As social distancing guidelines and travel restrictions kept people at home, travel and tourism has been one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. While the resultant lockdowns and closure of international boundaries brought the travel industry to its knees, some travel startups decided to churn the lemon and make the best lemonade out of it.
Bravely defying the misery of the Covid-19 calamity, these startups have managed to not just survive but literally thrive and ride the waves of 2020 and 2021. They managed to weather the storm, post impressive revenue figures and interestingly, raise fundings, too. With some signs that travel is picking back up and the industry is rebounding, we bring you a list of these startups and how they managed to stay ahead of the race.
Founders: Cat Jones
Funding raised: £1.1M
The ‘world-first’ flight-free holiday platform 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. The startup offers hyper-personalised flight-free holidays that take travellers away from the crowds by train, bus and boat, built in just a few clicks. Since launching in mid-2020, over 7,500 trips have been built with Byway’s dynamic trip builder.
Founders: Alexa-Maria Rathbone Barker, Ketan Anand
Funding raised: £645K
Focused on helping families book travel in the post Covid world, the startup has unveiled a virtual family travel assistant and AI-driven travel platform to revolutionise the way families book holidays. Its family travel assistant, Skye, strives to guide users through the discovery and booking phases efficiently through a logical process and by fetching relevant information. Since its beta-launch with five key European destinations in September 2020, despite COVID-related extensive travel restrictions, the business saw a 10% conversion rate in its initial live release.
Founders: Nena Chaletzos
Funding raised: £3.1M
The London-based company is offering a technology platform that matches customers to luxury destinations and creates multi-destination itineraries, tailored to customer requirements and allowing the team of travel experts to deliver a more bespoke service. Since its launch, the startup has delivered annual revenue growth of over 100%, with sales in the year to March 2020 reaching £7 million.
Love Home Swap
Founders: Debbie Wosskow
Funding raised: $4.2M
The company is a leading members only global home swapping platform, allowing travellers to see the world through the power of sharing. From city pads to chateaux, the site features thousands of inspiring homes in 110+ countries worldwide. It was inspired by the movie ‘The Holiday’ and has been helping members swap houses and lives for almost 10 years, offering authentic, original and unique holiday accommodation for travellers looking for somewhere to truly write home about. Members can choose from a classic, simultaneous swap, where they swap houses with someone else, either at the same time or on different dates, or a non-simultaneous points swap, allowing them to travel without having to match their plans with another member.
Founders: Adrian Negoita, Andrei Danescu, Oana Andreea Jinga
Funding raised: $6M
Focusing on bringing robots into day-to-day life, the company has developed a customer experience robot for in-terminal passenger assistance for post-Covid travellers. The robot, called Bo, is able to autonomously engage with passengers and take them to their preferred locations (gates, lounges, stores or other facilities), creating a memorable airport experience. From an operational point of view, the robot will augment the work of customer-facing staff and free them from simple but time-consuming enquiries so they can focus on solving more complex tasks.
Founders: John Maguire, Andrew Kelly
Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland
Funding raised: €500K
The Irish ticketing startup has developed a solution for B2B distribution partners that aims to help them earn ancillary revenue while cutting down the time that tourists spend queuing for popular attractions. The company also provided its platform free of charge to a number of Irish tour operators to help them after Covid-19 restrictions were eased this year.
Much Better Adventures
Founders: Sam Bruce
Funding raised: $5.4M
The London-based company helps people organise their skiing, cycling or road biking holiday directly with specialist independent operators. Working towards a more sustainable future for travel in the face of the climate emergency, the startup is embracing carbon labelling to better inform tourists. Travellers booking with the company can now assess and understand their environmental impact due to the company’s new carbon label next to trips listed on its website.
Founders: Jay Olenicz, Henry Popiolek, Dustin Silk
The last-minute booking app for staycations in the UK is sort of like a mix between Airbnb and Lastminute.com but with a bigger vision. It was founded in early February just before the pandemic hit. The platform now enables UK-based property managers to improve their occupancy rates by increasing last-minute staycation bookings from domestic travelers. The app allows people to book hassle-free trips within 14 days, giving people the freedom to live spontaneous and more fulfilled lives.