Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, startups in the travel sector are facing a huge stress test and immediate disruption to their business agenda as public health concern spiral and entire populations have been encouraged not to travel.
Wasted No Time
To weather the storm, travel startups have wasted no time waiting around to react to the coronavirus. Many, if not all, have already ripped up their 2020 roadmaps, evolved their marketing strategy, and doubled down on effective solutions.
In San Diego, a local startup called Travara that specializes in sustainable travel has done all the above and was recognized by Fast Company as a world changing idea in the media category this year. The award honored businesses, policies, projects, and concepts that are actively engaged and deeply committed to flattening the curve when it comes to the climate crisis, social injustice, or economic inequality.
“There seems no better time to recognize organizations that are using their ingenuity, resources, and, in some cases, their scale to tackle society’s biggest problems,” says Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of Fast Company. “Our journalists, under the leadership of senior editor Morgan Clendaniel, have uncovered some of the smartest and most inspiring projects of the year.”
Launched in 2018
Travara was launched in 2018, by Michelle Martin a long-time traveler and social entrepreneur, formerly she led global communications and marketing for Qualcomm’s social impact division. Departing the tech giant two years ago, Martin leveraged her severance package to bootstrap the company and within just six months, built a robust library of sustainable travel content to serve the “socially conscious” global citizen.
Travara’s mission is to make it easy for people to travel well. To support the travel industry, Travara launched its membership program to incentivize consumers to book now and travel well tomorrow.
“We’re very aware that the world is enduring unprecedented hardship right now, the travel industry in particular,” said Martin, founder and chief executive of Travara. “We’re launching the Travara Membership program at this time to do our part to support small businesses and our hope is that when it is safe to travel again, we’ll be making it easier for people to travel sustainably.”
Travara’s goal is to help small to medium-sized businesses by offering exclusive deals to traveling consumers who may be hesitate to travel right now. Seeing early success, the newly launched membership program is now promoting over 40 businesses in their network and is growing daily, according to the company. With an above average audience engagement at around 45 percent open rate on their newsletter, Travara has gained readership in over 100 countries.
Hans Pfister the president and co-founder of Cayuga Collection, a portfolio of sustainable luxury hotels & lodges in Central America said, “The program is a great tool to drive business to companies like mine that focus on sustainability. My hope is that it will reach the “right kind of traveler” that understands that the only way to travel after this crisis is over is to be doing it sustainably.”
Other sustainable travel partners such as Eat Like A Local, Comuna Travel and Lokal were also eager to come on board, as small travel businesses are currently struggling to operate during the global lockdown.
In the last five years, travel companies have raised more than $1 billion in venture capital funding. That includes short-term rental startups, travel and tourism apps, marketplaces for “experiences” and other travel or hospitality tech platforms. Airbnb, a $38 billion company and an anomaly in the category, has raised $3 billion in that same time frame, according to PitchBook.
Global travel and tourism is one of the most valuable industries, worth some $7 trillion. Before the coronavirus hit the online travel market, in particular, was expected to grow to $817 billion by 2020.
Historically, travel companies rely on a consumer’s tendency to spend excess cash, as a result, the travel sector was among the first to be impacted by today’s economic conditions. A silver lining however, is that the entire world has witnessed a restoration in the environment across the board, from decreased air pollution to resurgence in wildlife to clearer waters in the canals of Venice.
“When destinations are given a chance to kind of breathe, have some space and not be completely overwhelmed by tourism, the environment can recover,” Martin said. “In order to maintain the gains that we’ve seen over the years, it’s important that when people start traveling again, they’re doing it more mindfully, consciously, with greater awareness of their footprint and the kind of businesses they support.”
Martin predicts when traveling returns, many will start closer to home and that 2020 will be composed of mostly road trips for Americans instead of international travel. In terms of target audience, Travara aims to serve the Millennial and Gen Z who are between the ages of 25 to 45 years old.
“I absolutely think that when people are getting back out there, they’re going to want smaller, more tailored experiences,” Martin said. Today, the youth are more connected than ever before,
with the world at their fingertips, they are more inclined to spend the weekend in another country, engage in community-based travel and purchase ethically made products that have sustainable impact.
In addition to its membership platform, the company plans to diversify its revenue streams by offering strategic advertising content, personalized itinerary services, among other avenues. In the fall, the company said it plans to launch its latest product and is monitoring COVID-19 closely to support its partners during this time. Revenue and projections were not disclosed.
“Fortunately, what we’re creating is resonating with people. And to get that kind of recognition from Fast Company has been really validating. We’re creating actionable change, so I know we’re on the right path,” Martin said.