Skift Take

Lola's pivot to business travel makes a lot of sense from a financial perspective. One has to wonder, however, whether the small company will be able to attract customers in the crowded corporate travel marketplace.

Lola, the latest brainchild of Kayak co-founder Paul English, has quietly pivoted away from leisure travel to become a business travel booking tool.

English announced the rebranding on Twitter Thursday (then removed the tweet in favor of a colleague’s tweet), after hinting at the change during a conference appearance in May.

English explained the pivot more fully in a Medium post published in May, citing the reality that the app was simply more sticky with business travelers.

“There were really two key learnings from our customers that struck me the most,” wrote English of his experience with Lola so far. “First, was that some travelers want self-service options to book their own trips rather than relying on our agents to take care of everything for them. They still want human travel agent help, but only when they need it.

“Second, was that the people who really love Lola are the ones who travel a lot — they are on the road every week, or every couple of weeks. They really need human support for all kinds of different things. For this reason, business travelers gravitated towards us in droves — and were among our most voracious users. That’s when the lightbulb went off.”

In June, Lola tweeted a request for travelers to send over a copy of their company’s travel policy in exchange for a $500 hotel credit on Lola.

When Skift reached out to Lola, a company representative said it isn’t currently doing interviews about the changes at the company, but would in the near future.

The rebranding includes the website message: “Lola is on a mission to make business travel buttery smooth.” However, Lola is currently an app-only tool with human agents live in the background.

For those who have been watching since Lola launched in 2016, the pivot shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Leisure travelers tend not to be loyal to any single booking site or travel agent, while business travelers are not only more frequent travelers but more likely to book again through a convenient service.

Always-on mobile support is an extremely attractive proposition for business travelers, especially the sort of proactive communication that users of Lola experience during a trip. This is an example from the Lola site.

Lola has attracted serious attention from venture capitalists; the company has received $44.7 million in funding so far in two rounds, and was valued at $90 million entering 2017.

When Lola was gearing up to launch, English talked up plans to have more than one hundred travel agents on staff; that quickly became 100 consultants in a call center somewhere around the world. A partnership with Virtuoso last year also showed the company’s willingness to go after higher-yielding leisure travelers. It appears those plans never came to fruition; the Lola site currently lists only 52 employees on staff.

The business travel booking tool space has become more crowded in recent months. Concur recently announced compatibility with Hipmunk for small businesses. Expense service providers like Certify are also pushing more fully into the business travel booking arena.

There’s also Upside from Priceline co-founder Jay Walker, which is well-funded and targeting the same small-to-midsize business travel market with packages of flights and hotels.

Cracking the corporate travel market is no simple thing due to the deeply entrenched stakeholders in the space.

“The corporate market is large and has established rules of engagement,” said Charles de Gaspe Beaubien, founder of Groupize, which pivoted from hospitality to the corporate travel market in recent years. “It is not an easy space to disrupt and the promised land for every start up.  You have to find the value proposition to be a real ‘must-have,’ as opposed to ‘nice to have.’ Expectations are high on what you need to do for them.”

A look at the latest iteration of the Lola app shows that the service will soon allow “team” bookings, which means the company could be pivoting towards serving small-to-medium size businesses with group bookings.

There’s also an area to input a user’s loyalty program information, a further consideration for frequent business travelers.


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Tags: business travel, lola

Photo credit: The Lola website. Lola has pivoted to business travel recently, with new functionality for groups on the way. Lola

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