App startups are challenging the traditions of the travel industry and harnessing mobile to change the way we find and build our travel experiences. Apps are increasingly important for consumers as well as travel companies. Criteo revealed that, last year, up to 30% of travel bookings were made on mobile devices and mobile app conversion rates averaged 13% for travel apps.
New technology is spawning a new type of travel agent – the chat bot kind – with startups such as Lola and GoHero combining sophisticated algorithms and chat-based interfaces to provide travel services. Meanwhile, app startups such as Polarsteps and LoungeBuddy are finding their niche in automated travel blogging and airport lounges. Discover the latest industry innovators in our list of app startups transforming the travel sector.
1) Lola Travel Company
Lola has been making waves with its app, which combines machine learning with a team of human travel agents. Its travel consultants plan, book and manage members’ travel needs and reply to users through the chat-based interface.
Launched by Paul English, former CTO and co-founder of Kayak, Lola debuted on the US Apple app store but is currently invite-only. Lola closed a $19.7 million Series A round, earlier this year, with backing from Accel and General Catalyst Partners. The company plans to scale up its team of travel consultants, open a call centre and introduce an annual membership fee in the future.
- Founded: 2015
- Total funding raised: $19.7 million
- USP: on-demand personal travel service
Spot is a travel app that provides personalized recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and other local gems. Users can find the best spots, read expert reviews, and the app has a strong social element with the functionality to make and share lists and follow other users.
Spot was incubated at Expa (Uber co-founder Garret Camp’s startup studio) and is led by Luke Groesbeck (previously co-founder of Job Alchemist). This year, Spot raised $2 million in seed funding from Expa and SV Angel, and Groesbeck announced ambitions to “do for the real world what Google has done for the web”.
- Founded: 2015
- Total funding raised: $2 million
- USP: personalized travel recommendations
Hopper is an app that uses big data to predict when flights will be cheapest, notifies users and allows them to book from their phone. Since launching in 2015, Hopper has been flying off the app store shelves and was the only travel app to make Apple App Store’s “Best of 2015” list.
In the Spring, Hopper raised $16 million in a Series C funding round led by BDC Capital IT Venture Fund, with investment from Accomplice, Brightspark Ventures and OMERS Ventures. Around the same time, Hopper signed a deal to make American Airline fares available through the app. This new investment is being used to expand its team and roll out new app features.
- Founded: 2007
- Total funding raised: $37.7 million
- USP: uses big data to predict and analyse airfares
Airhelp helps air passengers get compensation from airlines for flight disruptions. Users can log into the app, enter their flight details and find out in seconds if they qualify for compensation (if their flight gets cancelled, delayed or overbooked). If they do, Airhelp will help passengers file a claim.
The Y Combinator-backed startup was founded by internet entrepreneurs Henrik Zillmer, Nicolas Michaelsen and Greg Roodt, who have ambitious plans to end passenger flying woes. This month, Airhelp secured a $12 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures including investment from U-Start, Galvanize Ventures, Jimmy Maymann, Evan Williams and Naval Ravikant. The app is currently live in 19 countries.
- Founded: 2013
- Total funding raised: $12 million
- USP: help airline passengers receive compensation for flight delays
Polarsteps is an automated travel blogging app that checks your location and publishes findings to a webpage so friends and family can stay in the loop about your globetrotting adventures. GPS works independently of mobile reception but once you’re connected to the internet the app transfers travel routes, locations and photos to your Polarsteps page.
Founded by four adventurers Niek Bokkers, Koen Droste, Job Harmsen, and Maximiliano Neustadt, Polarsteps’ iOS app has gained rapid traction amongst travellers, since launching in 2015. In March, Polarsteps announced it raised $554,000 in seed funding from Silver Point Ventures and TMG. The travel startup is using the money to expand its Amsterdam-based team, develop the app’s features and launch on Android.
- Founded: 2014
- Total funding raised: $554,000
- USP: a personal travel log in your pocket
GoHero.ai is a travel concierge app that uses artificial intelligence to make travel easier. GoHero integrates with various messaging apps and uses sophisticated algorithms to understand a traveller’s preferences. Through a simple chat screen, users can review pricing and availability and book travel services.
GoHero’s founders Snehal Dhruve and Bineet Desai saw an opportunity to provide more personalization and customization to travellers in real-time using a chat-based model. It is the first Mobile Travel Chat (MTC) app in India. This year, GoHero raised a pre-seed round from Travel Startups Incubator (US) to fund further growth.
- Founded: 2015
- Total funding raised: undisclosed
- USP: a chat-based personal concierge app for travel
LoungeBuddy is an app startup that has found its niche in airport lounges. Their Android and iOS app allows any flier (first-class or not) to find, preview and book access to airport lounges around the world.
Founded by Tyler Dikman, Brent Griffith and Zac Altman, LoungeBuddy revolutionises the airport experience by giving all fliers the opportunity to access premium airport lounges. In 2015, the startup secured $3 million in a Series A round led by Founders Fund (previous investors in Airbnb and Lyft). Eight other investors participated in the round including Stephen Mendel and Tyler Willis. LoungeBuddy became the first travel platform to integrate Apple Pay and covers over 600 airports worldwide.
- Founded: 2013
- Total funding raised: $4 million
- USP: discover and book airport lounges around the world
The future of mobile travel
Social planning plays a huge role in the travel process and travel apps will continue to provide this element through recommendations and social media integrations. Meanwhile, the travel industry is turning to artificial intelligence to fill the traditional ‘travel agent’ role using mobile chat. Ultimately, travel apps that simplify our lives through personalization and localization will shape the future of mobile travel.
Discover how apps are transforming other sectors in our app startups posts.