Skift Breaking News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Startups

Kenya’s HotelOnline, Backed by Yanolja, Buys Hotel Software Brand HotelPlus

2 weeks ago

HotelOnline, which is based in Kenya and has more than 6,000 hotel clients for its software, has acquired HotelPlus, a provider of hotel software to 2,200 clients in East Africa, the companies said on Monday.

The companies didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, other than to say that the transaction was mainly done in HotelOnline shares in a transaction that placed a $24 million valuation on HotelOnline.

HotelOnline is backed by Yanolja, the South Korea-based travel startup valued recently at more than $1 billion. HotelPlus was a fully bootstrapped company, meaning that it never took outside venture capital. Its co-founder and CEO Eric Muliro has become HotelOnline’s chief technology officer.

“Through this merger, we are significantly increasing our client base, while capitalizing on the combined strengths of both companies, creating a force to reckon with in the hospitality industry in the East Africa region,” said Håvar Bauck, one of the Norwegian co-founders of HotelOnline.

HotelPlus offers on-premise software, which will be brought into the cloud. The digital services of the combined companies help hotels with a broad range of back-office tasks, such as accepting a wide variety of online payments and setting room rates in reaction to changes in supply and demand.

HotelPlus has clients in more than a dozen countries across the continent, which will help speed the growth of HotelOnline, which Bauck co-founded with Endre Opdal in 2014.

Business Travel

Former Kayak Exec Jan Valentin Joins Rail Tech Startup Seatfrog

3 weeks ago

Former Kayak Europe leader and now travel investor Jan Valentin has joined Seatfrog‘s board of directors, as the rail startup looks to move on from the pandemic by tapping into the trend for more sustainable travel.

The app, which lets train travelers upgrade their ticket at a reduced rate on the original cost by bidding, was named a Skift Top Travel Startup to Watch in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and it lost 97 percent of its revenue.

Now the company wants to put coronavirus behind it with the appointment of Valentin, who used to be Kayak’s managing director and senior vice president in Europe. Valentin also runs ennea capital partners, which in 2020 merged with Howzat Partners to create a new $100 million fund to invest in travel startups and other digital businesses.

Howzat also invested in Seatfrog’s $1.2 million seed round, but Skift understands no extra investment accompanied Valentin’s appointment to the board.

Valentin is also a backer of Comtravo, the German corporate travel agency that was recently bought by TripActions.

Seatfrog said in a statement Valentin joins at a perfect time to support the company’s mission to reimagine the rail experience in a category that has been “trundling along without meaningful innovation for decades.”

“Governments are spending $400 billion plus in Europe to drive modal shift to more sustainable train travel, but it remains a massively under-digitized category, and the customer experience is a mess,” he said.

Seatfrog said it had recorded 1,400 percent growth so far this year, and is expanding internationally.

“We’ve delighted millions of passengers, and driven large revenue uplifts for rail companies well beyond the capabilities of the category’s legacy systems,” added Iain Griffin, CEO and co-founder of Seatfrog.

Startups

Guesty Raises $170 Million for Short-Term Rental Management Software

1 month ago

Guesty, which makes software for managing short-term rentals and other travel lodging, said on Tuesday it had raised $170 million in a Series E round of funding.

Apax Digital Funds, MSD Partners, and Sixth Street Growth led the round, while existing investors Viola Growth and Flashpoint also took part. Guesty said it was on track to generate $100 million in revenues within the next year.

“Despite an exceptionally challenging fundraising climate, the funding Guesty has raised is a vote of confidence in the travel and short-term rental ecosystem,” said co-founder and CEO Amiad Soto.

Customers use Guesty to take bookings and payments directly and via Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia, Booking.com, and other online travel agencies. The platform helps streamline the process of communicating with guests and handling housekeeping and other operational tasks.

The company will use some of the capital to make acquisitions and expand into unspecified new business verticals. Its executives believe that, as short-term rental managers become more professionalized and grow in size, they will outsource more tasks to tech vendors. They argue that this dynamic will lead to industry consolidation. For context, Skift Research subscribers can read Skift Research’s hospitality reports.

Guesty was part of the winter 2014 class at Y Combinator. One of the things the accelerator’s mentors taught Guesty’s founders was to focus on creating a small fan base of dedicated customers and super-serving them before scaling. Soto credits focus on polishing the product for the edge the company has had over rivals.

Startups

Travel Startup Boatsetter Raises $38 Million

2 months ago

Boatsetter, which offers more than 50,000 personal watercraft for rental along with activities like wakeboarding, said on Monday it had raised $38 million in Series B funding.

Level Equity participated in the round. The same firm recently helped vacation rental property manager Vacasa go from startup to public company.

The Miami-based Boatsetter believes it can do for boating what Airbnb did for short-term rental apartments.

“By making it simple and worry-free to book an experience through Boatsetter, we’ve been able to welcome hundreds of thousands of new boaters onto the water for the very first time,” said Jaclyn Baumgarten, co-founder and CEO of Boatsetter.

The digital private markets team of J.P. Morgan Securities served as the sole placement agent for the deal.

Travel Technology

JetBlue-Backed Startup Flyr Buys Airline E-Commerce Company Newshore

3 months ago

Flyr Labs, which sells software to airlines to help them set their fares in revenue-boosting ways, has bought Newshore, a Barcelona-based software business that helps airlines with selling.

The companies didn’t share the deal terms or price. They said the acquisition would help Flyr’s clients in a few ways, such as by helping carriers more accurately predict buying patterns and respond to disruptions.

“Newshore’s disruption management solution automatically manages and communicates remediations to customers – streamlining many previously inefficient manual processes,” said a spokesperson. The software tools sync with the most commonly used airline technology systems.

Newshore’s Internet booking engine, its tools for improving upselling, and other services, will also appeal to airline customers, the companies said.

Flyr is a San Francisco-based startup backed by JetBlue Airways’ corporate venture arm JetBlue Technology Ventures. It has disclosed raising more than $150 million in funding from multiple investors to date.

See the press release for details.

Travel Technology

Travel Startup Caravelo Raises About $3 Million in Funding for Travel Subscriptions Tech

3 months ago

Caravelo, a startup specializing in travel subscription services, said on Monday that it had received approximately $3 million (€3 million) in funding from Banco Sabadell via Sabadell Venture Capital and Inveready Venture Finance.

Caravelo, based in Barcelona, said it had seen revenue from its travel subscription solutions double in the first half of the year.

In the past year, it began helping Alaska Airlines on the back-end with that carrier’s recently launched subscription program.

Since 2018 the startup has run a subscription offering on behalf of Volaris, the Mexican low-cost carrier. The Volaris VPass lets more than 30,000 consumers fly within Mexico once a month, paying only taxes when you book in return. Plans vary, but the monthly subscription for round-trip tickets is about $35 (699 Mexican pesos) a month. Volaris’ VPass recently reported a 95 percent increase in users, year-over-year, as well as revenue that is already 105 percent above pre-pandemic levels.

“In the past year, the industry has finally woken up to the power of subscriptions,” said CEO Iñaki Uriz. “We have seen a marked increase in the number of airlines that are working with us to build subscription programs. We are expecting to make new announcements before the end of the year, including the launch of a new type of subscription product by a large carrier in Latin America.”

Airlines

India’s Newest Airline Akasa Air Cleared For Takeoff

3 months ago

It’s official: India has a new airline. The government granted Akasa Air its air operator certificate, without which the startup could not begin revenue flights, on Thursday, and allowing passenger service to begin later this month.

“We now look forward to opening our flights for sale, leading to the start of commercial operations by late July. This will begin our journey towards building India’s greenest, most dependable, and most affordable airline,” Akasa founder and CEO Vinay Dube said in a statement.

Dube, in an interview with Skift earlier in July, said the airline aimed to increase the number of Indians who fly — rather than take the train or buses — when they travel around the country, rather than capture marketshare from competitors, including market leader IndiGo and Tata-owned Air India. This strategy has proven very successful in other developing markets, for example, in Mexico where discounter Volaris has become the country’s largest airline with a business model focused on shifting bus riders to flyers.

Akasa will launch with two Boeing 737 Max aircraft, and plans to grow by one aircraft per month through the end of the 2023 fiscal year. The airline plans to operate 72 aircraft within five years.

(Boeing/Akasa Air)

Online Travel

Tripadvisor CEO Steve Kaufer Officially Steps Down and Looks Forward to Next Chapter

3 months ago

Tripadvisor co-founder Steve Kaufer has stepped down as CEO after 22 years, as expected, and Matt Goldberg took over.

Tripadvisor co-founder and CEO Steve Kaufer. Tripadvisor

In a Twitter post Friday, Kaufer offered “some parting thoughts” and said he welcomed any ideas on a new gig that would be “disruptive, challenging and impactful.”

Kaufer and Tripadvisor had a deep impact on how travel is planned and purchased as user-generated content became a staple, and all of the major brands, from online travel agencies to hotels and airlines, followed that path. Tripadvisor signage and plaudits took their place in restaurant and hotel storefronts, and lobbies around the world.

In this post from November, when Tripadvisor began a search for Kaufer’s successor, we touched on some of Kaufer’s big wins and failures.

Beyond profits and revenue marks, Kaufer will known as one of a handful of executives in the travel industry to speak out against former President Donald Trump’s Muslim bans, and anti-immigrant policies.

Whether it is as an angel investor or leading another company, be it a startup or something more established, the business world certainly will hear again from the guy who helped create, from the perch of a Massachusetts pizzeria, what would become a household-name brand, Tripadvisor.

Short-Term Rentals

Property Manager WanderJaunt Shuts Down

3 months ago

Short-term rental property manager WanderJaunt ceased operations.

An announcement on a Wanderjaunt customer service phone line said that “due to the current economic situation” Wanderjaunt is permanently closing on Thursday, June 30, and ceased operations Tuesday.

Guests with bookings that had checkouts by Thursday could complete their stays, the announcement said, and those with stays running after that should vacate the properties by June 30.

The company said it would process refund requests but customers should contact their credit card companies with any difficulties.

Guests who booked Wanderjaunt properties on Airbnb should contact Airbnb, the announcement said.

Co-founded by Michael Chen, Barrett Glasauer and Andres Green, the property manager, launched in 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area, had raised $37 million from investors including Global Founders Capital, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and Bossanova Investmentos.

WanderJaunt entered into long-term leases with developers, and distributed its rentals on Airbnb and other third-party websites. It was trying to build a brand.

Skift is reaching out to the company for comment.

Airlines

JAL Is Testing Flight Subscriptions Again With the Help of a Japanese Startup

3 months ago

Between August and November 2021, Japan Airlines (JAL) began a three-month promotion, making non-refundable flight tickets available in a discounted wholesale deal to travelers booking trips. 

On June 22, the promotion returned, with some small changes. Up to 1,000 customers will be able to buy flight subscriptions, giving them access to tickets on up to 143 domestic routes.

The promotion is run by a Nagasaki-based startup, KabuK Style, which has a consumer-facing brand called HafH (Home Away From Home). Pricing is at ¥28,800, ¥39,800, or ¥82,000 monthly, or approximately $213, $295, or $606. This time one-way and multi-city reservations are possible, unlike last time, which only allowed round trips on 10 routes.

The project is the latest example of travel companies testing the subscription model. For more on KabuK Style’s earlier promotion with JAL, see Skift’s earlier article.

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