Travelabs Insights: September 2018
The most important news and insights from travel tech scene worldwide
Machine Learning, AI Development and more from Travelabs
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The internet was supposed to make travel agents obsolete, but travel intermediaries still exist and now they serve a different purpose. The role of travel agents have turned into a consultant rather than someone who just searches for vacations.

On the last 20 years, travel industry supplier booking tools have proliferated along advances in computer technology and access to high-speed internet. But as long as booking tools proliferated, travel agents were forced to piece together client quotes and itineraries across multiple platforms.

How many tools a travel agent normally uses? Remember all the passwords, manage a large volume of files and information while working with multiple suppliers are some examples of the challenges travel agents face using multiple booking platforms.

And what if a travel agent does customized itineraries? Try to imagine the volume of information, terms, and conditions to manage on each destination.

Multiple platforms, in the end, slow down the job of travel agents while delivering quotes for clients, paying supplier and commissions on time. Taking this current struggle faced by travel agents, the momentum goes to incorporate more inventory on fewer agent tools.

Alongside the advances of tours and experiences segment, travel agencies have pivoted to capitalize on the consumer demand for more diverse experiences. As the component parts of travel have become commodities that are easily booked online, packaged tours remain difficult to sell digitally. So customization is a new luxury.

In parallel with supplier booking tools topic, we share on our September newsletter news on tours and activities and on the following topics:

  • Travel agencies, tours & activities: Big tech players and travel companies are moving towards tours and activities.
  • Blockchain and Augmented Reality: Blockchain and augmented reality show big potential to add value to travel experiences.
  • Hospitality Industry: More companies are adhering to rental vacation, Airbnb is moving to business travel and the opportunities for hotels using new technologies.
  • Airlines: the challenge airlines face on data systems vulnerability, the opportunities for better customer experiences and segmentation through technology.
  • Funding & Startups: news about fundings for tours and activities startups, and about travel companies in India, Rwanda, and China.
  • Events: ITB Asia, WTM London and Phocuswright Conference are coming up soon

Travel agencies, tours & activities

Big tech players and travel companies are moving towards tours and activities, and mobile payments reveal as critical for booking processes.

TripAdvisor-owned company Viator is seeking to expand further with a push to get travel agents to book through its platform. TripAdvisor non-hotel revenue grew 22% to $120 million in the second quarter of 2018 - from attractions, restaurant reservations, and vacation rentals.

TripAdvisor has been showing increasing interest in offering flight-and-hotel packages as a product in more markets. The company has enabled third-parties, such as tour operators and online travel agencies like Expedia, to advertise flight-plus-hotel packages for specific destinations that attract a lot of interest.

TripAdvisor has announced a beta version on desktop and mobile that includes a travel-specific feed of personalized recommendations from friends, social media influencers and publishers.

While has only 20% of its business model online, The Travel Corporation sees potential for multi-day tours on online platforms, harnessing the power of APIs that can be provided to OTAs.

Google's Touring Bird surfaces activities in top travel destinations. This trip planning tool aims to attend the need for tools that aggregate tours and activities across providers, while there has been progressing on flight and accommodations booking.

Google gives preference to its own travel products, such as Google Hotels and Google Flights, to the detriment of competitors, and squeezes out travel sites' organic links in favor of paid advertisements.

The automation of payments adds another layer of efficiency to the booking processes and to simplify the workflows in the travel industry.

The fact that the global travel market is becoming more diverse - as travelers from mobile-first countries such as China, India and other countries in Asia-Pacific - adds complexity to the industry. Prioritizing digital and mobile payments is important for engaging with travelers from countries with a heavy smartphone reliance.

Apple is allowing newly installed apps to be pushier. It is enabling apps to push notifications quietly for two weeks before having to obtain consent from the user. Until now, consent was required upfront.

A study by online travel agency eDreams ODIGEO looks into the emotional drivers that motivate Europeans to travel. The company is applying AI across its brands to predict the types of experiences that consumers want and present faster.

Blockchain and Augmented Reality

Blockchain and augmented reality show big potential to add value to travel experiences.

Travel tech leaders are betting on blockchain to transform every aspect of the travel journey, making transactions simpler, more affordable and more trustworthy for providers and consumers

Blockchain also has the potential to lower transaction costs and better profit margins for travel organization in all verticals.

Apple announced that is working to make its iPhones serve as a platform for augmented reality. The company is improving the ability of iPhones to provide richer augmented reality experiences, such as enabling users to interact with both the virtual and physical world while seeing the virtual objects corresponding accordingly.

Hospitality Industry

More companies are adding rental vacation on their platforms, Airbnb is moving to business travel and the opportunities for hotels using new technologies.

Hotelbeds has expanded its product portfolio, growing in areas like theater tickets and tours. Adding more ancillaries will help traditional travel agents better compete with OTAs, according to managing director Carlos Muñoz.

A partnership with WeWork allowing Airbnb customers to buy a day pass to a workspace seems that Airbnb is looking to flesh out its business travel offerings beyond homes.

Airbnb Experiences and curated list of meeting-appropriate homes had been integrated into the company's business travel booking platform.

HotelTonight is no longer a mobile-only company. The company has debuted a desktop version to advertise on Google's price comparison or metasearch since it enables vendors to bid on users searching for dates on shorter lead times.

Hotels are developing WeChat mini-programs to drive digital bookings among Chinese travelers. WeChat mini-programs act like apps, so users save data and storage in the cloud.

Hilton has introduced a brand-new feature called Explore, in partnership with Foursquare. The recommendations come from Hilton employees, whose suggestions are powered by the Foursquare.

Before approaching a guest, a hotel company has to ensure that they are able to consolidate all that a hotel has to offer in a way that is simple for a traveler to comprehend, with just a click away to take the desired action. Do guests know enough about non-room products, for example?

Vacation rentals, hostels and furnished homes are now available on BridgeStreet, which added a wider variety of extended stay products to its customers.

Hospitality still has a lot to grow and because of the lack of sophistication in technology, the industry is in a position of retail stores, according to Michael Levie, co-founder, and chief operating officer of CitizenM.

The private equity firm Upper90 is putting $50 million into a joint venture with hospitality company Domio Inc. as more investment dollars flow to tech-driven startups.

Thomas Cook Group is hoping to use its partnership with Expedia to start offering vacation rentals to its customers.


The challenge airlines face on data systems vulnerability, the opportunities for better customer experiences and segmentation through technology.

British Airways has been responding to a serious data breach which has exposed customers' personal and financial data and trying to make amends. But the vulnerability of data systems is nothing new and all travel companies are prime targets.

Sabre AirVision Fares Optimizer lets airlines adjust fares based on real-time market data. The AI-powered solutions recommend pricing structures based on customer segmentation and competitor price checks and estimate each customer's potential willingness to pay based on customer data.

easyJet announced the extension of its "Worldwide by easyJet" program to include Singapore Airlines, which now gives passengers new options connecting through Gatwick to an onward destination in the UK and Europe.

Next-generation airline retailing is no longer a futuristic talk. It's starting to take off, and key developments are taking place this year. Sabre will launch the industry's first Digital Airline Commercial Platform, enabling to deliver an end-to-end personalized shopping experience.

Kiwi's new partnership with London Stansted Airport sets the foundation for seamless travel for passengers flying combined tickets of low-cost and full-service carriers.

Funding & startups

News about fundings for tours and activities startups, and about travel companies in India, Rwanda, and China.

TripCreator raises $8 million for itinerary management. The company's software can help travel agents recommend points of interest and travel products based on profitability, available inventory and other factors.

Tour booking startup Evaneos raises $80 million with the goal of becoming a global digital travel brand. The company connects consumers with more than 1.200 professional local agents to create multi-day tours.

Priority Pass parent invests in mobile airport food ordering platform Grab, as part of partnerships expansion into new airport experiences.

TUI Group has acquired Milan-based tours and activities startup Musement for an undisclosed amount. The startup has about 35.000 non-exclusive tours and activities products in 1.100 cities around the world.

A Yale-based company called Odyssey has launched an app that is called "Uber for Tour Guides".

A new startup accelerator HuzaX has debuted in Rwanda and is aiming at accelerating digital tourism in the country through mentoring and investing in students and early-stage startups.

Indian OTA HappyEasyGo has raised undisclosed amount of funds in series A+. The startup aims to provide affordable flight tickets to its users through its own platform.

Indian travel-focused metasearch Ixigo is betting on the underserved rail-ticketing segment to drive growth, as it prepares to hit the market for its next round of fundraising for an estimated $50-75 million.

South Korean early-stage investor BonAngels Venture Partners had led an investment in VLeisure, a Vietnamese tech startup that operates a travel and accommodation booking marketplace in Southeast Asia.

CTrip has launched a rail app for the UK market, TrainPal. The long-term vision for the app is as a one-stop shop for global rail bookings.


ITB Asia will focus on the interdependence of travel and technology in 2018, under the conference of "Travel Reimagined". The event will take place from 17 to 19 October.

WTM London - one of the major travel industry events takes place at ExСel on November 5-7. Lots of opportunities to meet and to learn at lots of events happening during the exhibition.

Phocuswright Conference - the biggest and most important conference focused on travel tech and innovations happens in Los Angeles on November 13-15. Don't miss out the opportunity to meet more than 2000 executives from whole travel tech world.

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