Travelabs Insights: June 2018
The most important news and insights from travel tech scene worldwide
In our June newsletter, we focus on what happened during Travel Tech Con San Francisco, the only independent travel technology conference for startups and engineers.

The event aims to promote unbiased technology discussion, open innovation and make it accessible for startups.

The 2018 edition happened on June 7-9, including startup pitches, workshops and panels to help startups understand the travel industry, as well as the latest technology to power travel products.

According to Augusto Lemble, who led at Travel Tech Con 2018 the workshop Decentralized Travel Distribution on Blockchain, innovation today is not only driven by communication, but also by privacy and independence from centralized systems.

Travel industry is dynamic and travel startups must think about what the industry may look like in the next 5 to 10 years. The customer expectations for an integrated and connected service are rising and tech travel needs to be able to meet this demand, said Alice Ferrari, who also joined TTC 2018 evaluating the pitches and providing feedback.

Innovation doesn't come up with a unique idea, innovation is understanding the public needs and bring this unique idea to reality.

Changing consumer behavior had the biggest impact on driving the travel industry forward over the last 10 years. As expressed by Máire P. Walsh, the rapid shift to mobile and its future dominance in travel related purchases will continue to force major players to overhaul their customer experiences to remain competitive.

Such shift to mobile - as well as on location centric services, marketplace sharing - is rapidly changing the equation to what is possible in the travel industry. It drives a wedge into what we have come to accept as the status quo of travel experiences versus the new reality of what is possible.

Consequently, there is a need for people who can articulate business needs in a way to be met with new technology that didn't exist in the previous years. Despite all the tech hype, there is still a lot of room for improve the journey from the customer's point of view and minimize their pain points.

Trends, technologies and behaviors will change, but there will always be room for new ideas. In the last decade, a huge ecosystem of travel-focused incubators, accelerators, investors, pitch competitions and conferences have blossomed to support innovation in the travel industry.

Stronger support for travel startups begins with recognition across the ecosystem that innovation is positive. The onus is on the industry's major players to grant travel startups the opportunity to prove such fact, and events like TTC represent a major step to accomplish that goal.

Last, but not least, we have to remember that the people engaging in a product are human - not technical things, but community driven, emotionally charged humans. How is your product seen from an outside perspective?

In addition to the Travel Tech Con San Francisco, we bring news about what happened in the travel industry on the last month, divided in the topics below.

June was intense for acquisitions and hotel tech. And Airbnb is developing partnerships with tourism boards and governments, as witnessed in Japan, India and in Brazil.

  • Business: strategies of big players, new moves on tours & activities and current challenges.
  • Airlines: what changes may on distribution capability and on merchandising of airlines?
  • Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence: can VR and AI improve operational efficiency of airlines?
  • Blockchain: will blockchain businesses survive the hype?
  • Hospitality: the competition hotel players face against giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook.
  • Airbnb: adopting new business strategies around the world.
  • Startups and funding: latest news on travel startups and funding in June.
  • Events: upcoming events on travel tech and opportunities for startups.
  • Emerging markets: innovations in the Chinese travel industry, the case of ridesharing app Little in Nairobi and how India's air traffic is growing.


The strategies of big players in the travel industry and the challenges facing payment solutions and data management.

SAP Concur report looks at the factors that will drive corporate travel between today and 2030, including analysis of technology advances required to progress towards a seamless journey.

Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport have each taken different paths in recent years, but each player is iterating to ensure they remain firmly entrenched in the travel market place.

Expedia is upgrading networks, infrastructure and hardware that were not at the same pace as Booking. According to Expedia CTO Tony Donohoe, the company has reached a tipping point with their platform in Amazon Web Services.

Booking for tours and activities still largely happen in destination and in person, very close to the intended time of departure - a major challenge for any company looking for a significant degree of scale.

GetYourGuide has announced Project Incredible - a new initiative which sees the tours and activities provider take control of the tours by branding them as GetYourGuide.

Despite advancements in digital payment solutions, customers need a bit of reassurance in payment transactions, according to a study by Paysafe. continues to develop new applications based around its "virtual interlining" technology with the launch of an upgrade to its multi-city trip search.

Evaluate your existing data and clean the data set are just two of the steps for travel brands update their data management strategy to meet the needs of today's travelers.


The changes that may come with new practices adopted by airlines on new distribution capability, merchandising and travel patterns.

Survey by flight information site OAG of US travelers reveals that 44% would consider booking travel with Amazon if the service was available, while only 14% would consider using Facebook as a travel booking platform.

Ian Heywood, from Travelport, says New Distribution Capability (NDC) standards for airlines are firming up but starting. It will take a bit long to become more robust and consistent.

In its 2018 Airline Digital Merchandising White Paper, Diggintravel explores the digital merchandising practices that work best for airlines to increase ancillary revenue.

Singapore Airlines has partnered with Skyscanner to launch the airline's first New Distribution Capability (NDC) connection offering customers more convenient access to SIA flights.

Skyscanner and travel trends analyst ForwardKeys have partnered to enhance the statistics they gather on air travel patterns.

Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence

Has VR and AI reached sufficient maturity? The opportunity to improve operational efficiency in the travel industry and the challenges for adoption.

IATA thinks that AR/VR has reached a sufficient level of maturity to be of interest to the air transport industry and would like to encourage greater adoption among airlines.

Air New Zealand is partnering with AR spatial computing platform Magic Leapto develop a virtual travel experience to inspire visitors to head for the destination.

KLM has created a new AI-based range of tools to improve the operational efficiency of airlines.

Business travelers think their trips could be improved by AI-based technology, but are reluctant about sharing some types of personal data.

AI has the potential to change hotel distribution by improving communication and customer service among travel providers, travel agents and travelers they're looking to reach.


Will blockchain businesses survive the hype?

David Brillembourg reckons that more than 95% of the blockchain businesses around today will not survive. Has blockchain promising been overhyped in the travel industry?

Data analyst GlobalData has claimed that many blockchain-based initiatives will be shelved in favour of more traditional approaches.

Singapore-based on Goeureka is planning to launch their online hotel booking platform at the end of 2018, utilising blockchain technology.

Major hotel players are experimenting with blockchain to solve some of the most intractable problems in the ecosystem.


The first steps of Alexa for Mobility and the competition of hoteliers with giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Yotel signed a deal with startup incubator Plug and Play to help it drive further innovation

Some customers are eager for personalization, but many are nervous about companies misusing their data, invading their privacy or even exposing them to risk. Hilton is wary of the risks of hyper-personalization.

Hotel brands aren't just competing with one another. The real competition is with technology giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and even Netflix.

HomeAway is expanding its hotel ranks, adding hotels from parent company Expedia Group. Expedia added 25.000 vacation rentals from HomeAway in the first quarter.

Charles Deyo, founder and CEO of Cendyn, talks about the challenges hotels face on personalization at scale.

Daniel Wishnia, from GCH Hotels, talks about putting virtual reality, chatbots and even drone technologies at the center of its strategy to drive direct bookings.

According to a study by, the majority of consumers prefer to use self-service tools when researching travel options.

With the help of Marriot International and other partners, Amazon is announces Alexa for Hospitality, a division of the company committed to placing Amazon's smart home devices into hotel rooms, vacation rentals and hospitality settings.

Alexa for Hospitality will allow hotel guests to make verbal requests through an Amazon Echo device, including room service, housekeeping and contacting property concierge.

Hotel tech companies are merging as the competition heats up.


Consolidating itself as a big company, Airbnb is moving to new business strategies around the world.

Airbnb debuted a new partnership-driven business strategy in Japan, called Airbnb Partners.The program ranges established loyalty programs and service providers that can help Airbnb hosts to supply partners such as real estate developers.

In India, Airbnb has entered into a collaboration with Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation to help micro-entrepreneurs in hospitality sector grow their business.

Startups and funding

Latest news about travel startups and funding in June.

SeeVoov drives travel bookings through tagged videos. Instead of reading material on the destination, travelers can watch videos previously tagged by SeeVoov's system.

Helskinki-based IoT startup Valpas raises €500K to fight bed bugs and advance the internationalization of its solution.

When it comes to acquisitions, Booking Holdings looks largely for capabilities and for good fundamentals behind the business. According to Tood Hentich, senior VP corporate development for Booking Holdings, the company looks for a management team with buisness and technology.

Boat rental startup Click&Boat has raised €4 million and plans to expand globally as well as through acquisition.

TRILL turns Instagram content into bookable travel experiences, rewarding its tastemakers with cash when users book off their content..

Business travel app Roadmap has received €4 million in funding to further develop its platform and boost sales.

Hotel tech specialist Mews has raised €6 million in funding to open further offices around the world as it looks to accelerate the growth of its customer base.

Barcelona-based online travel agency Exoticca has closed €3,5 million Series Ato expand into more markets.

Paris-based PerfectStay raises €15 million to advance its international ambitions with priority on European markets, especially Germany and UK.

The tours and activities Peek has announced $23 million Series B round of funding. The company also formed partnership with Google enabling customers to instantly book thousands of activities from within Google Search, Maps and Google Trips.

The platform for multi-day tours TourRadar has raised $50 million in Series C funding to boost its technology and drive further expansion.
Triptease has raised $4 million in funding for further expansion in Asia following the opening of an office in Singapore last year.

Events and startup opportunities

The upcoming events on travel tech in US and in Russia.

Skift Inc. and Accenture Amadeus Alliance are organizing the Air Pitch Competition, for US-based startups showcase their ideas for shaping the future of flight and help airlines operate more efficiently. Through August 17, companies looking to apply must submit their information along a 2-minute video application.

Travel Tech Conference Russia will happen on October 4, in Moscow. On its 3rd edition, the event includes presentation of latest developments in travel technology in the pitch competition. There will also be discussions on tech trends, travel startups, tech opportunities for hotels and airlines. Startups from EMEA region can apply for travel startups pitch competition to have an opportunity to win a ticket to Phocuswright Europe 2019. Applications are open till August 20.

Phocuswright Battleground: The Americas will take place in Google HQ in New York on August 7. Early-stage travel startups from North, Central and South America can apply until July 13.

This one-day event is dedicated to bring promising travel innovators into the limelight to demonstrate fresh ideas in front of potential investors and partners. Participation in the pitch competition is free.

The application criteria are:
  • Startup company founded 4 years ago or younger
  • Based in North America, Central America or South America
  • US$ 2 million or less in funding
  • Must pass a thorough and rigorous Phocuswright screening

Emerging markets

News about travel tech in China, the case of Nairobi-based ridesharing app Little and India's air traffic growth.

Eradicating the boundaries between the offline and online world via smartphone, Alibaba is ensuring going deeper into the lives of nearly 620 million mobile monthly active users on its China retail marketplaces.

Ctrip announced that CEO Gillian Tans will take an observer seaton the Chinese company's board.

TenCent initiates an electronic ID system, a strategic partnership between and Spring Airlines.

WeChat has launched a new shopping function that lets people shop on with just a few taps.

Lessons from Pizza Hut, Zhouheiya, Wedome and Hey Tea: how to leverage WeChat, AI and Mini Programs.

WeChat adds tax-refunds feature that can be used at 79 airports in 19 countries around the world.

Ctrip has partnered with Leisure Pass Group, a firm that provides attraction passes for European and US cities, hoping to capitalize on the growing number of Chinese tourists traveling to Europe.

While ridesharing apps like Uber, Taxify attract user for the simplicity to move from A to B, Nairobi-based ridesharing service Little adds complexity to benefit drivers. Using Little, drivers can sell mobile airtime and pay their utility bills en route.

India's exponential air traffic growth from 131 million passengers in 2016 to a forecast of 378 milion by 2026 will keep creating demand for newer aircraft, air navigation technologies, airport security and infrastructure.

With lots of love, yours truly,
Valentin Dombrovsky, Chief Alchemist at Travelabs, Andre Fernandes and Travel Tech Newsletter Team

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Valentin Dombrovsky
Chief Alchemist