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Alternative accommodation was one the better performing parts of travel last year, as tourists avoided cities and hotels. Now, a booking engine that supplies 3.4 million of these kinds of properties for major online travel agencies wants to go it alone — targeting company travel.

Technology company Monaker Group, which acts as an aggregator for the likes of Agoda and Hometogo, has launched a business travel platform called NextTrip.

Monaker’s entry into a crowded marketplace was prompted by demand from small to medium-sized business owners. It has also made some atypical acquisitions recently, which it claims will help NextTrip stand out from the crowd.

Castles in the Air

Monaker’s booking engine certainly connects to a mixed bag of content — which is instantly bookable — including castles and chalets, alongside the more usual lodging types like apartments, resort residences and villas. However, it’s confident there will be demand for this kind of accommodation from companies once corporate travel resumes.

“A lot of businesses have recognized many of their travelers don’t want to stay in traditional hotels,” said Tim Sikora, Moanker’s chief information and operating officer. “They’re looking for alternative lodging, apartment homes, vacation homes in key areas so they can travel with their families or have access to different areas in a city. They feel more comfortable being in a single home versus a large hotel.”

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Sikora said the subscription-based software, which also features flights and transportation, was being developed before the pandemic struck. “We thought now would be a perfect time to launch that product as business travel starts to resume,” he added.

NextTrip includes an expense tool, and features like the ability to cap employee spend; but then so do many of the more established technology-focused platforms, including TravelBank, TravelPerk and TripActions.

Hometogo, a customer of Monaker, includes castles in its accommodation listings.

“Each one of those companies obviously has their niche, and are great competitors to us,” said Sikora. “But as we looked at them, there were a couple of things our customers said they liked about how we approached our platform. Our pricing is in line with what a small company would be willing to spend for enterprise technology functionality, we don’t have any additional fees for contacting our call center for support or making changes to reservations, and we saw alternative lodging was a key play for a lot of the businesses we talked to.”

NextTrip has about 100 customers signed up so far.

Stepping Stones

Monaker doesn’t intend on sticking with travel either.

It’s currently looking to acquire in-game advertising and adtech company HotPlay. Once that’s done, Monaker Group plans to change its name to NextPlay Technologies and will target the video gaming industry, alongside travel.

Sikora said online gaming, and cryptocurrency, fit into NextTrip’s roadmap.

“One of the things that really attracted us is that HotPlay’s in-gaming advertising will open up another avenue for us to advertise the platform, and broaden the audience, especially among professional gamers that are going to events,” he said.

HotPlay also has significance experience in artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrency, he added, fitting in with the current trend of “acqui-hiring.”

Last month, Monaker also increased its indirect ownership stake to 75 percent in a company that controls Thailand’s Longroot initial coin offering portal. “We will be looking to see how we can leverage that into our platform and use that as a method of payment for our platform,” Sikora said.

Cryptocurrency hit the headlines this week after carmaker Tesla said it had invested around $1.5 billion in Bitcoin, and that it would soon begin accepting the digital currency as payment for its cars.

“Bitcoin will have its place, but I’m not sure when it’s coming,” said Gavin Smith, director at Element Technology. “So they are getting in ahead of others but with very little adoption in corporate travel, what will they do with it?”

A Time and a Place

Monaker has an ambitious strategy to break into a new sector, via new methods of advertising and marketing not usually associated with traditional corporate travel. Sikora said it was using socal media and targeted search to drive traffic, and its website had already received 300,000 impressions. “There’s clearly an interest in it,” he said.

It’s probably got a pricing advantage too, for accommodation at least, owing to the volume of properties it aggregates.

But it will need to be careful it doesn’t antagonize the existing customers of its booking engine, Hometogo in particular and the other platforms it’s not able to publicly disclose.

There’s also the coverage, as NextTrip only caters to U.S. travelers, although Sikora said it would look to later expand in Europe. And how will it convince companies that, as a newcomer, their employees will be in safe hands?

“There is a place and demand for alternative accommodation,” Smith said. “But corporate travel has now moved on from booking and expense.”

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Photo Credit: Monaker is predicting people will continue to avoid hotels even after the pandemic. Marvin Meyer / Unsplash