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Called Hotel Jumpstart, the effort gives qualified entrepreneurs workspace, tools and expert mentorship at Traveltech Lab, a London-based incubator next to city hall that is supported by the London mayor’s official promotional company for the city and by The Trampery, a co-working space operator.
Unlike some other industry efforts, Hotel Jumpstart does not include strategic investment. The overall winner will receive $10,000 of Hotels.com travel vouchers. Entrepreneurs instead get access to otherwise-hard-or-costly-to-use live data from Expedia Inc. APIs (application programming interfaces, or methods for retrieving data) and monthly access to decision makers at Hotels.com and EAN who can give guidance to entrepreneurs on how to work with bureaucratic public companies and how to adopt some of the development and marketing best practices of one of the world’s most successful technology companies.
Incubators Hatching Like Crazy
The move is part of an ongoing trend of leading travel companies ranging from EasyJet to International Airlines Group to Marriott to Travelport to Amadeus to create incubators, accelerators, and other support systems for startups. There are now about 14 such programs, up from three travel-specific incubators and accelerators in 2014.
The trend represents a reversal. Legacy travel companies have historically avoided involvement in the startup world. According to CB Insights Research, there were only 19 examples of corporate venture capital out of 100 funding rounds between 2010 and 2015.
Yet travel corporations increasingly appear to want to establish programs where their teams are rubbing shoulders with external innovators to learn better how to handle their corporate venture capital and strategic investment, their commercial partnerships, and their merger-and-acquisition plans.
“For us, it’s qualified lead generation,” Kerri Zeil, head of Amadeus for Startups, told Skift Research for its 2017 Venture Investing report. “It’s something that Matt and Nicole [of Travel Startups] specialize in. They vet and profile these startups to understand what their needs are, and to determine if they’re going to provide them with funding.”
The travel-specific programs include Airbus’s BizLab, Amadeus Next, Booking.com’s Booster, Cockpit Innovation Hub, Founder’s Factory’s travel practice, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Flight Centre’s Little Argas, International Airlines Group’s Hangar 51, Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub, Marriott’s Test Bed, Plug n’ Play’s travel practice, SOSA (South of Salame) and InnoVel’s Travel Tech Innovation Zone, Travelport Labs, and Travel Startups Incubator.
Johan Svanstrom, president of both the Hotels.com and EAN brands, said: “We operate at the forefront of the travel tech industry and pride ourselves on our ‘test and learn’ approach as a means to constantly innovate. Transferring this approach to empower start-ups is central to our pioneering ethos, and we hope to learn as much from their journey as they learn from us.”
Some of the perils of programs like these are the diversions of focus that may result from a heavy schedule of meetings and at-times clashing advice from assigned mentors. But expect there to be no shortage of travel startups who will apply anyway to get any possible leg up in the battle to survive.
Travel has been a difficult category for entrepreneurs and investors because most people only travel a few times a year while killer startup ideas tend to be based on near daily habits. Plus, the established companies in the category spend so much money on customer acquisition that it can be difficult to come in and gain mindshare — so every new mentorship program ought, in theory, to help.