Journera, a Chicago-based travel technology company, is telling investors it will break a currently unbreakable code: ensure cooperation among airlines, hotel chains, and other travel suppliers while boosting revenue and customer satisfaction.
Journera aims to link data scattered across various company databases to provide airlines, hotels and other companies a unified view of any given traveler’s journey.
Three years ago, Jeffrey Katz — the founding CEO of travel agency Orbitz, former CEO of Swissair, and president of the distribution division of travel technology company Sabre — co-founded the business. On Thursday, Journera announced a $9 million Series A investment round.
The dollar figure is less notable than the venture capitalists contributing equity to it: B Capital led the investment round. On board are also the famed Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Just as significantly, a handful of giant U.S. travel providers — American Airlines, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott, United, and an affiliate of Hyatt — have signed commercial agreements to use Journera’s services.
One reason they all bit: to connect data and gain a fuller picture of a traveler’s journey, spending, and online researching habits. As of now, companies rely on guesswork.
“Think about it as a view of an end-to-end itinerary along with information about the customer, such as their loyalty status, room preference, rental car booking, number of bags checked, and eventually other data,” said Katz.
Tough Problem to Crack
Many corporate travel agencies still require travel management companies like BCD and HRG to manage itineraries holistically on their behalf. But suppliers don’t get access to this data on trip records and purchase patterns.
The closest thing the industry has is the passenger name record, or PNR — an effort by airlines to link basic data on a flight itinerary with the passenger’s identity.
For years, companies have talked about making a “super” version of this PNR that adds booking information for other parts of a traveler’s trip, such as a hotel stay. The Amadeus Total Travel Record is one example.
But companies have been reluctant to share data and their technology has not been flexible enough to make the process feasible.
Google also has lots of data about travel and travelers but has tended to focus on advertising in the leisure sector.
Katz believes his company stands out from past attempts at knitting together industry data in a few ways.
“A traveler may book a flight and a hotel stay separately and so the airline doesn’t know where the traveler is staying,” said Katz. “We can connect data on those two parts of a trip regardless of the channel the travel was booked in, via it online or direct from the supplier or through a travel management company. There will be operational, service, and upsell and cross-sell implications.”
Journera is not a customer-facing company or a travel marketing company, said Katz. who once was on the board at Sojern. Companies that collect digital shopping data from travelers like Sojern and Adara could become subscribers to Journera’s services someday once the startup has gained more momentum, Katz said.
“We won’t be the only ones creating a travel data exchange,” Katz said, arguing that the opportunity is big enough for multiple players. Journera aims to let travel industry players with data — to pick random names, Google, Sabre, Marriott, Lyft, Airbnb — “publish” their data to Journera’s exchange and then subscribe to the shared information that the startup knits together.
The startup takes advantage of application programming interfaces, or APIs, that provide a more real-time exchange of information than the industry has used before.
An airline, for example, could have its baggage system and passenger service system and digital market system each communicate to Journera via APIs. Or the airline could unify the data streams from internal systems and send one stream of data to the startup’s platform.
Control over data is baked in. The airline could also specify who received access to its data via Journera. It could give permission to share specific data to one hotel chain but not to a specific startup, even if both subscribe to Journera’s services.
Journera, which has 20 employees, was one of Skift’s Top Travel Startups to Watch 2018, partly on the strength of having signed up leading U.S. industry suppliers to participate.
But to succeed it has to get sign-ups well beyond big brands, and the company didn’t show any plan for either marketing or on-boarding those smaller companies. The company’s potential may also be limited by its need to act as a neutral Switzerland of data for all parties. A buyout in three years by Facebook wouldn’t fly with the participants.
Katz argues that the best analogy is how the Linux operating system enabled a lot of companies to share data together more effectively and several important travel companies, such as internet-based software company Red Hat, have blossomed in serving that opportunity. He sees Journera as more analogous to Red Hat than to a co-op model owned by suppliers, such as hotel group advertising co-op Room Key, which he said wouldn’t work.
“The next frontier in travel is trying figuring out how to share customer data to help the industry as a whole manage and enhance trip experiences,” Katz said. “We have to move out of siloed thinking and into the broader ecosystem, and suppliers are the least-conflicted players about that.”
One concern is that suppliers may not have good control of their own data yet, let alone the ability to make sense of other suppliers’ data.
Airlines, for instance, have been hiring companies to help with marketing. Alaska Airlines is like many carriers in that it faces difficulties in connecting customer data from all of its disparate sources because of technological barriers. It has hired technology company Amperity to help it stitch its data with machine learning to form accurate customer profiles they can the use to target customers via its marketing channels.
“I respect a lot of travel industry expert skepticism but I think we’ll navigate through that,” Katz said.
The travel technology giants like Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport, will be skeptical of a little startup taking on such an ambitious challenge.
“Sure, the incumbent GDSs (global distribution systems) are naturally going to be the most skeptical of an idea like Journera,” Katz said. “Why? They have very good businesses that are not going away but that are having to adapt to a world that’s less about the transaction and more about the merchandising, which they’re less skilled at.”
He said he saw Journera as a supplement that could help established technology players rather than as competition.
Even if Journera doesn’t fly, the fact it has attracted an alliance of suppliers to support the concept suggests that the idea of an industry data exchange may eventually be realized.