The travel industry is ripe for transformation and startups are in a prime position to improve accessibility in the sector, according to the US-based online travel tech unicorn Expedia Group.
“The travel industry really does have outdated technology and the complexity that exists throughout it has really stifled innovation and made it really difficult for newcomers to break into it,” Aditi Mohapatra, vice president of global social impact and sustainability at Expedia Group told UKTN.
In particular, Mohapatra and Expedia have found that startups have struggled to use technology to increase the reach and support of the industry for underrepresented travellers.
From travellers with disabilities to travellers from at-risk and persecuted groups, Expedia has said that travel tech needs to serve the needs of the overlooked.
“For many, travel itself is a very challenging experience. Everything from lacking good quality information on what the different accessibility features of different hotels, airports, airlines, restaurants and facilities look like to actually being able to navigate many of these different spaces,” Mohapatra said.
In an effort to revamp the travel sector, Expedia launched a startup accelerator programme, called Open World Accelerator, in September 2022. It is targeting startups and small and medium-sized businesses offering impactful solutions to the problems in travel.
Over the five-month programme, the selected startups will be assigned a business strategy mentor and a tech mentor to develop a strategy as well as improve products.
Participating startups will also have access to Expedia’s travel industry network, cash grants, and ultimately present their businesses to an audience of VCs and industry leaders.
While the accelerator is open to companies globally, several of the finalists have been UK-based.
Among its UK finalists is SoloTrvlr, an app for women to explore new destinations safely with the guidance of locals, and SociAbility, an app to help disabled travellers find accessible locations.
“We have a responsibility to change that current environment and help others thrive in the travel economy. One of our original foundational principles is that bringing travel online allowed this democratisation of travel and access to travel for so many who previously never had it,” Mohapatra added.
“We feel like with our tech capabilities, we can democratise more access to the travel economy on the whole as well and allow new startups to really thrive in this travel technology space.”
Importance of accelerators
Accelerator programmes play a vital role in the startup ecosystem, helping to nurture and mentor early-stage founders and provide networking opportunities. The importance of accelerators has been brought into sharp focus by the surprising closure of Tech Nation, following the reallocation of government funds to Barclays Eagle Labs.
Mohapatra said that the closure of Tech Nation “demonstrates the importance of companies really stepping into this space, in particular, tech companies that can offer innovative solutions to the industry”.
She said that tech firms need to step in to “create a space for startups that are still seeking to grow and build on their own programmes.”
She added: “Expedia does think about our role in this ecosystem in particular, and travel tech and being able to bring some of our capabilities and expertise to fill a void as well.”