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Investment firm Certares is betting on Getaway, which rents cabins offering an outdoor experience to urban consumers looking for an escape from the digital world. The move reflects a wager on travel trends emerging from the pandemic.

The boom in the domestic outdoor travel sector looks likely to continue for some time, as movement across borders will be one of the last aspects of travel to recover from the pandemic. Investors have recently piled into travel startups like Hipcamp and Outdoorsy that are focused on the outdoors.

Certares, an investment firm with experience in the travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors, said on Monday it had led a $41.7 million Series C round of venture capital investment in Getaway, a New York-based startup that offers offers “tiny cabin” rentals in natural landscapes.

The Series C funding follows a $22.5 million Series B funding round in June 2019 led by Starwood Capital, a firm managed by Starwood Property Trust Chairman and CEO Barry Sternlicht.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Getaway,” said Greg O’Hara Founder and Senior Managing Director of Certares. “Since its founding, Getaway’s commitment to the guest experience has resulted in exceptional customer satisfaction, which has propelled the company’s market-leading growth.”

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Getaway has now raised a total of $81.8 million in venture capital funding. It has cabins and tiny homes in rural locations outside of Atlanta, Austin, San Antonio, Boston, Charlotte, Raleigh, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, and Washington, D.C.

Getaway is targeting consumers and businesspeople on their own. The “tiny cabins” are 136 square foot cabins on wheels that the company has designed with a big window that only looks to nature. A kitchenette includes a two-burner stove and a mini-refrigerator. The bathroom has hot and cold running water. Outside is a picnic table with Adirondack chairs and a fire pit. Some are wheelchair accessible.

“In March, April, and May of 2020, we were like, uh-oh, our whole thing is to spend your time in a tiny space,” said Getaway founder and CEO Jon Staff.

But most customers hated being holed up under stay-at-home restrictions.

“Then came the eight hours of Zoom calls a day, so our pitch of having a place to unplug that doesn’t have Wi-Fi became more appealing,” Staff said.

Each cabin has a “lockbox” for phones as a gentle nudge to completely disconnect. The outposts are not a destination for people looking to work remotely. Getaway’s cabins do not offer Wi-Fi and never will. The company flirted with the idea of adding Wi-Fi but decided to hold firm.

“We hit 99 percent occupancy for the rest of the year,” Staff said. Each cabin is named after a grandparent of a startup employee.

Staff believes the Getaway concept will have enduring appeal even after the pandemic eases.

“When you’re stressed out by your job, you’re mad at your boss, your apartment’s a mess, whatever it is, Getaway is the ripcord you pull,” Staff said. “Two hours later, you’re having a deep conversation with your partner and roasting S’mores over the fire. So we don’t even encourage our existing customers or guests to go to different cabins, typically because the idea is you have repeat visits to the same one.”

Direct Only Strategy for Getaway

The startup only takes reservations via its website. It relies on word of mouth and some direct-to-consumer marketing, such as paid campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.

The company didn’t find advertising listings on the online travel agency giants to be appealing.

“It’s not just the OTA fees,” Staff said. “They don’t feel like a great way to acquire consumers for an offering like ours. They don’t let us communicate what we want a customer to get out of this experience, which, if I were to label it, is more of a health and wellness experience.”

“You go to our cabin to reconnect with yourself or your spouse or your partner or to let your kids be in nature,” Staff said. “You’re not going there because you have a business meeting or Aunt Sally has a family reunion upstate and you need a place to crash.”

“It’s not about going to the places where the cabins sit, either,” Staff said. “For example, we have a cabin outside of Boston in a little town called Epsom, which is a nice little town in New Hampshire but isn’t a destination of the sort that many people are typing into one the of major online agency search boxes.”

Staff is hopeful about the expertise that Certares can bring.

“They’re a super unique bird, as far as investors go,” Staff said. “They’ve invested in travel both on what I would call the digital side and the physical side. So they’re deeply involved with American Express Global Business Travel and TripAdvisor. But they’re also invested in cruise lines, which involves real people going to a real place that you have to take care of. So they’ve got that expertise on both sides, which makes them a particularly attractive partner to us.”

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Tags: certares, funding, startups, travel startups

Photo credit: An example of a cabin available for rent via travel startup Getaway. Certares, an investment firm, has led a $41.7 million Series C round of venture capital investment in Getaway, which rents cabins that offer an outdoor experience to urban consumers. Getaway

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