$84bn raised by travel start-ups in Europe and other top takeaways from Phocuswright Europe

Phocuswright Europe is one of the top travel events in the world – and Phocuswright Europe 2018 held from May 17-20 at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam did not disappoint. The programme provided great insights and expertise directly from Europe’s leading travel companies.

Our stated mission at OpenJaw is to ‘open the world of travel’, as part of our goal of ‘turning travel companies into travel retailers’. We thought it appropriate to share insights from the conference so you can continue the conversations started at Phocuswright.

#1 The StartUp Scene in Travel Tech is Alive and Well

Phocuswright provided a real insight into the next level of tech innovation. See the world through the lenses of Europe’s hottest travel startups was refreshing – provided a real insight into where the funding is going. Here are some amazing statistics:


Image c: Mirko Lalli @mkl

  • $84bn raised by travel start-ups in Europe since 2008
  • Ride sharing/Taxi app start-ups represent the fewest start-ups in Europe, but account for the largest allocation of funding.
  • 77% of funds have been raised by just 8 companies, but hotels and accommodation are still getting their fair share of funding.
  • Tthe winners of Phocuswright’s EMEA Travel Innovator of the year was Situm, a zero infrastructure, fast configuration smartphone indoor positioning service that does away with new WiFi access points.
  • The people’s choice award went to London-based CityStasher, who are building what it calls an ‘Airbnb for luggage’, a network of brick and mortar businesses across Europe that will store luggage for a few hours after you have checked out or are waiting to check into your travel accommodation.

#2 Bleisure is a New Trend that is Booming


Image c: ServAptNews-@ServAptNews

ServAptNews @ServAptNews

Image c: ServAptNews-@ServAptNews2







Bleisure – combining business travel with leisure travel is growing. 60% of business trips turned into bleisure last year, with German business travellers leading the pack. according to Expedia.  When leisure added to business travel the length of the trip almost doubles.

#3  Tours and Activities – the Next Frontier

Tours and Activities have the potential to be a €138 billion market by 2021, so many companies want to get into the act.  Indeed, the quote of Phocuswright Europe was ‘technology has become the new concierge’ – tech is your new personal assistant when on holidays. Another great quote thread in this section was ‘Travel brands have embraced the experience economy but have misdiagnosed the experience that is being consumed’. Indeed, just like 20 years ago, smoking in planes was allowed, what will we think was crazy in 2018 by 2028? Is the ubiquitous availability of tours and activities that seismic change?

There were more insights from the panels and presentations:

  • Expedia predicted their tours and activities section can be a $1bn revenue model, now have increased their prediction to $2bn.
  • People find it difficult to mention brands associated with tours and activities as it is such a very new sector. While not a new product, Tours and Activities create a new user behaviour
  • Less than 20% of global tours and activities are booked online.
  • A select few areas breaking new ground in this fragmented, manual marketplace that’s just screaming for technology solutions to catapult it ahead
  • A challenge for tours is personalisation – not every traveller wants to do the same thing.
  • Another challenge is being able to deliver consistent, quality information in several languages with local payment options, with a consistent user experience
  • 1/3 of European mobile users are using mobile assistants: AI voice Chatbot, Siri, Alexa, etc. for the basics – weather, traffic, answers, etc, and they are not using these for booking Tours and Activities
  • Airbnb is moving from home sharing to accommodation company and now to an integrated travel company. They are scaling rapidly into destination based marketing and tours and activities, as they see themselves as a ‘Trip company’.

#4   The European Online Travel Market is very healthy

  • Phocuswright says there is no European online travel market. Europe has truly merged online and offline travel.
  • Expedia and Booking represent 95% of online travel space in USA. 64% in Europe. Europe has very strong online travel brands. But consolidation is getting stronger
  • 70% of Euro hotels are independent, therefore more reliant on OTA’s – online travel agents
  • Europe is the biggest market for home rentals. 7/10 travellers consider home rentals through Airbnb
  • Google focus for flights in Europe is about growing usage and  user experience by answering users questions rather than being fixated on monetisation through advertising
  • Digitalisation will unlock $1 Trillion in value for the European travel industry by 2027
  • European airlines and travel brands need to stop talking about retail and start copying Amazon’s retail strategy.

Maud Bailly, Chief Digital Officer, from Accor Hotels, Europe largest hotel chain shares their digital transformation ambitions. This included addressing user experience and personalisation in order to be able to rapidly increasing customer expectations.

#5   There’s a new user interface paradigm for travel emerging: Messaging

David Curran

David Curran, Cognitive Engineer, OpenJaw conducting a workshop on ‘How to Train Your Chatbot’.

Maud Bailly from Accor talked about ‘anticipation’ in digital transformation. As a result, Accor are building a chatbot that will grow into their assistant of tomorrow. Phocuswright’s Mark Blutstein explained how digital assistants will impact the future of travel planning. While mobile is here to stay, voice is a different user experience as is messaging. For those using or thinking about using a chatbot, David Curran, Cognitive Engineer, OpenJaw gave a hands-on workshop explaining everything travel brands need to know about creating a travel chatbot. A.I. conversational chatbots are the key to having an engaging customer experience at the same time as reducing operating costs. Instead, A.I. powered chatbots can now grow revenue, improve customer loyalty and deliver a better customer experience, all at once.

David explained how to build chatbots that create engaging user experiences, understand how to design conversation flows for travel, how to shape your content tone and personality, how to create great conversations and overcome the technical complexity of deploying chatbots.

David Curran Openjaw

David Curran, Cognitive Engineer, OpenJaw discussing the challenges of chatbots with Kevin May, Editor of Phocuswire at the conference.

#6 Understanding the scale and influence of China affects the travel business globally


Img c: @Phocuswright

Phocuswright’s Maggie Rauch lead a panel on what to expect from the East, in a panel session called “Follow the Money” and had a great debate called ‘Will Asian Tigers win over Global Elephants?’ with Bianca Mencheca of Be my Guest Travel taking on the formidable Bobby Healy of CarTrawler.

China has leapt ahead in terms of eCommerce, Mobile and Social: the vast majority of web activity in China happens through proprietary applications run by Alibaba and Tencent. The two companies dominate digital life in China and they are an effective duopoly. In the West, we talk about the influence of the big Internet giants, such as Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook and Amazon. However, understanding what the Chinese Internet giants – Tencent and Alibaba – are doing with apps, mobile payments and eCommerce can give us a real insight into what will happen in the travel

On the panel, Fritz Demopolous, CEO, Queen’s Road Capital, was most excited for the light-speed growth of mobile payments. The payment industry is going through a huge amount of innovation”, China already has the ‘Killer App’ of electronic payments: Alibaba and WeChat not only dominate the Internet in China, they also dominate payment. Instead of credit cards, Chinese use QR codes on their smartphones to pay for everything. For example, within WeChat, you can shop for anything from groceries to shoe repairs, book cabs, hospital appointments and karaoke rooms. Eating out is simple: scan a QR code on the tables to open the menu on their phones, order and pay.

Lin Xu (Cambon Partners, Beijing): “Disruptors are not necessary in the travel industry”, and pointed out that entrepreneurs entering the  VC scene no longer even take the US into consideration when considering future investments. Ben Johnson of Vitruvian Partners talked about Western companies penetrating Asia and especially China, successfully. Ben talked about needing partners in the market, for example, OpenJaw and TravelSky.

All panellists agreed there is an enormous opportunity for those who prepare for the growth in outbound travel from Asia. The emerging middle class valuing experiences over brands. The particular emphasis must be placed on  China, because in 2016 China surpassed international tourism expenditure reaching $260 billion, compared to the US, which registered only $123 billion. This was achieved when  China achieved this with just 5% of their population holding passports, versus approximately 40% of the population in the US hold a passport.

Luke Keogh Openjaw Technologies

Luke Keogh from Openjaw Technologies… dancing we think.




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