It’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully convey what a strange and difficult year this has been for the travel industry. While the stress of COVID-19 has permeated every sector and role, it seems particularly challenging for startups and their founders – many that ended 2019 with great momentum as part of an industry that was in the midst of record growth.

The good news is there are many travel startups that are finding ways to not just survive but in fact thrive through this extraordinary year, whether by reconfiguring budgets, pivoting their products, developing partnerships, identifying new opportunities or a combination of all four.

On Monday next week we will release our selection of the Hot 25 Startups for 2021. In preparation for that, we have checked in with the companies that made the cut one year ago – our Hot 25 for 2020. We asked them to answer two questions: 

  • Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, what have been a few highlights of 2020 for your company (any partnerships, funding, change in strategy, pivots, etc.)
  • What are your priorities for 2021?

We heard from almost all 25.

Bacarai

  • Highlights: In the spring, we completed the SAP Concur Accelerator, which paved the way for Bacarai to be exposed to the broader business travel market. 
  • Priorities: With demand for student travel at a near standstill, we’ve turned our focus to building out more features in our platform. We don’t expect much to change in the first half of 2021 and are really looking towards the spring of 2022 for group travel to bounce back (pending a vaccine).

Hotailors

  • Highlights: We have taken advantage of the downturn in business travel and used this lull to develop our market offer, our technology, strategic framework and human capital. Just before the world went into lockdown, we were invited to join a three-month SAP.iO Foundry San Francisco acceleration program, which we completed successfully. We built an integration between our tool – which services business travel for extended workforce – with SAP Concur and SAP Fieldglass. We’ve also created new solutions to align with the new reality, such as strengthening the “duty of care” aspect of our technology. We have also been developing an AI module, which will allow a user to find a hotel that fits their preferences a lot quicker and more precisely. Our innovation has had interest from Oracle, and we will be further developing the idea using their Cloud solution. We also raised $3 million, which has given us financial security during the pandemic and has allowed us to focus on developing our innovation and technology.
  • Priorities: Our solution is part of the digital transformation in business travel – and ironically, it’s easier to introduce it when business travel isn’t taking place. We have strengthened our sales team and prepared a three-pillar sales strategy, which we are already implementing. First, our analysis shows that small- and medium-sized companies will start traveling again quicker than corporations, therefore, we have channelled our sales efforts in this direction. We are also reaching out to companies and sectors whose employees need physical meetings and hence travel right now – for example production plants and shipowners. Second, we have created an offer for TMCs that is an annual revenue share (when these customers start travelling again), which will allow TMCs to focus their energies on their core business, while their business clients in turn will gain access to the newest travel technology that will increase their safety and reduce their travel spend. The third pillar that we have been developing is channel sales, in cooperation with our strategic partners, such as SAP, EY and Oracle. We already see traction on all abovementioned fronts, which shows we have been making the right decisions. To be able to scale our business faster and take full advantage of the current situation – and with commitment from one of our strategic partners – we are looking at running an A round in 2021.

Jet-Set Offset

  • Highlights: The global pandemic highlighted the climate effects of travel, as we witnessed firsthand the drastic reductions in emissions and short-term environmental benefits when air travel halted. This has increased consumer awareness about carbon emissions from flying, and as we return to flying, Jet-Set Offset is making it easy for travelers to be climate positive. At the start of 2020, we participated in the SAP.iO Foundry San Francisco B2B travel technology accelerator, with six other early-stage enterprise startups. This led to Jet-Set Offset becoming an SAP Concur partner, and building the first enterprise carbon offset option for SAP Concur customers. Jet-Set Offset is now powering the technology and marketing behind The Good Traveler — a sustainable travel brand started by San Diego Airport Authority and now used by over 20 of the most climate-aligned airports in the country. We’re looking forward to forming even more industry partnerships as we work toward a decarbonized future for aviation. We’ve also developed a partnership with Bluesource, the leading developer of offset projects throughout North America.
  • Priorities: In 2021, our top priority is the official launch of our green flight booking technology. We’ve spent the last several months building a decision support tool for point of booking that provides eco-conscious travelers with the opportunity to book a flight based on carbon emissions — not just price and schedule. Because carbon emissions can vary by up to 20% per flight route, this technology will provide consumers with even more data to inform their travel decisions and support our growing community of sustainable travelers and businesses. The technology also offers even more opportunity for new and exciting partnerships within the aviation industry. We’re also looking forward to growing our roster of climate-focused nonprofit partners to provide even more choices to our Jet-Set Offset users, welcoming new enterprise customers as employees begin to travel again, and fundraising to accelerate our growth and develop new technologies.

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