospitality Tech. HotelRunner has closed a $6.5 million Series A funding round. HotelRunner’s platform supports the global hospitality industry by providing a unified system for sales, operations, and distribution management, as well as AI-driven business intelligence solutions and a market network. Properties can fully digitize their operations with HotelRunner. The funding will be used to expand offline markets, grow the team and invest in state-of-the-art technology. The London-based startup plans to continue its global expansion and open new offices in the Americas in the coming months.
Fintech meets Fun: A Match Made in Attraction Heaven. Klarna has closed a collaboration agreement with PortAventuraWorld, the largest resort in southern Europe. With over 4 million visitors per year, it is the most visited theme park in Spain and the fourth most visited in Europe. From now on, PortAventura customers will be able to pay with Klarna in selected European countries reflecting a trend of fintech companies entering the travel industry. Daniel Espejo, the General Manager of Klarna in Spain says: “Consumers’ demand for safe and flexible ways of paying is increasing year over year. As it has happened in other industries such as fashion, and beauty, we expect that offering flexible payment solutions will quickly become the new normal for the traveling brands”.
Sustainability Meets Culture in Moldova’s Tourism Revamp. Moldova is taking a big step in the right direction by teaming up with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to give their tourism industry a sustainable makeover. This partnership is all about working together to make sure Moldova’s tourism is as kind to the planet as it is exciting for visitors. The European country has a lot to offer as a sustainable destination, with recent investments and developments in wine and rural tourism shining a spotlight on its unique cultural, culinary, wine, and adventure travel potential. Plus, their tourism strategy is all about preserving the country’s authentic culture and developing tourism in rural communities, so they’re already off to a great start.
Unlocking Hidden Profits in the Travel Industry.The travel optimization platform Hotelmize has raised $12m in a series B funding round led by Flashpoint Venture Capital and featuring participation from existing investors. The funding will be used to “develop our optimization suite, and most importantly enhance our partner’s business performance across the globe,” said Dor Krubiner, Hotelmize’s CEO. The startup is a travel optimization platform that uses advanced technologies such as financial modeling, big data, and AI to unlock hidden profits from hotel bookings and create new travel products. Hotelmize’s platform is already being used by more than 100 partners from 20 countries to increase profitability and gain a competitive edge.
Insurtech and Vacation Rentals: A Winning Partnership.Cover Genius, a New York-based insurtech company, has announced a partnership with HomeToGo. The partnership aims to provide an extra layer of flexibility for customers by integrating the insurtech solution into HomeToGo’s platform, to enhance the vacation rental booking experience. Great to see technology being used for optimizing a traditional industry such as insurance and turning the claim process entirely digital, with an intuitive customer experience that is rare in the insurtech market.
Your Crystal Ball for the Travel Industry. The annual overview of the top trends by Skift is here and it’s a must-read for anyone in the industry. They have a knack for predicting what’s to come and their insights are especially valuable during these times of change. If you’re looking for a reliable source to guide you through the new landscape, Skift’s annual overview of top trends is a great place to start.
Expert Insights for the Future of Travel. With so many trends to keep track of in the travel industry, Lufthansa Innovation Hub has published a list of the best 2023 travel reports in one convenient overview. Tino Klaehne, a speaker at the FutureTravel Summit last year, has read 38 trend reports on the future of travel and selected the most relevant ones. Check out the article here and find out Tino’s highlights.
Netflix’s Flight Attendant Search. A unique job opportunity has been circulating in the media recently: Netflix is in search of a flight attendant to join their team. The ideal candidate would be passionate about aviation and eager to work with a top-notch crew. It’s not just a figure of speech, Netflix is truly looking for a flight attendant to take care of senior management on one of its corporate planes.
Before jump-starting into the latest news on trends, innovations, and startups in the travel industry, I wanted to give an overview of the impact of 2022 on the industry in terms of investment. So, today we will focus on reviewing the past year – let’s go:
★ A new unicorn: In 2022 we saw a new unicorn taking the stage. Barcelona-based global travel management platform Travelperk became a Unicorn thanks to its Serie-D funding round of €101 million which brought its evaluation to €1.1 billion in January 2022. This milestone is also seen as a sign of hope for all the travel tech founders that were heavily hit by the global pandemic in the years before.Founded in 2015, TravelPerk is a pioneering next-generation all-in-one business travel platform offering travellers the freedom they want whilst providing companies with the oversight and control they need. With a team of 1110 employees, it has bagged a total funding amount of €384 million since its founding year. After its Unicorn status announcement, Travelperk: launched a carbon reduction tool, teamed-up with Pleo for travel expense automation, and partnered with Soldo to provide seamless travel and expense management.
★ The biggest funding round of 2022: From a global perspective, Florida-based Virgin Voyages scored the biggest funding round of 2022 in the travel industry. In August 2022, the company raised $550 million for its lifestyle travel brand offering cruise vacations across different destinations. (Aug. 2022). The round was led by BlackRock.
In Europe, the biggest round in the travel industry was led by Milan-based Casavo. The startup bagged €400 million for its digital residential platform that is redesigning the experience of selling and buying homes in Europe in July 2022.
Right after that, Mews secured €175 million for its cloud-based hotel property management system that helps simplify hotel operations so properties can focus on their guests. The London-based startup announced the round on December 2022, closing the year on a good note.
★ The biggest female-led round: In March 2022 we also saw the biggest female-led round of the year, where Jessica Beck and Marcela Sapone, co-founders of the US-based most advanced residential management platform Alfred and their team raised a funding round of $50 million. The round was led by Rialto Capital Management.
★ The biggest acquisitions of 2022: The biggest acquisition of 2022 was the Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Goshawk, founded in 2013, which was acquired by the Irish SMBC Aviation Capital (part of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation) for €6.3 billion in May 2022.
Two months later in July 2022, the Greece-based innovative and fast-growing group of luxury resorts Sani Ikos Group has been acquired by the Singapore-based GIC. The transaction was valued at $3.2 billion. That same month, the public US-based Spirit Airlines, an air transport service that offers customizable travel options was acquired by the US-based JetBlueAirways for $3.8 billion.
★ Startups founded in 2022 which raised the most: On a global level, there were three startups that were founded in 2022 and already raised a big check to grow their ventures forward. Here are the three startups founded in 2022 that raised the most:
The New York-based web3 hospitality technology platform that directly connects restaurants and customers, Blackbirdraised $11 million.
Hoken was founded in 2022 in New York and has scored $9 million to let travellers and traders purchase hotel bookings with the ability to sell, speculate, or redeem hotel stays.
The Mexico-City-based startup Naya Homes landed $5.6 million to redefine the short-term and vacation rental experience for homeowners in Latin America.
So, yes. 2022 was great in many way – and here’s to a new year filled with opportunities for you to take advantage of. I’m looking forward to the innovations and trends we will see emerging in the travel industry this year.
One more thing: now is the perfect time to mark your calendar for the FutureTravel Summit 2023 happening on October 20th here in Barcelona. Can’t wait to meet you there!