News | DistributionUnder the hood of five travel startups with a bit of a sparkThis article was originally published onBy Viewpoints | June 3, 2016 I’ve decided to turn my personal selections of "top five startups” that have pitched at Phocuswright Conferences into a sort of tradition after I did this for Phocuswright Europe and the Phocuswright Conference in the US last year.This time I’m coming up with my "personal favourite" travel startups from the Phocuswright Europe Travel Innovation Summit 2016.NB: This is a viewpoint from Valentin Dombrovsky, chief alchemist of Travelabs.As always, selection rules are pretty simple – basically, no rules except trying to find something that seems to have some "chemistry" in it. I’ve also tried to select companies that have not been covered in major media before or were launched only recently. And, I’ve selected travel startups with interesting solutions for different parts of the travel industry (both b2b and b2c). This way, I hope, I’ll help to discover some new names ("Airbnbs and Ubers of the world").I want to thank Phocuswright for putting videos of conference sessions online – that helped me in my analysis a bit.So, here’s my personal “top five startups” list from the Phocuswright Europe Travel Innovation Summit 2016:TravelercarTravelercar (pitch video here) follows the sharing economy trend helping travelers, who come to the airport by car, to save on airport parking (and potentially make money by renting out a car) and help other travelers to save money on car rental. Travelercar claims to have 100,000 users already and says that its technology helps to gain users’ trust for them not to be afraid to rent a car to a stranger. Free insurance coverage is one of the things that helps to solve trust issues.The startup claims its prices are 50% less than traditional car rental operators. At the same time its business model allows it to operate with 45% margin which is shared between car owners and the company. Airport parking booking is another feature which is offered by the company.Travelercar claims to be working with travel partners such as Kayak, Lastminute.com, AccorHotels and eDreams.The company started in France, but now covers five countries with 65 parking locations. It estimates it helped people to save more than Euro 1 million already (it wasn’t specified whether this is money was saved on parking or on car rental or both). The company has received Euro 6 million in funding and has good traction and ambitions for growth.The judges loved the concept in general, although it was noted that the company has some competitors outside of Europe. The audience also liked the idea and this helped Travelercar to get the People’s Choice Award.I will say that it’s interesting to see one more car-sharing business rise from France having seen the growth of Blablacar in recent years. It looks like French travelers are getting more and more accustomed to new trends and it might be a good time to explore some new ideas around car share on the French market.Golf VoyagerWhile it seems to be building a niche product, this company (pitch video here) is in fact targetting the $20 billion market of golf travel and might go even further with its technology. The company offers a solution that unites hotels (via Booking.com), rental cars (via Rentalcars.com), golf courses and coach hire companies into a single dynamic package available for booking from its website.The company works both via b2c and b2b. For b2b it offers "smart" website widgets for hotels, golf courses, tourism boards and thematic media sites.Being rather young, the company boasts pretty good traction having 48 bookings just seven weeks after its launch. These bookings have brought $8,000 in revenue via commissions.Golf Voyager sees opportunities in using its technology in other industries like surfing, hunting or fishing.While judges in the "dragon’s den" were a bit sceptical about the idea, I personally liked it because it’s close to something that I wanted to build for event travel industry with my first startup Travelatus. And while I was working on a tours and activities "supermarket for a while, I still believe that niche tours and activities websites might do well and be able to scale if they’re ready to adapt their technology to various verticals.hubtobeeThis company (pitch video here) approaches the corporate travel sector with a new perspective. It simplifies "travel networking" for corporate travelers, thus helping to save money on business trips. The tool, which is offered by the company, doesn’t make bookings, but instead serves as sort of networking planner. It helps employees to simplify the communication about upcoming business trips and to make it more transparent.I liked the words "hubtobee" helps companies to behave like bee hive”. And this doesn’t mean that it turns companies into some sort of a mess – quite the opposite, the idea is that it helps each one to know where his colleagues plan to travel and to adapt accordingly.It’s quite obvious that this solution works for large corporations. The speaker gave an example in which he stated that it can help to save up to Euro 300,000 per year on long distance trips (saving money on excessive long distance trips that might have been made by 100 road warriors) or more – depending on the number of travelers in the company.Hubtobee is a SAAS product with a monthly subscription per user (which seems to be quite good opportunity to make money when you work with large corporations).The company was launched 12 months ago and since then has acquired two major French companies as pilot clients – Danone (100,000 employees) and Bollore (33,000 employees). It has also recently closed an investment round of Euro 400,000.The future for the company might be turning into a sort of b2b travel network helping to find opportunities for employees of "matching companies" to get connected with each other during trips.HotelchampThe company (pitch video here) builds tools for hotels striving for more direct bookings, thus helping them in their "coopetition" with OTAs. It’s quite obvious that OTAs are more proficient in terms of online marketing and hotels that want to diversify their channels might need some easy to use tools for marketing activities.Hotelchamp has built a set of triggers (like smart notifications, vouchers or price comparison tool, for instance) that might be used in different cases in order to stimulate direct bookings on hotel websites. The company gives the opportunity to use smart targeting through its analysis of click behavior, traffic sources and creation of various user personas in order to show them relevant messages at the right time. They claim that this tool allows hotelier to create the most effective triggers automatically without the need to go deep into the process himself.According to the slides, the team managed to achieve a 25 % increase in the conversion rate on hotel websites that tested its system during a 15-month of test period. And as it grows its database and optimizes its methods, it expects to increase this number even more.Should hotels compete with Booking.com for the customer in their online marketing activities, is the question which has aroused some discussions lately (and there was a small argument among the "dragons" around that as well), but I believe that making a website a more effective channel can’t hurt anyone. The goals of the website might be different and different tools that help to achieve these goals might be used as well.Travel AppealTravel Appeal (pitch video here) provides analytical dashboards with information on customer reviews and other data gathered from various sources for different customers – hoteliers, restaurants, museums etc. However, in its Phocuswright presentation it focused on how its analytics and actionable insights might help destination marketing organizations. These institutions really lack information on how their activities influence tourists in destinations. And, what’s more important, they might need to understand the performance of different business entities (hotels, restaurants, attractions) that form the image of a destination.While there’s a lot of data and tools available for analytics, it might be hard to get actionable insights from the data. The Travel Appeal dashboard enables people to see such information as average hotel rates in correlation with seasonality, weather and events as well as the geographic distribution of destination reviews (and by destination reviews it means reviews for any venue – be it hotel, restaurant or museum). There’s even credit card spending data analysis available for Italian travelers at the moment. The company also helps to identify influencers that are currently visiting a destination (if they leave their "digital footprints", of course).Travel Appeal's semantic analytics and machine learning capabilities might provide actionable insights on how various destination venues perform (for example, "there’s a rise of Canadian travelers who are generally satisfied by the services, but want to have more free wi-fi spots").The company uses a SAAS model for its business and claims to have quite an affordable solution even for smaller destinations.NB: This is a viewpoint from Valentin Dombrovsky, chief alchemist of Travelabs.NB2: Startups image via Big Stock Photo.