One of the common refrains in the many predictions about the
future of leisure travel post-COVID-19 is that domestic road trips will surge in
popularity and become a preferred way to vacation for some time.
That’s great news for startup Road.Travel, but it had to take quick action to shift its business model to capture this
Just three months ago at CES, founder Nikita Dedik was on
top of the world – appearing on stage with executives from Byton as one of half
a dozen partners for the Chinese car company’s new electric-powered SUV (others
include established brands ViacomCBS and AccuWeather).
Road.Travel would provide in-car curated recommendations
about hotels, restaurants and points of interest for instant trip planning and booking
through the vehicle’s 48-inch dashboard screen.
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The company was also developing content to be integrated
into Ford’s navigation systems after winning the car company’s startup
competition in October and was developing white-label solutions for airlines
including Etihad Airways.
Then came the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“All these conversations stopped,” Dedik says.
“For now these companies are only focused on crucial
operations and essential investments.”
Dedik is optimistic Road.Travel’s work with Byton, Ford and
others will resume, but he can’t afford to sit idle. So he and his team decided
to shift their focus from automotive and white-label partners to destination
management organizations and tourism authorities.
“We just kept hearing this will be the year for road trips. We
started thinking how we could transform our value proposition so travel
destinations would see obvious benefits of using our technology and the way we
present content,” Dedik says.
“So now we think of ourselves as an ecosystem and technology provider
for the tourism destinations, who create the content using local experts, to
have it presented in a nice way on their websites and digital channels and then
have different ways of interacting with customers.”
The system offers what Dedik says are the industry’s first “road
trip packages” - curated itineraries, trip planning features, a budget optimizer
and booking functions with sites such as Booking.com and Rentalcars.com.
“We are solving a lot of challenges that the tourism
industry will face, and nobody has thought about it – they’ve only been
thinking about packages meaning a flight and a hotel,” he says.
Dedik says his team – 11 full-time staff and eight contractors
focused on content creation - is now developing projects with tourism
authorities around the world. There is the “Ode to the Landscape” project with
10 stakeholder organizations in the Netherlands, an integration with Russpass –
a digital platform for tourists in and around Moscow – and in the U.S., projects
underway with tourism authorities in North and South Carolina.
“We are also talking to other partners like the big global distribution
systems,” he says.
“We want to have our product integrated into those distribution
systems so through other platforms – like Stride Travel, Tourlane, search
engines for packaged tours - people will be able to find these experiences,
these routes. In that sense this is a packaging solution, with a strong inspirational
Dedik says pre-coronavirus, Road.Travel had been planning to raise a
Series A round in the second half of 2020. Now he has redesigned the company’s
investment strategy and will be looking for bridge financing. But his optimism
“There is a big opportunity here,” he says.
“So, it would be fair to say that the crisis not only hasn’t
hurt us much, but so far it’s helped us better identify what we’d always had in
our minds as what should be our main focus: car trips. And now this perfectly
resonates with the global industry need: technological solutions for domestic