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UK govt’s top innovation agency backs ‘slow’ travel company born during the pandemic with £1.1M funding

As the world tried to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus and contain the outbreak, tourism slowly came to a halt. One of the most affected industries, the travel and tourism sector, bore the brunt of the downturn much more than others. And yet, there were startups last year which rose to the occasion to launch alternative ways to travel and raise funding, too.

Growing fast, thanks to a surge in appetite for unique and environment-friendly travel is travel tech startup Byway. Started during the pandemic last year, the British female-led startup tailored ‘slow tourism’ packages for travel across England and France via train, boat, and bike, promising customers that they would never have to set foot in an airport.

Government’s top innovation agency funding

As sustainable journeys became viable and travellers chose to use other mediums to travel with air travel coming to a halt, this alternate way has proven to be extremely fruitful for the new startup. Following a successful first year, the world’s first flight-free holiday platform has announced £1.1 million of funding from an Innovate UK SMART grant as well as Founders Factory and angel investors. Angels include founder and CEO of Viator and Rome2Rio, Rod Cuthbert, slow travel guru Ed Gillespie, and former Chair of Visit Britain, Christopher Rodrigues CBE.

Slow travel, the new way forward

The startup is building a new type of holiday focussed on slowing down the journey, personalising the experience and keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum. Its mission is to bring sustainable leisure travel to the mainstream, building a vibrant travel ecosystem away from tourist hotspots and boosting local economies.

Byway offers hyper-personalised flight-free holidays that take travellers away from the crowds by train, bus and boat, built in just a few clicks.

Extending flight-free dynamic packaging technology

This funding will accelerate Byway’s growth, expanding the technical, customer experience and marketing teams (there are currently five open roles) and extending its groundbreaking flight-free dynamic packaging technology, which allows holiday makers to instantly create slow travel holidays built to their preferences.

Since launching in mid-2020, over 7,500 trips have been built with Byway’s dynamic trip builder, a technology that allows flight-free travel to scale in a way that’s not been possible before. As travel opens back up, the business, certified a Pending B Corporation, is scaling rapidly with customers more than happy to take the scenic route, evidenced by a 100% five star review record to date.

Being sustainable

Talking about the new funding and how the past year has forced the world to slow right down, Cat Jones, Founder and CEO of Byway, said: “Our tech-driven approach to slow travel is not just about providing holiday experiences grounded in travelling through, rather than flying over, but about accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable travel. Emerging from lockdown, many people are now choosing slower, more sustainable holidays that take them away from the crowds and help them enjoy the journey as much as the destination.”

The personalised, experience-based approach and on-demand WhatsApp support means holidaymakers get to spend a whole lot of time enjoying their trip and none at all managing multiple tickets, complicated timetables, and changing travel restrictions, she added.

Reducing carbon emissions

Angel investor Ed Gillespie said: “Our investment in Byway is not just about a great bet on a company with a superb founding team and obvious traction, but also about supporting a future of reducing carbon emissions. Aviation is a massive contributor to climate change, and over-tourism is a huge ecological issue. Tourism can be restorative to both the people on the trip, and the places they visit. That’s a future I want to invest in.”

Byway packages up complete ABTA-protected holidays, built by matching an intricate understanding of each traveller’s wants and needs with its deep knowledge of slow travel gems across its destinations in the UK, France, and Italy.