Skift Travel News Blog

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

Hotels

IDEAS: Renaissance Hotels Launches RENAI, its New AI-powered Virtual Concierge

6 months ago

Guests staying at select Renaissance Hotels will soon have access to RENAI, a virtual concierge.

Credit: Renaissance Hotels/Marriott Bonvoy

RENAI, which stands for Renaissance Artificial Intelligence, is being launched as part of a pilot program designed to provide guests with instant access to ‘vetted , insiders’ picks for vibey cocktail bars, under-the-radar attractions, top-rated breakfast spots and more through an exciting new virtual concierge service.’

The artificial intelligence is powered by the knowledge of Renaissance Navigators – hand-picked employees from hotel locations who act as in-house guidebooks.

“Our Navigators celebrate the culture, ideas, people and talents of their neighborhoods and provide their personal recommendations on what to see and do in their backyard. RENAI By Renaissance makes this even more accessible and inclusive,” said Eddie Schneider, Global Brand Director, Renaissance Hotels in a release. 

“We were already in the process of evolving our signature Navigator program when technology leaps presented a serendipitous opportunity to fuse our Navigators’ human insights with time-saving technology. With today’s travelers having access to an overwhelming amount of information, our goal is to help them cut through the clutter and provide a personalized guest experience with regularly updated tips for local discovery.”

RENAI is now available at The Lindy Renaissance Charleston Hotel, Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel, and Renaissance Nashville Downtown, with the service being expanded more widely in 2024. 


Skift Ideas uncovers the most creative and forward-thinking innovations happening across travel. We celebrate innovation through our Skift IDEA Awards and hear from leaders on our Ideas podcast.

You can listen and subscribe to the Skift Ideas Podcast through your favorite podcast app here.

Tour Operators

TUI Opens New Digital Hub in Portugal

8 months ago


TUI Group has consolidated its digital activities in Portugal by opening a new tech center in Porto.

Europe’s largest holiday package tour operator continues to lean into an ambitious digital transformation, with the center set to focus on developing mobile apps, payment systems, and using artificial intelligence across both TUI’s customer-facing and internal services.

In 2017, TUI partnered with IT service provider COCUS to create a Software Development Hub in Portugal. After five years of collaboration, they recently agreed to integrate this software hub into TUI’s organization as a ‘Digital Hub.’

TUI already has tech teams in Poland and India, with the new Porto center adding 150 more tech specialists to its workforce, with plans to grow the Porto team to 200 by the end of 2024.

Portugal is a popular destination for TUI travelers, according to TUI’s CEO, Sebastian Ebel, who said the development “strengthens its position in the country.” Ebel has laid out his intent for TUI’s app to become a one-stop shop for travel.

In a previous interview with Skift, Peter Ulwahn, CEO of TUI Musement, the group’s tours and activities division, commented on the company’s digital transformation, stating,” We were offline before. Now we are transforming the company, and we really want to compete with the other OTA players in the space when it comes to technology.”

Tour Operators

Europe’s Sandemans Free Walking Tours Partners with TripAdmit for Cashless Tipping

8 months ago

Sandemans Tours has partnered with TripAdmit to integrate its digital tipping and reviews platform, TipDirect, with its network of guides in more than 30 cities across Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

The service offers a cashless and contactless tipping solution, allowing guests to pay directly via their smartphones to tour guides. Chris Sandeman, managing director of Sandemans Tours, emphasized the importance of easy and secure digital tipping for their guides who work on a tips-only basis.

Additionally, TipDirect uses generative AI to help travelers create personalized reviews with keyword-rich text for platforms like Google and TripAdvisor.

Dublin-based TripAdmit, a technology company that enables the online selling of tour and activity providers, said the partnership speaks to a “growing trend towards a cashless society.” The company’s recent high-season booking data also showed that travelers continue to look for “affordable and spontaneous experiences” with short booking timeframes.

Source: TripAdmit.

TripAdmit ticketing customers had seen an average increase of 25% in tour sales during this year’s high season compared to 2022. Activities priced under $55 (under 50 euros) also had a high lead time of under one week, with over 90% of bookings made within this timeframe.

Business Travel

Corporate Booking Platform CDS Groupe Acquires Germany’s Corporate Rates Club

9 months ago

CDS Groupe, a hotel booking platform for business travel, is expanding into the German market through an acquisition. 

The France-based company said this week that it has acquired Corporate Rates Club, the business travel segment of TourisMarketing Service GmbH. 

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Corporate Rates Club will continue to operate independently with its full staff,  CDS Groupe said. The CRC tool is available through a customized online booking portal or through integrating its hotel offerings into a third-party online booking engine. 

The deal is part of what CDS Groupe says is a plan for international growth.

The company in 2022 acquired Rydoo Travel, an online booking tool, from Marlin Equity. 

The combined company said it completes about €800 million annually in hotel bookings on behalf of its clients, which include corporations and business travel agents. The acquisitions have also allowed the buyer to expand its portfolio of contracts with hotels. 

The company now has 300 employees in France, Italy, Poland, Germany and Croatia.

CDS Groupe was founded in 2001 and is managed by founding shareholder Ziad Minkara.

Travel Technology

Yanolja Cloud Acquires U.S. Hotel Tech Company Innsoft

1 year ago

Yanolja Cloud has acquired Innsoft, an Oregon-based provider of hotel management software, for $8.3 million.  

Yanolja Cloud is the hotel tech arm of South Korea-based booking platform Yanolja.

The acquisition is part of an effort to expand its hospitality services in North America, the company said Thursday. 

Yanolja Cloud plans to leverage Innsoft’s resources to release a series of hospitality management solutions for the North American market as well as a new self check-in kiosk this year.

Innsoft offers various hotel management software solutions to booking platform companies including Booking.com and Expedia Group. 

Yanolja Cloud said previously that it has big plans for hotel software sales, fueled by Softbank’s $1.7 billion investment in its parent company in 2021. 

The company’s chief strategy officer last year said that it’s the company’s goal to overtake Oracle Hospitality as the global market leader in hotel operational software sales. At that time, the goal was that hoteliers would eventually be able to view Yanolja Cloud as a one-stop-shop for technology to run their operations, including bookings, distribution, and revenue management. 

Travel Technology

Travelport Owners Inject $200 Million to Sustain Its Travel Tech Growth

1 year ago

Travel technology company Travelport revealed on Friday it had received a $200 million investment from its owners, Siris Capital Group and Elliott Management. Based in Langley, UK, the privately held company didn’t disclose its financial performance other than to say it had achieved “a strong first-quarter performance.”

The investment may have partly helped Travelport to acquire Deem, the corporate travel player, as Skift reported earlier this month. Those companies didn’t disclose the price or terms of that transaction.

“The main advantage of private equity ownership is agility, which is crucial in a rapidly changing environment,” said CEO Greg Webb in a statement.

Skift recently published an interview with Webb about the company’s strategy. Travelport’s software supports travel bookings for more than 100,000 travel agents.

Online Travel

Booking CEO Glenn Fogel Cites Generative AI’s Promise and Hurdles

1 year ago

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel cited the “explosion of interest” in generative AI (artificial intelligence), but counseled that it would be prudent to be patient about delivering on its promises.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel
Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, pictured here speaking at Skift Global Forum in September 2022 in New York, is keen on more tech investment. Source: Skift

“But it’s important to remember that disruption has never been built in a day, and lasting innovation is iterative,” Fogel wrote on LinkedIn. “At Booking Holdings we have been using various types of AI across our brands for over a decade to remove friction from the travel process and our teams continue to explore what the best uses of this new transformative technology might be.”

Fogel cited the challenges, including reliable data sources, in turning artificial intelligence and related technologies into a better travel experience.

“I believe that generative AI and other technologies will play a key role in this new travel world, and many of us in the travel industry are investing right now to build the foundations,” he said. “However, there are going to be significant challenges. The problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, this is just one area, among many, where we are going, and travel will be better when we arrive.”

Fogel’s LinkedIn post was a tad more diplomatic than his comments last month when he discussed generative AI during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.

“Obviously, a lot of hype about AI right now, about generative AI,” Fogel said February 23.

Citing a “hype cycle,” and Booking’s long-time work in artificial intelligence, he said: “I’m not sure — I don’t think we’re into that froth of dissolution yet.”

Travel Technology

Travelsoft Acquires Travel Compositor to Expand Booking Software Services

1 year ago

Travelsoft, a company that offers software products focused on travel bookings, has added a third brand to its portfolio.

The Paris-based company said Monday that it acquired Spain-based Travel Compositor, a provider of travel booking engines, for an undisclosed price. 

Travel Compositor said its platforms handle €1 billion ($1.1 billion) worth of bookings annually and generate €11.5 million ($12.3 million) in revenue. The company is established in Southern Europe and is growing in Latin America and Asia.

Following the acquisition, Travelsoft said it will now transact bookings worth €5 billion ($5.3 billion) annually and generate revenue of over €35 million ($37.4 million). With 90 people joining Travelsoft via the acquisition, the company now has more than 200 employees globally. The company said it will also be able to invest over €5 million ($5.3 million) per year in research and development.

Travelsoft products are focused on helping the tourism industry sell travel packages by automating production and booking, handling data for marketing, and increasing conversion rates. The company works with 300 tour operators connected to 600 suppliers in more than 40 countries, mainly in Europe and the Americas.

Travelsoft also owns Germany-based Traffics, which it acquired in 2022, and France-based Orchestra. 

Traffics offers consulting, search, and booking systems for more than 6,000 travel agencies, as well as travel portals, airlines, hotels and travel suppliers. Orchestra said it allows travel professionals to produce, administrate, distribute, and manage travel packages on all distribution channel

Each of the three companies will maintain their names and brands.

“The need for booking platforms is growing and we see many opportunities for consolidation, so watch out for more acquisitions as we build the world’s leading travel SaaS,” said Christian Sabbagh, founder and CEO of Travelsoft, in a statement

Sabbagh remains the majority shareholder of Travelsoft, alongside the two founders of Travel Compositor and the two founders of Traffics. 

Shares in startups MOGU and Top Group Express, owned by Travel Compositor, will also join Travelsoft. 

The investors who participated in Travel Compositor’s only fundraising round in 2016 — including Caixa, Capital Risk, Inspirit (Didac Lee), Hotusa Ventures, and Venture Cap II — are fully exiting company ownership and multiplying their investment by 12 to 15 times, the company said. 

Travel Technology

India’s TBO.com Fully Acquires Accommodation Wholesaler BookaBed

1 year ago

Tek Travels, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indian travel distribution platform TBO.com, has fully acquired BookaBed, a business-to-business (B2B) accommodation wholesaler for an undisclosed amount.

Last year in April, Tek Travels had acquired a 51 percent stake in BookaBed.

Headquartered in Switzerland’s Zug, Bookabed is said to be one of the largest online business-to-business booking engine in Ireland.

With this acquisition, TBO further deepens its European footprint into Ireland and UK, the company said in a statement.

BookABed now becomes TBO Ireland & UK and Karl Tyrell, the CEO of BookaBed, will continue in his role.

Over the course of the year, the breadth and depth of BookaBed will be fully integrated into the TBO platform which today lists over one million properties worldwide, a statement read.

BookaBed had said last year that it would increase its market share in Ireland and the UK by leveraging TBO’s global application programming interfaces (API) business, and TBO Academy that trains and educates travel agents and travel trade partners.

“Since integrating with TBO, we’ve had greater ability to engage the Irish and UK markets stronger and deliver increased value to our customers. We will continue to service our customers and will advise our customers on how the new brand will roll out over the coming months,” Tyrell said.

TBO said the development reflects the aggressive growth plans it has set globally. The company said it would continue to step up investments and look at partnerships to expand, hire and improve customer experience in an effort to simplify and empower the travel ecosystem.

In 2021, TBO had submitted draft papers with the Indian market regulator to raise $253 million through an initial public offering (IPO) of shares and has received the go ahead to raise funds.

Travel Technology

Software Developer Makes AI Travel Itinerary Tool

1 year ago

During her Christmas holiday, a software developer created a tool to generate and map travel itineraries using generative artificial intelligence (AI). 

The Australia-based developer, Katrin Schmid, posted on Linkedin about the tool she made, called Journeai. It is powered by the generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, released last year by OpenAi, a San Francisco-based AI research lab that has gotten at least $2 billion in investment.  

This new subset of AI can generate a new, unique product based on specific rules it’s given, a big leap ahead of the limited way AI has historically used existing datasets to draw conclusions and make predictions. 

OpenAi’s ChatGPT can already create a personalized travel itinerary within seconds. The Journeai tool uses that capability and adds the interactive mapping component through Google Maps — showing how easy it can be to solve a notable issue with generative AI, which is the lack of details like time, date, and geolocation. 

Despite the bugs with generative AI that users continue to point out, this is an early example of how the technology is expected to shake up the travel industry, starting with travel marketing, travel agents, and tour operators. 

There is more to come. 

“By the end of the year, you won’t be able to tell the difference between human production and AI production,” said travel industry consultant Peter Syme in a recent interview with Skift

“Every single tourism business, from a hotel to a tour operator to the most prominent companies, has access to the same power from a content production point of view. Therefore, tour operators should adopt quickly and not lag to ensure the biggest advantage.”