Skift Take

With uncertainty over traditional business travel’s return still lingering, niche is the only way forward.

The launch of a bespoke travel booking platform for ship crews says a lot about where an early recovery lies.

UK corporate travel startup TapTrip has developed Vessul, a business travel and expense tool designed specifically for the maritime industry. For example, it can help crews get to ships on time, with unique features including the ability to lump up to 255 passengers from multiple cities, and up to 25 flights, into a single booking.

The maritime industry is vast, spanning cruise lines, container ships and energy companies. This latter sector has complex travel requirements, whether it’s transporting workers to oil rigs by helicopter or sending out ships to maintain offshore wind farms.

A mix of 20 travel agencies and shipping companies are trialing Vessul, amid signs of a travel rebound for the maritime industry, which is being boosted by decarbonization projects and a push for renewable energy as oil and gas firms report heavy losses.

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Amadeus is predicting marine firms will lead the overall non-leisure recovery this year. According to its poll of senior executives in the global business travel industry, carried out with the Business Travel Association, 51 percent said this is the sector that would bounce back first, followed by large corporations at 37 percent.

Plans In Motion

There have been a number of significant developments recently.

On Thursday, ATPI announced it had acquired German travel agency Hamburg Sud Reiseagentur from shipping giant A.P. Moller – Maersk.

“Our Nordic marine businesses in Norway and Denmark, and Southern European marine businesses in Greece and Cyprus have all highlighted the need to be physically present in Hamburg,” said Adam Knights, regional managing director Europe and Middle East at ATPI.

There’s also some element of modernization occurring. TapTrip claims 98 percent of travel bookings for oil and marine companies is offline, and it wants to reduce that to 30 percent with Vessul.

In 2019, the overall maritime technology sector was estimated to be worth $106 billion, expected to rise to $278 billion by 2030, according to Inmarsat.

TapTrip founders, from left: Jack Timblin, CTO; Neil Ruth, COO; and Thomas Young, CEO. Picture: TapTrip

Venture capital is wading in too.

Rainmaking has just launched a dedicated $23 million fund called Motion Ventures, aimed at disrupting shipping and port businesses. Signal Group also has a new venture building and strategic investment arm, Signal Ventures, for the shipping industry.

ATPI itself rolled out a fund called Endeavour in February last year, to invest in disruptive travel startups, including TapTrip, in which it has so far injected $1.4 million. In November, TapTrip raised $3.5 million, backed by Barclays, Techstars, Startup Funding Club, EasyJet, and ATPI.

Cleaner and Greener

More UK travel management companies are preparing for growth, either anchored to North Sea activity or further afield.

The UK is the world’s largest market for the development and deployment of offshore wind, with the southern North Sea the most densely populated area for offshore wind projects. As a result, many companies are gearing up to share their expertise worldwide.

“There is a big change in direction from the traditional oil and gas sector to the renewable energies and decarbonization of the environment,” said Kevin Harrison, managing director at Good Travel Management, which has just taken over collapsed maritime specialist Horncastle Travel‘s slot as a Lufthansa City Center member.

Harrison has seen more startups enter the sector. “If the UK’s the leader, it generates business opportunities for companies to sell those services overseas, which goes into the travel space. A lot of these qualify for the marine and offshore fares,” he said.

Block Island Wind Farm, located off Rhode Island, is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S. Picture: Unsplash

Good Travel Management has a separate marine division within its operations, and expects this to grow at a stronger rate than its traditional corporate travel business.

CWT’s specialist Energy, Resources and Marine division, meanwhile, has been supporting the renewable energy industry’s travel requirements for a few years now, and sees a shift both from the transformation of large traditional oil and gas companies in line with their own net zero initiatives, as well as new companies entering the area.

“Across the renewables industries, we’re seeing solar, as well as onshore and offshore wind, seeing the largest growth,” said Carrie McCabe, head of CWT Energy, Resources & Marine.

Following President Joe Biden’s decision to re-enter the Paris Agreement Global Climate Pact, the sector is likely to continue grow further.

A Model for the Future?

More corporate travel agencies may now look for a piece of the action, but they’ll need to do their homework.

Manchester-based TapTrip began researching the maritime sector before the pandemic, after it decided to stop selling directly to companies and instead license its platform to other “legacy” agencies.

“We’re not a competitor to any travel agencies,” said Neil Ruth, its chief operating officer. “There were so many booking tools swarming the market that we wanted to diversify. We want to expand away from purely corporate travel. That’s always been part of revenue strategy, and we see a wider opportunity to help the legacy players.”

CEO Thomas Young, who was previously a product manager at Booking.com, said other online booking tools have tried to penetrate the maritime market before, but used the “same narrative” for business travel.

“There are lots of different languages to overcome,” he said. “We’ve found this really unique spot, which excites me everyday, because I’m learning everyday about a new industry,” he said.

TapTrip has more industry-specific platforms in the pipeline, including sports, under way. In the meantime, expect to see more travel tech startups find their sea legs as part of their own post-pandemic recovery strategies.

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Tags: amadeus, atpi, bp, corporate travel, corporate travel management, oil, online booking tools, sustainability

Photo credit: Shipping companies face complex travel logistics when changing crews. Moto Moto SC / Unsplash

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