STARTUP STAGE: Road.Travel integrates the travel industry with connected cars

STARTUP STAGE: Road.Travel integrates the travel industry with connected cars

STARTUP STAGE: Road.Travel integrates the travel industry with connected cars


Road.Travel

Road.Travel

Road.Travel is a Trip planner and marketplace for complex itineraries. Users are able to efficiently plan or find road trips in the marketplace, customize, book everything and integrate your trips with in-car infotainment systems.

Since launching in 2017, Road.Travel has won several startup awards and has partnered with the likes of Booking.com, Rentalcars.com and more.

Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.

Road.Travel is an online trip planning, booking and experience exchange platform for road trips and self-guided travels – with an industry-unique budget optimizer, unlimited dynamic packaging and white-labeling capabilities.
 
Our long-term integration
strategy for connected cars and autonomous vehicles has already been awarded by Ford Motor Company, Porsche and Volkswagen, and we will soon be announcing a strategic partnership with an all-electric vehicle automotive unicorn startup.

Our
technologies are powering white-label solutions for large travel corporates in several countries, including airlines, hotel groups, online travel agencies and tourism offices. 

We enable our white-label clients to package any travel ideas,
not only road trips, for their customers in an inspirational form, with personalization and booking based on dynamic inventory.

Road.Travel aggregates data and bookable services, including transportation and accommodation, points of interest, mapping and routing, audio guides, weather forecasts and other services, on a single platform – to make trip planning easy and social, and
promote new travel destinations and ideas. 

Among our global and trusted suppliers are Booking.com, RentalCars.com, Foursquare, Google Places, Wikipedia and izi.TRAVEL.

The graphics below outlines some high-level features of the
platform.

What inspired you to create this company?

After organizing several road trips together with my wife, we realized how hard it was to plan everything ahead, using numerous websites, blogs, maps and spreadsheets, and how discouraging were some of the last minute discoveries, such as closed restaurants
and exhausting multi-hour highway driving as opposed to short and rewarding scenic routes.

The travel market was missing an enormous opportunity to provide a holistic experience for self-guided travels, without the need to compile information
from numerous sources and place multiple bookings manually.

Now we live in the era of experiential travel, and companies are looking for novel ways to engage with younger generations of travelers. Studies show that millennials and Generation
Z travelers seek experience-based travel and are open for inspiration from the early stages of trip planning.

Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.

Strengths are our proprietary technologies:

  • DIY Trip Planner. We aggregate 30+ external APIs of bookable services and non-bookable content on a single platform and offer integration services for any 3rd party APIs to let users and brands create
    multi-stop travel experiences manually or automatically.
  • Packaging & Booking. Unlike the industry leaders in dynamic packaging, which only support limited combinations of travel products, such as flight and hotel, our platform allows any combination
    of bookable components and facilitates bookings from multiple suppliers within a single booking flow.
  • Budget Optimizer. Smart budget optimization works for an unlimited number of components and automatically repackages any trip to any budget in
    seconds while keeping the original route, which, to our knowledge, is unique for the travel industry.
  • Speed and Flexibility. Choosing and booking a personalized multi-stop trip with a virtually unlimited number of bookable components takes less
    than two minutes.
  • Social Tools. Unique travel ideas can now be designed as packages by users and brands, with a big potential for influencer marketing, community building and social engagement.
  • White-Labeling. The platform can be provided
    as a white-label solution.

Weaknesses:

  • Team Resources. The interest and demand from prospective corporate clients may exceed our today’s business development capacity. We must put some opportunities on hold to avoid losing focus, but we
    hope to fix this soon by hiring new talent.
  • Financial Resources. The nature of our funding, which mostly comes from B2B2C revenues, influences our product roadmap, limiting the development of the B2C product, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re
    opening an investment round now.

Opportunities:

  • Disrupting Tour Packages. By packaging self-guided trips in bookable form and providing powerful personalization capabilities, we could incentivize travelers to take individual trips more
    often and share their travel experiences without the need for tour operators.
  • Connected and Autonomous Travel. Mass adoption of connected vehicles will drastically change the landscape of leisure travel and business travel, but it won’t happen without
    the evolution of digital ecosystems, connecting customers to retailers and service providers and creating an infrastructure for autonomous travel.
  • Tourism Dispersal. One of our goals is to inspire travel off the beaten paths, as opposed to mass
    tourism destinations, which suffer from the ever-growing issue of overtourism. Our project for amsterdam&partners together with izi.TRAVEL offers a solution to this problem for Amsterdam.

Social Impact and Inclusivity. By providing a DIY trip planning
interface, which requires no special knowledge from users to design and publish travel experiences to any destination, we could create job opportunities for people with limited mobility or those living in remote areas. We already employ students and graduates
to create content for our white-label clients.

Threats:

  • B2B2C Sales Cycles. Signing a partnership with a big corporate client may require months of negotiations and significant human resources, with no guarantee of success.
  • B2C Market Adoption. No one can predict the amount of investment needed to identify a working marketing mix, which can only be achieved through experimentation

What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?

Tourism:

  • Tour operators mostly cover mass tourism destinations and don’t offer many options for short or multi-stop trips, and that’s one of the reasons why they are going out of business. The lack of technology stops tourism organizations from
    packaging road trips, adventure tourism, city visits, long stopovers and other non-traditional travel ideas.
  • The complexity of self-planning limits the size of the market of independent travel in general, which would grow faster if planning and
    booking were easy and frictionless.
  • Tourist areas become even more overcrowded, while lesser-known places stay hidden from the majority of travelers.

Mobility:

  • Automakers and transportation providers invest a lot of effort to enhance their customer experience through digital transformations, by developing next generation in-vehicle and on-board infotainment systems.
  • Self-driving
    vehicles already appear on public roads, with automated driving systems evolving increasingly fast, but it still takes days or even weeks for a traveler to arrange a road trip, including destination research, itinerary planning and booking of travel services.

So
you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?

Our current business and distribution models are B2B2C – which are white-label and co-branded partnerships. We’re planning to launch B2C operations in selected markets in 2020.

B2B2C.
Our platform makes it possible to publish and sell experiences built around a partner’s core product or service – flight/hotel/car rental network, travel agency’s or tour operator’s inventory – in the form of white-label solutions. 

Our clients
include the leading online travel agency in Germany, the largest hotel group of Portugal and the largest private airline in Russia. We are now working on pilot projects for the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the tourism offices
of Amsterdam and Moscow.

B2C. A detailed omni-channel marketing strategy based on a combination of programmatic digital advertising platforms, social media promotion, triggered email campaigns, white-hat SEO and other marketing tools, has been
developed by London based marketing gurus who’d previously worked with companies like Airbnb, American Express, Booking Holdings and other dominant players in the travel industry. 

We’re now exploring investment opportunities to execute this
strategy at scale.

Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.

We are the first movers in presenting self-guided trips as customizable holistic experiences,
combining the freedom of self-planning with the simplicity of vacation packages, which opens new possibilities for packaging travel ideas of any complexity in a visual and ready-to-book form.

Our technology is being appreciated by significant
players in the tourism industry, as it allows our corporate clients to design and publish itineraries with curated places, precalculated routes, one-cart booking and the unique mechanism of budget optimization, offering suggestions of one-day and multi-day
itineraries to their customers. The technology is the driver of our B2B2C partnerships.

A few words about the B2C market. The popularity of road trips has almost tripled in just four years in the United States alone, according to travel research
firm MMGY. 

Only 22% of all vacation trips taken in 2015 were road trips, where consumers were spending around $66 billion on such trips. This year’s projection is a 63% market share for road trips, with up to $180 billion to be spent. 

A
new survey by Hankook Tire says that 83% of Americans plan to drive the same or more this year. And that’s only the American market.

Our own analysis of digital marketing channels shows whopping numbers of road trippers and self-organized travelers
in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, MENA and APAC regions. 

The market of self-guided trips is huge and growing, with significant untapped niches, and our technologies let us fulfil the demand for unique and personalized experiences.

How
and when will you make money?

Since 2018 we’ve already generated more than $700,000 in revenue from white-label partnerships through a combination of integration services and licensing fees.

With the kind help of numerous accelerator programs,
such as Plug and Play in Sunnyvale, California (U.S.) and Abu Dhabi (UAE), Startup Sesame (Pan-European), K-Startup Grand Challenge (Seoul, South Korea), Madeira Startup Retreat and The Journey (Portugal), we meet the decision-makers from potential corporate
clients and present our project at startup expos and pitching events.

We’re expecting several pilot projects with automotive companies in 2020, as well as exploring partnership opportunities with airlines and ground transportation providers,
such as railway and bus operators and car rental companies.

Our B2C business model is currently based on affiliate commissions from our suppliers, such as Booking Holdings, but may include other revenue sources in the future, such as advertising
profits.

What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?

Prior to starting their first company in 2015, Nikita Dedik (CEO) and Alexander Urbanovich (CTO)
had been working together in various projects – online media, technological platforms and social networks, as programmers and then CTOs, including the third largest internet company in Russia.

Passionate travelers and big believers in technology, they
were not satisfied with the state of the online trip planning space and decided to take the next step in the evolution of travel and mobility tech.

Before joining Road.Travel, their co-founders Kirill Khomko (Project Strategy) and Valeriy Britaus
(Business Development) had worked in travel and lifestyle concierge companies, such as American Express, The Leading Hotels of the World, Quintessentially London and others, and had experienced the pains of trip planning in their everyday work.

The
founding team has known each other for more than 10 years and combines strong tech expertise and deep knowledge of the travel industry.

What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?

Finding product/market fit was,
is and always will be the most difficult, but also the most exciting, part of building a scalable business.

Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact – so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?

By offering
self-guided trips as bookable experiences with personalization, we save time for a traveler on discovery, planning and booking, provide a source of inspiration and a platform for sharing experiences, but most importantly, we eliminate the main friction
point – the complexity of trip planning itself, which stops many travelers even from considering such trips for their vacations.

In addition to that, we provide an ability to upgrade or downgrade any trip to a specific budget while keeping the
original route and book travel services in a fully automated fashion.

This is achieved by analysing multiple parameters, such as user ratings for hotels and other places, density of points of interest in the area, driving distances between them
and so on, and using a proprietary scoring algorithm to suggest the best available hotels, car rental offers and other services to match a user’s budget.

We aim to revolutionize trip planning for the era of connected, hyper-personalized, green
and autonomous future of leisure, business and everyday travels – by connecting service providers to consumers and creating a social space for travelers to exchange their insights and experiences.

Our recent awards from the automotive giants
demonstrate both the market need and the unique partnership opportunities.

What question might we have missed……?

Not much of a question, but the vision and an ask!

Our platform’s flexibility creates a variety of opportunities
for partnerships with travel, mobility and automotive companies, ranging from influencer marketing campaigns – to promote a brand, a car model, a tourism destination, a specific type of holiday, like adventure or gourmet tourism, or road trips as a lifestyle
in general, through bloggers, celebrities and other influencers – to integrations with navigation systems, voice-based assistants and other digital channels.

When autonomous cars become widely available, robo-taxis and self-driving vehicles will
drastically change the mobility landscape, opening numerous possibilities for travelers who don’t hold a driver’s license or avoid driving on their own when traveling.

Autonomous vehicles powered by Road.Travel will pick up travelers and drive
them according to their personal itineraries, display contextual information along the way and read audio guides recorded by local travel experts.

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