Globa.li is a new business-to-business reservations platform for boutique hotels that aims to aggregate the world's niche hotel inventory, starting in Africa.
The Denver-based company hopes to make these hotels bookable by travel agents, tour operators and Destination Management Company (DMCs) in a search marketplace. The company plans to build up inventory in Africa first and then expand to Latin America, followed by Asia.
Backed by a Lonely Planet advisor, it says it is about to close an investment round, with some help from cloud-based funding platform VC4Africa.
It expects to launch its private test this month. Advisors include Cheryl Rosner and Andy Ellwood. In July, the startup had its Demo Day for Telluride Venture Accelerators in Colorado.
Q&A with Sarah Fazendin, Globa.li co-founder and CEO:
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Over a third of the world’s hotels are not bookable online today. The vast majority of these are high-end, boutique hotels in places like Africa, Latin America and Asia. They are struggling with low occupancies and a cumbersome, time intensive and expensive booking process.
Globa.li solves a pain point for owners of these medium-sized properties. While these owners can get their places listed and reviewed in TripAdvisor, they have trouble setting up direct bookings. Instead, they rely mostly on providing rooms to inbound tour operators, who then share inventory to wholesalers, which connect mostly with agents, which ultimately sell to the consumer.
We also solve a pain point for the agents. Within Globa.li, buyers manage complete itineraries from start to finish and interact with all their hotels. No more contact sheets, contracts, emails. Everything is contained in our system for more efficient booking. If you get an order for a $30,000 trip on a month's notice, our system will keep your head sane.
Globa.li allows agents to search for hotels with vacancies in multiple regions, rather than have to call or email hotels directly or checking a number of random URLs. It also helps boutique hotels in Africa, Latin America and Asia fill more rooms.
Note: Mass-market hotels don’t have this very critical challenge, as there are hundreds of sales and connectivity platforms in the market for them. But boutique hotels in emerging markets are left in the dark. So our inventory will by nature be different from other products out there.
Over dinner in Denver earlier in 2013, me and Maisa Fernandez (the Globa.li co-founders) were discussing work (both ran boutique hotel marketing agencies at the time and have worked together in international tourism for over 15 years).
We noted how, as a result of not being easily connected to buyers (physically in totally different locations all over the world) and archaic, inefficient booking processes, hotels in Africa, Latin America and Asia really struggle to get bookings.
We wanted to come up with a more cost-effective way to more easily connect to business partners, manage rates and reservations and view hotel availability for the largest selection of boutique hotels in these destinations all in one place.
We support the well established booking agent distribution channel for these hotels, so we won't step on anyone's toes.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Co-founders Sarah and Maisa have spent the last 15 years leading international tourist boards and running their own hotel marketing agencies. Armed with a massive direct personal network, the team has already gained some significant early traction with regards to PR and marketing.
Perhaps most importantly, the pricing structure for the platform is truly unique. Globa.li is free to use for distributors, therefore we have distributors asking for all hotels they currently work with to get on the platform. The buyers organically help us scale hotel inventory via this new pricing and business model.
How did your initial idea evolve?
Globa.li began after countless conversations with top end boutique hotels, and the agents who buy them, all over the world. Business between these hotels and these buyers is inefficient and time-consuming. We’ve had the support and encouragement from our users from the start and our vision has remained constant.
We’ve done a lot of brainstorming around ways mobile apps and specific features can better connect boutique hotels to their end consumer via the booking agent network once the hotel booking has been made. This powerful mobile strategy could very possibly be a stand-alone business.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time?
In three years, Globa.li will have several thousand hotels on the platform. We expect to become the main aggregator of boutique hotels in Africa, Latin America and Asia for travel distributors.
Globa.li will be the go-to platform for travel agents, tour operators, wholesalers and DMC’s to instantly find and book the world’s best boutique hotels.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There are literally hundreds of thousands of high-end, boutique properties in the most special, but most remote places in the world.
It’s extremely difficult for these hotels to do business. If you take a look at the top properties listed in Trip Advisor, for example in places like Africa’s top safari destinations, hardly any of these hotels are accessible to be booked in real time.
This is not to say consumer-facing aggregators and OTA’s wouldn’t love to get them on board, but they can’t because these hotels don’t want to work direct-to-consumer, partly because of fears of downward pressure on rates and partly a manpower issue.
At the same time, travelers today are SEEKING these experiences. In fact, according to a recent American Express survey, nearly 48% of all US travelers could be considered “experiential travelers”. But the online travel space continues to be dominated by mass-market properties, experiences and destinations.
By building the first business-to-business marketplace dedicated to boutique hotels in emerging markets and connecting a complex distribution chain, Globa.li truly enables access to the world’s most special places.
Globa.li's revenue model is to earn a fee from the property on every room booked. By keeping fees low and staying away from commissions, Globa.li is a no-risk, cost-effective way for hotels to more easily sell their rooms.
Pluses: It's taking a tried-and-true revenue model that has worked elsewhere and applying it to a niche in Africa, which has seen enormous growth rates recently. If it gets funding and executes well, Globa.li could become a vital part of the travel ecosystem.
We worry a bit about inventory acquisition, though. The co-founders didn't persuade us they had a good campaign for outreach. Last month,[Correction] In May, it attended, INDABA, Africa’s largest tourism trade show, where it says it signed up more than 150 hotels.
That's good, but more needs to be done, obviously. Word-of-mouth might not be fast enough to scale. Hopefully it will seek out advisors who can help it on this and other weak points.
It's probably worth quoting some advice from Josh Williams, commenting on lessons he learned in founding and running Gowalla, the failed Foursquare rival:
"Listen to your users more than the press. Don't get sucked into the gravity hole between you and your competition. Ruthlessly run your own path, not someone else's."
UPDATE: 2pm ET
Fazendin responds to Tnooz's comment:
The comment about acquiring inventory is fair and certainly in any travel tech start-up one of the bigger challenges. Here are a few of the steps we're taking; we have other deals and integrations we can't yet disclose, too:
1. We currently have experienced sales staff on the ground in Africa and Latin America who understand the market and are targeting sales to bring on curated boutique properties per country.
2. We've been testing with a number of tour operators this summer and nearly all of them have asked if they would be able to invite all the hotels they book to join Globa.li. We view this as clear proof that organic growth is viable.
3. Our sales and launch strategy includes training events in our key markets, some in partnership with local tourist boards, to generate awareness and provide hands on training in getting users set up in the system.
Globa.li Introduction from Maisa Fernandez on Vimeo.
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.