London Travel Pitch Night preview: Technology trends and the european travel market

Next month, Voyager HQ heads to London to host our first Travel Pitch Night across the pond in partnership with JetBlue Technology Ventures - simultaneously kicking off the first .events chapter outside of the U.S.  

We’re so excited to bring .events’ travel tech event formats to the already vibrant travel ecosystem in London. Through Voyager HQ’s existing membership we’ve seen an incredible amount of innovation, enthusiasm and expertise from London-based Founders and travel startups. It’s true that London is already a great place to start a travel company - the close proximity to the rest of the European market, access to a diverse talent base with global experience, and several existing community hubs for travel startups all combine to make London a perfect place to start activating Voyager HQ .events outside of the United States.

The new chapter kicks off with a Travel Pitch Night on September 10th, powered by JetBlue Technology Ventures and hosted at Huckletree’s technology, finance and creative hub in the Shoreditch neighborhood. This pitch event will welcome 5 pre-selected travel startups from throughout Europe to pitch to strategic investors and travel industry experts, in front of a supportive audience of local startups, technologists, corporate partners, and others in our community. The judges will provide live feedback to those pitching, and then the audience and judges alike will vote on their favorites to select the eventing’s winner.

Read on for some initial insights from the judges, and background on the startups who will be taking the stage in London -- and don’t forget to Register here to join us on the front row of travel innovation!

We’re also grateful for the ongoing support of our Premium Sponsor JetBlue Technology Ventures and our Global Sponsor Fareportal. We’ll see you in London!

John Matson of Voyager HQ addressing the audience at July’s Tourism Pitch Night in New York City.

John Matson of Voyager HQ addressing the audience at July’s Tourism Pitch Night in New York City.

Meet our judges

Our expert panel of judges will be offering their feedback and analysis to the presenting startups along with questions submitted from the audience. Going into the event, we asked them a few questions about what they’re looking to see from the presenting companies.

On the judging panel: Robert Carey, Chief Commercial Strategy Officer at easyJet, Raj Singh, Managing Director of JetBlue Technology Ventures, and Richard Viner, UK country manager for Travelperk.

What makes an appealing startup in travel?

Raj Singh, JetBlue Technology Ventures: When we evaluate startups, we tend to look at the basics. Do they have a great idea that could impact the industry? Are they doing something different? Do they have an experienced team that can execute the plan? Travel is a complicated and highly regulated industry so previous experience in travel is important.

Robert Carey, easyJet: For me, there are three things: the ability to start small but have the opportunity to scale; Make travel as easy as possible, in line with easyJet’s vision of seamlessly connecting Europe; and a compelling customer proposition.

Richard Viner, TravelPerk: It’s as much about the people as it is the product.  A company that is able to make the consumer’s experience better through improving or introducing innovation pre-, during or post-trip, complemented by the passion of the team to how the business is positively disrupting the space.

What advice do you have for startups considering (or already operating) in the space?

RS: You need to have a lot of patience -- things move slowly in this industry -- and you need to be able to speak the language of your customers. In the world of consumer-facing startups, most of us can relate to them because we, ourselves, are customers of travel. But when you’re working with and selling to travel providers and companies in that ecosystem, you need to be able to speak their language. Corporate customers believe that their problems are unique to them and their industry. You need to express your solutions in a way that they understand.

RC: Have a really clear perspective on the problem you are looking to solve, but be flexible on the best way to solve the problem as you progress on the journey.

RV: Know your market, profile of buyers, personas, the need, target audience, and how the product can scale with potential.

What are some of the top trends in the industry?

RV: I can speak on the business travel industry. Key trends are how the airline/hoteliers are personalising inventory offerings to consumers, along with consumer-grade platforms and aggregated content availability.

RC:
Sustainability is a big trend for airlines and the travel sector at the moment. We want to explore how we can provide more sustainable travel options to our customers, whether that be net carbon neutral airline travel, over-tourism or reducing single use plastics

Distribution is also undergoing a revolution with the new NDC standard. We’re also looking at technology which makes travel as seamless as possible, for example, biometrics and leveraging data to improve the customer experience. 

At easyJet, we’re focused on reinventing the Holidays sector as well as around concepts like traveller-generated content and purpose-driven travel. Disruption, especially in Europe has changed the operations landscape and will change the way we do business.

RS: A major trend is the democratization of travel. As the GDP goes up in developing countries, travel is becoming increasingly appealing to more people. Access to travel has also become easier with costs to travel lowering a lot in the last twenty-thirty years. This price-driven trend is meeting this demand. More and more people are looking to travel and there’s more travel happening. Notably, travel is growing much faster in India and China than it is in North America, and the ways in which those customers want to travel may be different than how we want to here in America. 

Another trend is the desire for authenticity. People want to travel and see how the locals live instead of being treated like a tourist.

People are also concerned with the impact of their travel, so carbon credits offsetting the impacts of travel and biofuels are on the rise. 

On the technology side, people are trying to put together the different pieces that make up the travel ribbon. Travel is currently very fragmented. There are people trying to create a travel journey and let customers interact with the journey as a whole instead of having people deal with the pieces one by one.

What differences (if any) are there for startups targeting the European market versus other markets?

RC: The most important consideration is to understand each of the European countries and how the travel market works in each. Remember: what works in one country may not work in the same way in another country. Focus on an area you know well and build out from there.

RV: What’s interesting about Europe is that we’re a continent of 44 countries, 28 currencies, with 24 languages. Each has its own strong cultural differences on how travel is managed and booked.

RS: If you are going to be big and successful in the European market, you’ll have to cater and customize to many differences throughout - counties, languages, holidays, and preferences. Europe isn’t a homogenous market whereas the U.S. market is relatively more so.

But also, there are a lot of commonalities. Travel is global in the sense that the airlines serving Europe also serve North America. The OTAs and GDSs serve the whole world.

If you could pick one technology as the most promising one in travel, what would it be and why? 

RC: I would choose biometrics because it has the potential to be a game-changer in removing some of the most annoying aspects of traveling.

RV: Each generation has a different expectation of technology. If it doesn’t work for the first time, it will be discarded. Those startups and companies with consumer-grade platforms must strive to create daylight between themselves and legacy systems. 

For example, I have seen a few that are impactful, such as Fairfly. And of course, ourselves at TravelPerk, where we incorporate content from the world’s leading OTA in the shopping process. We’ve built the world's largest bookable inventory, all at the best market prices for consumers.

RS: I think electrification has all sorts of interesting byproducts to it and can be incredibly impactful going forward. It’s much less polluting, certainly at the point of use, and is improving slowly but surely. Since many travel journeys are relatively short (about 45% of all travel is under 500 miles), electrification could work very well there. Also, notably, autonomy started on the ground and will probably go to the air and maybe marine as well. 

I also have my eye on underlying technologies that are trying to make it easier for travel to be reconciled. I know that blockchain has been very hyped and hasn’t necessarily found a lot of use in this case, but I think there are some interesting travel applications where blockchain may be helpful. Governments, airports, taxes, and fees are all involved in travel. How do you reconcile all of the payments and distribution that happens in this industry so that people can buy the travel services where they want to buy them, but then all the back-end providers can also be paid? Could blockchain help there?

Meet our startups

These founders were selected to present at Travel Pitch Night based on the criteria of pitch deck quality, business model viability, product/market fit, and eligibility for investment. Check out the innovative tools and solutions that are addressing diverse aspects of the traveler’s experience:

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Profiter focuses on improving hotel distribution by delivering more profitable revenue, consistently. With predictive intelligence, the startup wants to improve profitability by optimizing inventory allocation and optimizing pricing. Its proprietary artificial intelligence engine makes real-time decisions on which is the most profitable channel for inventory distribution. It also sets a recommendation on how much to spend to drive direct acquisition. The black box actively manages inventory, while also monitoring and forecasting future trends to consistently improve its recommendations.   

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Cleverea compensates passengers for delays via its Day-of-Travel insurance product. For flight disruptions over 20 minutes, as well as for cancellations, the company offers passengers a blend of monetary compensation, airport lounge access, and discount vouchers for retail stores. There are no exclusions and compensation is all-digital and automatic, so there’s no need to submit a claim. 

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Autoura offers vehicle-based, branded, in-destination travel experiences. On its platform, travelers can find routes designed by local experts and made for walking, biking, and scooters. Brands and DMOs can also build bookable itineraries to offer in-destination. Its bold vision eventually encompasses transitioning operator-driven sightseeing vehicles to autonomous vehicles. In this vision, these “auto-tours” liberate operators from larger vehicles running on few routes, as smaller autonomous vehicles allow operators to craft more personalized routes with fewer people -- all while maintaining profitability.  

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Wowanders Is a travel diary app with a twist: it uses artificial intelligence to help travelers capture content on the go. The “automatic travel diary” monitors trip activity to make suggestions on the user’s Timeline, which can then be added to the diary with only a few clicks. That way, as the company promises, “you’ll never forget the places you visit!” The app makes it easy to share past trips, so trip recommendations and experiences can be passed along without any fuss.

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Royal Brothers Is India's largest motorbike rental platform. It makes motorbike and scooter rentals easier by offering bookable reservations online. The startup, which operates in over 40 cities across Asia, was established in 2015 and has completed 80,000 bookings. To expand operations rapidly, Royal Brothers offers franchises to operators globally.

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Ready to see more? Reserve your ticket here and join us in the audience - we’ll see you in London on September 10th!