Evaneos, a booking platform for customized multi-day tours, has raised an $80 million round of investment with the goal of becoming a global digital travel brand.
Partech and Level Equity led the round in the Paris-based startup, which had previously raised $28 million.
Evaneos said that 300,000 customers have traveled on tours sold through its platform since its founding in 2009. It said it is profitable in its home market of France, where it has 180 employees.
The fundraising is one of the highest sums raised by a French startup this year.
It’s also one of the highest for the tours-and-activities sector. As we’ve noted, investors and travel corporations can’t seem to get enough of the tours and activities space. In the largest funding round for a activities booking agency to date, Klook closed a $200 million Series D funding round last month. That overtook the previous record for investment in a tours and activities agency, namely GetYourGuide’s $75 million round in October 2017.
Until now, local agents have tended to connect to consumers via large offline travel agency groups. Co-Founder and President of Evaneos Eric La Bonnardière said his company has wrung inefficiencies out of the process and replaced the middleman with a model that gives agents more margin while maintaining competitive prices for consumers.
Consumers can browse more than 5,000 itineraries and then work with an agent via the site to customize details. Agents use Evaneos’s software to tailor tours.
“We believe there’s a big gap in the market in the U.S. where online travel agencies mostly offer cookie-cutter options, and there’s a hunger for customization,” La Bonnardière said.
The company believes it stands apart from aggregators of ready-made tours, including its biggest rival for attention, TourRadar, a Vienna, Austria-based startup that focuses on multi-day tour sales and raised a $50 million Series C in July.
Evaneos believes that customization and a focus on high-end, large transactions can help insulate it from the competition. “It’s not easy for consumers to do price-comparison of complex premium-priced trips that agents and customers agree to tailor uniquely,” La Bonnardière said. “While aggregators mostly focus on standardized group and day tours, we can offer unique trips — what we call self-enabled travel.”
It’s not all wine and roses, though. Acquiring customers through online marketing is an expensive proposition. The average person does multi-day luxury trips only once a year, at best.
La Bonnardière and his co-founder Yvan Wibaux claim that, unlike aggregators of tours and activities like GetYourGuide and Klook, they are more comparable to major platforms like Booking.com and Expedia because they provide full multi-day itineraries.
But critics might point out that Expedia or Booking.com can be used for a variety of trips, including generic business and leisure trips, and thus benefit from having repeatable utility.
What’s more, the founders’s ideas for grabbing consumer attention, like digital marketing and YouTube and possibly TV advertising, remain dauntingly expensive. The Evaneos brand name — pronounced Evan-YOOS — may also not trip off the tongue the way other European travel brands trying to make inroads in the U.S. market, like TourRadar, GetYourGuide, and HomeTogo, do.
On the supply side, Evaneos has gained traction with local agents by offering to develop their direct-to-consumer businesses through workshops and software for pitching itinerary proposals more efficiently.
That’s a change. Until now, many of these agents have relied on the marketing work to be done by large travel agency companies and have mostly focused on business-to-business efforts.
The enhanced margins for agents and a promise to help build the brands of local agents so that they can gain more repeat direct business are together creating a positive word-of-mouth effect on the supply side, said the company — which collects a fee from an agent whenever a trip is booked.
Evaneos plans to create 70 new job positions by the end of 2019 for a total workforce of about 250. It plans to expand from serving nine European countries today, with a greater focus on appealing to U.S. travelers visiting Europe.
Bruno Crémel, a general partner at Partech who led the investment, said, “The strength of Eric and Yvan’s vision, combined with an exceptional operational and technological execution ability, explains Evaneos’ growing success among travelers worldwide.”
Update: This story was updated to include an analysis of the marketing challenge facing the company.