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Skift puts the needs of travel industry leaders first when we judge startups. We hope our recommendations provide a lucrative partnership or help solve a pain point.
Below is Skift’s list of the world’s top 25 travel startups to watch in 2019.
The list is in alphabetical order.
Travel search where global companies fear to tread
Money Raised: $10 million
Headline Investors: iTech
Skift Take: This year the Aviasales group of brands will generate $1.3 billion in lead referrals from consumers in Eastern Europe and Russia to airlines, flight online travel agencies, and companies like BlaBlaCar and Booking.com. The startup claims that, since 2015, it has grown at a compound annual rate of 30 percent while keeping in the black. Its Travelpayouts brand generates revenue for third parties by the resale of flights, hotels, insurance, and airport transfers. Meanwhile Aviasales is the most-used airfare metasearch engine in Eastern Europe and Russia. In the past year it expanded into Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The growth is a welcome rebound from 2014, when the company had to weather average commissions falling 40 percent in the course of six months while also enduring Russian’s ruble crisis. Aviasales now has a big lead over Expedia and Kayak, and it competes well against China-owned Skyscanner and Russia’s Yandex.
Oyo-style branded budget hotels pop up in Latin America
Money Raised: $1.25 million
Headline Investors: SoftBank
Skift Take: Oyo has popularized a business model of renovating budget hotels, running them efficiently with snappier technology, and marketing them to consumers under its brand. Oyo focuses on India and China. Ayenda, in contrast, has taken a similar approach in Latin America, where it has 50 properties. The startup, co-founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneur Andrés Sarrazola, recently received a small investment from Oyo’s biggest backer, SoftBank.
Like a Slack for the travel sector’s non-deskbound workforces
Money Raised: $26 million
Headline Investors: Atomico, Keen Venture Partners, and Samsung NEXT
Skift Take: Many hotel housekeepers and other non-desk workers feel disconnected, both literally and figuratively. Beekeeper has built tools aimed to help hotel owners engage with their hourly workers as well as they do their salaried ones. Its mobile app is like a messaging service that acts like a mix of a company intranet, a bulletin board, and a suggestion box. Many hoteliers like it. The company’s software has the rare flexibility to cope with various organizational structures and working styles across multiple properties. For example, Beekeeper’s staff-to-staff system cooperates with popular task management services like Expedia’s Alice and Amadeus’s Service Optimization Software, which let hotel companies track assignments or chat with guests.
Like a Netflix for travel
Money Raised: About $637,000 (£500,000)
Headline Investors: Founders Factory, Startup Funding Club, London Co-Investment Fund, Charlotte Street Capital
Skift Take: This company thinks Europeans might pay annual subscriptions from about $63 (£49.99) a month to travel to up to 60 European destinations. Customers give preferences for places, ideal departure airports and flight times, and travel dates. The startup then books trips, surprising customers with the destinations about a month before departure. It only books centrally located hotels with at least 3.5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Selling subscriptions since September 2018, BeRightBack has already signed up more than 13,000 users. Next month it graduates from Founders Factory, a startup accelerator supported by EasyJet.
Software for tours and activity operators
Money Raised: Undisclosed; more than $20 million
Headline Investors: Intermedia Vermögensverwaltungs, Müller Medien, and High-Tech Gründerfonds
Skift Take: Last year Booking Holdings bought FareHarbor and TripAdvisor bought Bokun because each online travel company wanted to pick up a software service provider to tours and activities providers. Bookingkit, founded in 2014, is a similar vendor that may make for a similarly appealing acquisition target. It helps tour operators cope with online bookings and manage their distribution across channels to optimize sales. While not unique, Bookingkit has market leadership in German-speaking nations. It offers more than 33,000 activities and helps operators administrate daily business tasks, like managing customer relationships and connecting to accounting tools. Expect more strategic partnerships with other booking software providers.
San Diego, California
Helping hospitality companies manage their operations
Money Raised: $21 million
Headline Investors: Peakspan, Cultivation Capital
Skift Take: Cloudbeds — named the fastest-growing travel and hospitality company in the U.S. — solves a software problem for many owners of hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals. Today hotel and property managers typically use several online tools to distribute rates and inventory, check-in guests, take payments, and chat online with guests. However, these tools often don’t play well together. Cloudbeds provides a full set of tools that share data speedily, and managers can access them with a single sign-in.
The next wave in travel management
Money Raised: $9 million
Headline Investors: Howzat, Creandum, and Project A
Skift Take: In 2015 Comtravo debuted as a service to help small businesses more easily book, manage, and expense their travel with a mix of automated and human help. It’s not the only startup targeting small businesses with travel management processes powered by machine learning. However we like its fine-tuned approach, such as how Comtravo adapts to customer preferences by letting businesses use email to interact with it, rather than prodding users to download a mobile app for text-based communication.
An inventory management platform with verve
Money Raised: Seed
Headline Investor: Propeller Shannon
Skift Take: Inventory management may not sound exciting to the average person. However airlines know they could save if they could more effectively track where everything is on a plane and on the ground at an airport gate. Countalytics believes it can help with image recognition and machine learning. CEO and co-founder David Hailey currently focuses on assisting airlines in capturing pre- and post-flight inventory levels accurately and quickly. But the tech could be applied elsewhere.
A builder of mobile apps and content management tools for hotels
Money Raised: About $7 million (£5 million)
Headline Investors: Angels
Skift Take: Founder and CEO Julie Grieve saw a problem. Global hotel chains had used their large tech teams to build smart mobile apps. However independent hotels and small chains lacked that edge in tech. So Grieve built a company that makes it easy for smaller players to repeat the trick. Criton provides a content management system to let hotel operators digitize their guest information. Its white-labeled mobile apps let guests check in online, unlock their hotel room door with their mobile device, send text messages to front desk workers, and track their loyalty program details. That helps level the playing field.
Content marketing automation for brands
Money Raised: $11 million
Headline Investors: Leaders Fund
Skift Take: CrowdRiff lets travel and tourism companies source, collaborate on, and share online visual content marketing at scale. While other companies have offered some content discovery, digital asset management, and content delivery tools, CrowdRiff offers an integrated suite that is gaining rapid traction in the market. Founded in 2014, the startup now has about 650 travel and tourism brands as clients in 30 countries, including WestJet, Visit Indy, the Colorado tourism office, CityPass, and the Netherlands board of tourism and conventions.
Crowd flow management using the latest tech
Money Raised: Seed
Headline Investors: Amadeus Ventures, Oaktree Capital
Skift Take: As its name suggests CrowdVision is a computer vision company that uses video cameras and machine learning to analyze crowds and checkpoints at airports. It also detects patterns in operations, helping operators see ways to get better. Clients include airports like London’s Heathrow, Chicago O’Hare, and Tokyo’s Narita. CEO Fiona Strens sees potential applications for CrowdVision to boost the safety and efficiency of venues besides airports, too, such as conference and exhibition spaces.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Muslim-friendly vacation packages
Money Raised: $36 million
Headline Investors: Gobi Partners, Accel Partners, Global Ventures, Algebra Ventures
Skift Take: In 2014 Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap co-founded Holidayme as an online travel agency focused on vacation packages for customers in the United Arab Emirates. It now aims to fill a larger mission. It sees an online gap in Arabic-language travel content and relevant customizations for the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims. Holidayme debuted a separate brand, Umrahme, to focus on Muslim pilgrimage trips to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The company recently acquired Malaysia-focused booking site Tripfez. Both Holidayme and Tripfez now have a certification process for hotels that scores the properties by how compliant they are to the expectations of observant Muslims.
Hospitality recruitment simplified
Money Raised: $12 million
Headline Investors: Nauta Capital
Skift Take: Hosco is a global professional network for hospitality professionals, employers, and universities only. Launched in 2011, it’s now a job network and recruitment tool for more than 500,000 professionals, more than 270 schools and universities, and more than 5,500 employers, including most five-star hotels in major European cities like London and Paris.
Travel price-comparison search that’s localized
Money Raised: $23 million
Headline Investors: Sequoia India, MakeMyTrip
Skift Take: Travel price-comparison search, or metasearch, is an idea that debuted in the U.S. and Europe. However Ixigo has relentlessly adjusted the concept to fit the contours of India’s fiercely competitive online travel market. Since 2014, it has offered thorough information for intercity rail travelers in India. Now it’s leveraging the audience of train travelers it has collected to cross-sell them on other products. The company has a well-regarded culture of innovation.
Mexico City, Mexico
Accelerating in Mexico
Money Raised: Undisclosed; between $5 million and $10 million
Headline Investors: Thayer Ventures
Skift Take: Intercity bus travel is widely used by the middle classes of Latin America, and Reservamos sees an opportunity to bring those bookings online. The company got its start as an online bus ticket seller in 2012 under the name Reserbus, but it faced challenges. In 2016 it pivoted and rebranded. Reservamos began selling tech services to bus companies. It also broadened its online travel services to sell consumers more than just bus tickets. For example, if a consumer now wants to travel between, say, the Mexican towns of Puebla and Acapulco, Reservamos will provide a combined ticket between more than one bus company or airline if no single provider covers that full route. The retooled business model could work elsewhere in Latin America. Reservamos hopes to break even by year-end.
Loyalty upgrades for train travelers
Money Raised: $6 million ($9.2 million Australian)
Headline Investors: Howzat, Octopus Ventures
Skift Take: Seatfrog’s tech helps railway companies make last-minute seat upgrades of the kind that airlines pioneered years ago. This startup lets anyone who downloads its mobile app and has a valid train ticket to bid on seat upgrades from 24 hours right up to 30 minutes before departure. The computer systems of railway companies often defy easy integration. However Seatfrog — founded in 2014 in Australia but based in London since 2017 — has begun to gain traction in the UK, such as with clients Virgin Trains and London North Eastern Railway. The startup’s founders and its technology have stellar reputations, though its customer acquisition and marketing effort may still need tinkering.
Video-based travel planning
Money Raised: $1 million
Headline Investors: Angels
Skift Take: Most people prefer to watch videos, but most travel content is either text or photos. One explanation for the gap is that video search remains flawed. The startup SeeVoov may have fixed the problem. Its video-tagging platform uses object detection and machine learning to aggregate points-of-interest content. SeeVoov also offers travel brands a white-labeled trip planner. The tool lets travelers choose from curated video-based content for destinations and attractions. The tool then proposes a daily itinerary, with an estimate for a total trip budget. If SeeVoov’s video-management tech works at scale, it could help travel-related businesses turn more viewers into buyers.
Semiautomated, customizable travel plans for independent outbound Chinese travelers
Money Raised: Much more than $10 million
Headline Investors: Fosun RZ Capital, Sina, and entrepreneur Jerry Yang
Skift Take: China has a rising wave of free independent travelers who don’t want cookie-cutter experiences like cruises and packaged group tours. In 2012 Shijiebang (officially, World Tourism Group) launched as a kind of social network for travel experts to share tips. In April 2014 it began to sell travel. It gathered and trained experts to design itineraries and act as consultants via text-based chat in its mobile app. It soon began automating aspects of trip planning by dynamically packaging up to 10 categories of travel products, such as flights, train tickets, and visa application processing. Shijiebang’s mobile app includes walking directions, audio guides, and call center help that’s one click away. “We believe this intelligent service will eventually displace the group travel product’s dominant position in China,” said CEO and co-founder Derek Zhao.
New York, New York
Travel experiences in Africa that go beyond safaris
Money Raised: About $1 million
Headline Investors: Precursor Ventures, Métis Investments.
Skift Take: CEO Cherae Robinson founded this startup as a service matching travelers with local African tours that go beyond the best-known options. Think alternatives like watching the Ghanaian dance craze Azonto in the clubs of Accra, seeing Xhosa rituals and traditional Zulu culture in Johannesburg, or learning to make thiéboudienne and jollof rice in Dakar, Senegal. Given that about 300 million Africans are middle class, the opportunity for growth is notable for Travel Tastemakers, which is based at the New York office of startup club Voyager HQ.
Business travel management services for small companies
Money Raised: $1.2 million
Headline Investors: SeedPlus
Skift Take: TravelPerk and TripActions are popularizing cloud-based business travel management in the U.S. and Europe. The startups offer services for high-growth, midsize businesses that are too small to hire full-service travel management agencies but too large to cope with travel booking hassles on their own. Travelstop aims to bring a locally relevant and uniquely sophisticated version of this concept to Southeast Asia. It can cope with local tax issues and preferred payment methods, and it can offer bookings on most regional and budget carriers. CEO Prashant Kirtane previously co-founded Travelmob, a vacation rental booking service that Expedia Group acquired in 2015.
Online hospitality training
Money Raised: $12 million
Headline Investors: Angels and EHL Group
Skift Take: In many markets worldwide, the hospitality industry faces a crisis in training workers. Typsy aims to address the issue by creating relevant online courses. The videos automate and support in-person training. Typsy shoots the lessons on location, with instructors from hoteliers and top hospitality schools like École Hôtelière de Lausanne. It sees a potential to scale into multiple languages and other travel industry segments.
Better baggage management for airlines and passengers
Money Raised: Seed
Headline Investors: JetBlue Technology Ventures, Plug and Play Tech Center
Skift Take: Unicoaero has developed a central baggage management platform that allows airlines to track and manage their bags from end-to-end. The company, launched in 2016, has already signed up 48 airline users at 40 airports. For example, Air France and KLM use its products at Barcelona and Rome–Fiumicino airports, while Lufthansa is rolling it out to all of the Latin American airports it serves. However the reason JetBlue Technology Ventures bet on the company is Unicoaero’s long-term vision of delivering luggage straight onward to traveler’s hotels or homes. The white-label service on behalf of airlines could save precious real estate at airports if air passenger traffic booms over the next decade.
Online travel agency in a fast-growing market
Money Raised: More than $20 million
Headline Investors: Hendale, IHaG, Jubilee
Skift Take: CEO Le Dac Lam only founded this online travel agency in 2016, but it’s already on track to gain a dominant market position in Vietnam, a country whose economy is estimated to become the same size as Singapore’s by 2030 according to DBS Bank. Several of VnTrip’s efforts are distinctive, like its 360-degree, panoramic pictures of destinations.
São Paulo, Brazil
Brazil’s home-grown travel price-comparison search
Money Raised: About $1.5 million (€1.3 million)
Headline Investors: Global Founders Capital, Travel Capitalist Ventures
Skift Take: This flight and hotel metasearch brand launched in 2013, right before the Brazilian economic crisis. Since August 2017 it has been profitable, and its revenues have tripled to an undisclosed amount, the company says. In the past year the company referred 4 million customer leads to airlines and online travel agencies via its metasearch model. Competing for consumer attention with brands from global giants like Google and local players like Maxmilhas and 123milhas isn’t easy with a team of merely 12. However, this month, Voopter became the flight metasearch service in Brazil for Rappi, a rising super app for food delivery and other e-commerce. That’s another sign of Voopter’s resilience during broader economic turmoil.
Boosting Japan’s in-bound tourism with free SIM cards and other services for visitors
Money Raised: $17 million
Headline Investors: Tokyu, JR West Innovations, and JR East Startup
Skift Take: CEO Fumiko Kato’s company WAmazing has distributed more than 200,000 free SIM cards, or chips in cell phones that offer discounted phone calls, via kiosks at 20 Japanese airports. Her company WAmazing uses the offering to coax foreign visitors to also download its mobile app, which makes it easier to buy activities, rail passes, ski rentals, and hotels in Mandarin or English. Given Japan’s lack of Mandarin or English signs, the app can be a useful tool for visitors. Synergies with railway company Tokyu, a new investor, may help spread the service.
Some notes on our methodology: We defined startups as companies that have accepted venture capital to scale rapidly but that aren’t well known yet. We favored businesses with growing customer bases and trajectories that put them on paths to becoming market leaders.
As a startup ourselves, we have biases. Our reporters and analysts have reviewed hundreds of startups. For our list, founders’ backgrounds mattered a lot to us. We preferred companies that have been backed by investors and mentors who have track records of picking winners, but we also spotlighted a few yet-to-be-discovered companies.
To be sure, we depend on honest disclosures from companies. Some of the quoted funding amounts include equity, convertible debt, and loans. Other amounts exclude debt. Companies sometimes fib about funding, though this usually backfires on them in the end.
How good is our track record? It’s still early in the lives of most of our past picks. But a few companies on last year’s list of top startups received additional funding in the past month, including Volantio, Mindsay (formerly called Destygo), and Kiwi.com. Several companies on our 2018 list and 2017 list have also taken leaps or been acquired.