Category Archives: Travel

Former BMW ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield’s next trip will be by foot, as he plans big European trek

Steve Banfield. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Two months after stepping down as the CEO of BMW ReachNow, the car-sharing service he helped grow from Seattle, Steve Banfield is ready for his next move — and it will be a long walk in Europe.

In a blog post on his personal website posted Sunday titled “What’s next?” Banfield shared just that, telling readers that he plans to leave April 1 to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route from France to Spain.

“The route is over 1000 years old, taking pilgrims over about 830 kilometers from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic,” Banfield wrote. “If you’ve heard of the Camino before it’s one of the most famous of the European pilgrimage routes. Books have been written about it and movies too.”

Banfield, the former INRIX and Rightside executive, joined ReachNow in 2016 and spent nearly three years helping the service expand with new locations and new product offerings. The self-described “serial entrepreneur” said in his post that rather than just hop on the next “ride” and help build another company, he was ready for some downtime.

And it sounds like the trek will be a good opportunity to mostly unplug, as Banfield said he’ll be reduced to a few items in his backpack, including a phone for emergencies, but no laptop or tablet.

Hikers on the Camino de Santiago. (Flickr Photo / Staffan Andersson)

“I’ve been systemically unsubscribing from email lists and turning off all app notifications,” he wrote. “While walking the Camino I hope to be as distraction free as possible.” He added that he plans to take photographs with film and won’t be tweeting or Instagramming while gone. “There will be stories to tell, but stories can wait until the trip is over.”

The 500-mile walk should take more than a month, depending on Banfield’s pace. He does not indicate in his post when he plans to be back in Seattle, but said that he has the support and encouragement of girlfriend and partner Christine Haskell.

“When I return I’ll be ready to tackle one of the many opportunities out there,” Banfield concluded.

Banfield left BMW as the carmaker prepared to launch a new $1 billion joint venture with Daimler that brings services such as ReachNow and Daimler-owned car2go under one roof. The rebranded REACH NOW is now led by CEO Daniela Gerd tom Markotten and CFO Dr. Johannes Pranti.

Geek of the Week: Alaska Airlines CIO Charu Jain is leveraging tech to take the hassle out of travel

Charu Jain, second from left, at the U.S. Chamber’s Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Alaska Airlines Photo)

Charu Jain got her first exposure to technology as an intern at a company run by her father’s friend in India. Making 500 Rupees a month (less than $10 U.S. ), she fell in love with tech and changed her mind from wanting to be a diplomat to being a techie.

She had another brush with love as a software developer trainee at United Airlines in Chicago, where she fell for the airline business.

“I started with maintaining current systems where problems were usually in the middle of the night,” said Jain, who ended up spending more than 14 years at United. “After trying to fix badly written code with no documentation, I learned how to write good code.”

Jain is now vice president and chief information officer at Alaska Airlines in Seattle, and she is our latest Geek of the Week, focused on leveraging innovative technology to connect people.

“The most satisfying part of my job is seeing the magic happen, when people connect with the use of technology and that service leads to an amazing guest experience,” Jain said. “An airline is part retail, part manufacturing and part logistics, so we get to experience multiple industries in one place. … We take the lessons learned from other industries, whether it’s a coffee shop or hotel, and apply them to how we deliver on the guest experience. We want our customers to look forward to the journey, not just the destination.”

Jain, who is one of five female CIOs in the U.S. airline industry, believes the future of the airline travel experience will further leverage mobile technology, data analytics and artificial intelligence, blending the physical and digital.

“As we begin to leverage mobile services throughout the airport and inflight, you’ll see a personalized experience. This will allow for a more interactive experience between employees and guests,” Jain said. “We will also leverage analytics to optimize the guest journey (without being creepy). Imagine as you arrive to the gate area, your favorite song is playing as we work to personalize the traveler’s overall experience.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Charu Jain:

What do you do, and why do you do it? As the CIO for the fifth largest airline in the U.S., my team and I are laser focused on delivering a hassle-free travel experience to the 44 million customers that fly us every year. I lead an engaged workforce of 600+ information technology professionals responsible for Technology Product Management, Software Engineering, Common Services, Enterprise Architecture, Infrastructure and Information Security, while working closely with C-suite leaders throughout the company to ensure technology solutions align to the overall strategy and goals for Alaska Airlines.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Stay ahead of the curve. This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the U.S. Chamber’s Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C., and had the unique distinction of being one of five female CIOs in the U.S. airline industry. I spoke about technology and innovation, specifically how technology transformation is changing the airline industry. Technology solutions change and evolve every day, and it changes so rapidly, so you always need to plan for the next big thing. Ten years down the road, there will be jobs we couldn’t imagine existed in today’s world. Every day you need to look at how you deal with disruption in the industry and determine where that comes from — and drive innovative solutions forward.

Where do you find your inspiration? The remarkable people I work with every day inspire me the most. I am inspired by people consistently overcoming obstacles. I love to watch people grow as leaders, and go above and beyond what they set out to do. I am especially inspired working at Alaska Airlines where our frontline workforce and technology teams work together continuously to build on and improve our technology tools to make processes more streamlined for employees and our guests. I love to see people breaking though barriers, and getting things done against all odds, always embracing the “Alaska Spirit” and taking care of each other.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My PHONE! I use my managed device for personal and work to track important meetings, access email, track my progress on 5K training, and actually to use the voice option on the telephone to call people and just say “Hello. How are you?” I love staying connected with people.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My desk is a conference table, which is useful for impromptu collaboration with my team.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Plan ahead, prioritize the critical items and be intentional. Don’t let the calendar take over your day. Set priorities and drive progress towards completion every day. And my gosh, have FUN. We drive innovation in fun and engaging ways at Alaska. Two great examples are through Shark Tank events with ITS employees to identify new ideas, and hackathons with universities and industry partners. 

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Definitely Janeway!

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter.

I once waited in line for … to meet a Bollywood movie star when I was a teenager.

Your role models: Indira Gandhi, the first female prime minister of India; Bill and Melinda Gates; and my father P.C. Jain, who was a diplomat.

Greatest game in history: I love to compete! No one sinks my BATTLESHIP

Best gadget ever: My Alexa Echo.

First computer: Russian mainframe using punch cards.

Current phone: iPhone Xs.

Favorite app: Couch to 5K trainer; Waze; Alaska Airlines.

Favorite cause: Any cause related to furthering opportunities for women to advance in STEM focused fields. I am passionate about that cause and serve on the board of directors for YearUp and the UW’s Foster School of Business. We actively recruit STEM talent and Early at local elementary schools as well as high schools and leverage Hour of Code programs (Flappy birds and spheros) to show students how easy it is to code at a young age. We are also very involved with Aviation Day and Seafair Fanfest to meet with students to talk about careers in aviation and opportunities in technology and aviation.

Most important technology of 2019: Augmented reality like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Most important technology of 2021: Artificial Intelligence, which will become more mainstream for predictive capabilities.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Never stop learning, keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself in all that you do. When you’re tired and ready to give up, just give little more.

Website: Alaska Air and Alaska Air Blog.

Twitter: @cjain1 … and 10 points if you use the hashtag #FlyTechAlaska

LinkedIn: Charu Jain.

Now boarding: Everett’s Paine Field and Alaska Air celebrate first passenger flights

Water arch at Paine Field
Fire trucks shoot out sprays of water to form a celebratory arch for the first Alaska Airlines jet to take off on a scheduled passenger flight from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

EVERETT, Wash. — Today marks a “first” for the new passenger airline terminal at Everett’s Paine Field, thanks to Alaska Airlines’ kickoff of daily service. But it’s a “second” for Thomas Paine, the grandnephew of the airport’s namesake.

Paine and another grandnephew, Nicholas Moe, were here in 1955 when the airport dedicated a bust of their granduncle, airmail pilot Topliff Olin Paine, who grew up in Everett. The bust has since disappeared, but to mark today’s terminal opening, dignitaries dedicated a bronze statue of the elder Paine, standing right on the curb where passengers walk in to catch their flights.

Thomas Paine and Moe pulled the veil off the statue, rekindling 64-year-old memories in the process. “Things have changed a lot since then,” Paine said.

When it’s fully up and running, the 30,000-square-foot terminal will offer 24 daily nonstop flights to eight destinations in the western U.S., providing a quicker alternative to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for northern Puget Sound communities.

Alaska kicked things off today with three departures, starting with a 10 a.m. VIP-laden flight to Portland and following up with flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix. The number of departures will eventually rise to 18 a day, with Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose added to the mix.

At the end of the month, United Airlines will kick things up a notch with six daily departures to Denver and San Francisco. Both airlines will be using 76-passenger, single-aisle Embraer 175 jets.

One-way tickets to Portland on Alaska cost as little as $44, and daily on-site parking ranges from $20 for economy-class to $40 for valet service.

Alaska had planned to start service from Everett back on Feb. 11, but the government shutdown forced a delay in getting the Federal Aviation Administration paperwork squared away.

“We’ve had our setbacks, we’ve had our delays, but today is the day,” said Gary Beck, CEO and president of Alaska Air’s Horizon Air subsidiary, which will be handling operations in Everett.

Until today, Paine Field was a general-aviation airport, heavily used by Boeing for flight-test and delivery operations related to the company’s airplane assembly plant next door. Historians note that Alaska Airlines used the airport for charter flights and airplane maintenance in the 1940s and 1950s. “We had our headquarters here, before we moved officially to Seattle proper, but we’re back,” Andrew Harrison, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Alaska Airlines, said at a kickoff news conference.

Getting the terminal built was a five-year project for a public-private partnership led by New York-based Propeller Airports.

“As a pilot, and just somebody who loves this industry, this was a dream come true for me,” Propeller CEO Brett Smith told the VIP crowd. “But more importantly … as my father had always taught me, it’s important to give back. And this is going to give back in so many ways that we don’t even know today.”

Having passenger flights available in Everett is designed to benefit gridlock-weary travelers in the Seattle area, but it should benefit Snohomish County as well, said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who represents the Everett area and now chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee.

“Opening Paine Field for commercial service continues to build our economy in Everett and in Snohomish County, supports local jobs and drives tourism for the region,” Larsen said.

If today’s opening-day activities are any indicator, the terminal could be a tourist attraction in its own right: Comfy chairs and couches are spread throughout the passenger lounge, with a wine bar on one side, a clear view of the Olympic Mountains visible through full-length windows on the other side, and a fireplace at the end of the hall.

“It’s a fantastic airport, clean, smooth, easy, and I think, above all, it’s homey,” said Keith Hansen, who was taking this morning’s inaugural flight to Portland. “You don’t feel like you’re in a sterile terminal. You feel like you’re at home.”

Starting this spring, the terminal will also house a cafe featuring Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Caffe Vita coffee.

“This is really going to be a big deal,” said Kurt Beecher Dammeier, who founded Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Seattle — and has a cafe at Sea-Tac that’s similar to the one going up at Paine Field. “It’s kind of like having a major-league sports team. Having a second airport defines you as a major metro area. … We love Sea-Tac, and competition is always a good thing.”

Today’s grand opening seems certain to put Paine Field alongside Sea-Tac in the minds of air travelers when they think of the Seattle area, just as they put Midway alongside O’Hare when they think of Chicago. And that could well bring a big shift in civic perspective, even for the folks in the neighborhood.

“I’ve always referred to Seattle as the southern gateway to Snohomish County,” County Executive Dave Somers joked. “I can’t do that anymore. We have our own gateway.”

GoEuro rebrands as Omio to take its travel aggregator business global

European multimodal travel booking platform GoEuro has announced a change of name and destination: Its new ambition is to go global, scaling beyond its regional grounding to tackle the challenge of intercity travel internationally — hence needing a more expansive brand name.

The name it’s chosen is Omio, pronounced with the stress on the ‘me’ sound in the middle of the word.

GoEuro unveiled a new brand identity late last year — which it says now was preparing the ground for this full rebranding.

So why Omio? CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch the new name was chosen to be memorable, lighthearted and neutral. A word that travels inoffensively across languages was also clearly essential.

“It took a while — probably eight months — to do the search on the name,” he says. “The hard thing about the name is a few criteria we had. One was that it had to be short, easy to remember, and four letter names are just non-existent now.

“It had to be lighthearted because travel inherently comes with a lot of stress to consumers… Every time you book travel it’s a lot of anxiety and then relief after you book it etc. So we want to change that behavior to customers; saying we will take care of your journey.”

The multimodal travel startup, which was founded back in 2012, also says it’s happy to have been able to retain a ghost of its old brand — thanks to the double ‘o’ in both names — which it intends to suggestively stand in for the beginning and end of a journey.

In Europe the travel aggregator tool that’s been known since launch as GoEuro — and soon, within a matter of weeks, Omio, everywhere it operates — has some 27 million monthly users tapping into the convenience of a platform that knits together train travel, bus trips, flights and most recently ferries to offer the most comprehensive coverage available of longer distance travel options in the region.

Europe is heavily networked for transport, with multiple intercity travel options to choose from. But it is also massively fragmented across a huge mix of providers (and languages) making it challenging for travellers to navigate, compare and book across so many potential options.

Taming this complexity via a multimodal search and comparison tool that now also integrates booking for most ground-based travel options (and some flights) on one platform has been GoEuro’s mission to-date. And now it’s Omio’s tackle globally.

“Global transport is not on a single product. What we bring is way more than just air, in terms of all ground transportation,” says Shaam. “So for me the problem of how do I get from Kyoto to Tokyo, or Rio to Sao Paulo. Or somewhere in Southeast Asia in Thailand is still a global problem. And it’s not yet solved. And so for us it’s the right time to evolve the brand… It’s definitely time to step out and say we want to build a global brand. We want to be that transport product across the world where we can serve all transport globally.”

While GoEuro is in some senses a quintessentially European business — Shaam says he “couldn’t have imagined” building a multimodal transport platform out of the US, for instance, where travel is so dominated by airlines and cars — he suggests that sets the business up to tackle similar complexity elsewhere.

Putting in the hard graft of negotiating partnerships and nailing technical integrations with multiple transport providers, large and tiny, also isn’t the sort of tech business prone to fast-following platform clones. So Omio suggests competition at a global scale will most likely be piecemeal, from multiple regional players.

“When I look beyond Europe the problem that I experienced in Europe in 2010 [which inspired me to set up GoEuro] is definitely a problem I experience still globally,” he says. “So when we can figure out how to bring 100,000 remote train and bus stations plugged into a uniform, normalized product and then give a single-click mobile ticket that works everywhere why not actually solve this problem globally?”

That translates into having “the engineering and the product and the means” to scale what GoEuro has done for travel in Europe internationally, moving to other continents with their own blend and mix of transport options and challenges.

Shaam notes that Omio employs more than 200 engineers within a company that has a staff of 300 — emphasizing also that the partnerships plus all the engineering that sits behind the aggregator’s front end take a lot of resource to maintain.

“I agree it is such a European startup. And it has served us well to get 27M monthly users traveling across Europe. Last year alone we served something like eight million unique routes. So the density of routes that we have is great. We already have global users; we have users from 100+ countries,” he says, adding: “If you look at Europe, European companies are starting to go on the global stage more and more now.

“You can see Spotify being one of the largest global tech companies coming out of Europe. You’ve seen some in the fintech space. Industries where there’s heavy fragmentation in Europe allow us to build global products because Europe is a great product market.”

GoEuro — now Omio — founder and CEO, Naren Shaam

On the international expansion horizon, Omio says its considering expanding into South America, Asia and the U.S. Although Shaam says no decisions have yet been taken as to the regions and markets it might move into first.

He also readily accepts the goal of building a global travel aggregator is a long term mission, with the partnerships, engineering and legacy technology integrations that will have to underpin the expansion all requiring time (and money) to work through.

There’s also no suggestion that Omio intends to offer a more lightweight transport proposition as a strategy to elbow its way into new markets, either.

“If we go into the U.S. the goal is not to just offer another airline product,” he says. “There’s enough websites out there that do exactly that. So we will offer something different. And our competition will also be regional companies that offer something similar in each market.”

In a year’s time, Shaam says he hopes to have further deepened the platform’s coverage and usage in Europe — noting there are more transport dots to connect in markets including Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, plus parts of Eastern Europe (as well as “very heavily fragmented” bus providers in Spain and Italy).

By then he says he also wants to have “a clear answer to what are the two next big continents we want to expand into and have people that are ready to do that”.

So connecting the dots of intercity travel is very evidently a far slower-paced business than heavily VC-backed innercity transport plays — which have attracted multiple billions in funding in very short order thanks to fast usage velocity and revenue growth vs GoEuro’s modest (by contrast) ~$300M.

Nonetheless Shaam is convinced the intercity opportunity is still “a big market”. Perhaps not as massive as micromobility, ride-hailing and so on but still big and relatively under-invested, as he sees it.

So how will GoEuro as Omio approach scaling a travel business that is, necessarily, so very grounded in fixed and non-uniform transport infrastructure? He suggests the business will be able to draw on what is already years of experience integrating with transport providers of various types and sizes to support the new global push.

It’s developed what he describes as an “a la carte” menu of products for different sized travel providers — arguing this established menu of tools will help scale into new markets in fresh geographies, even while conceding there are other aspects of the business that will not be so easily replicable.

“Over time we built a lot of tooling that adapts to the different types of suppliers. So, for example, if you’re a large state-owned operator… that has very different systems built for decades basically vs a tiny bus company that runs from Naples to Positano that nobody even knows the name of or no technology it stands on we have different products that we offer to each of them.

“We have all the tooling built out so it’s basically ‘plug and play’ for us to do. So this thing doesn’t change. That’s portable.”

What will be new for Omio is international product market fit, with Shaam saying, for example, that it won’t necessarily be able to rely on the same sort of network effects it sees in Europe that help drive usage.

He also notes mobile penetration rates will differ — again requiring a different approach to serving customer needs in new regions such as Latin America.

“It’s not quick,” he concedes. “That’s why we’d rather launch now because I can’t tell you that in three months we’ll have had four more continents covered, right. This is a long term play but we’ve raised enough capital to make sure we’re here for that long term journey.”

“We have a name that people know and we can build technology,” he adds, expanding on what Omio can bring to the table as it tries to sell its platform to travel providers everywhere. “We’ve worked with 800+ suppliers. So from a commercial standpoint, people know who we are and how much scale we can bring in terms of their fixed cost businesses — so we can sell a lot of tickets for all of them. We can bring international tourists from a global audience. And we can really fill up seats. So people know that you put your supply on our product and we instantly scale because the existing demand is just so large.”

The Berlin-based startup closed a $150M funding round last fall so it’s not short of immediate resources to support the new hires it’ll be looking to add to start building out its global roadmap.

Shaam also notes it brought in more Asian capital with its last round, which he says he hopes will help “with this globalization capital”. Most of the investors it added then are also geared towards longer term returns vs traditional VC, he adds.

Omio is not currently in the process of raising another funding round, according to Shaam, though he confirms it does plan to raise more in future as it works towards the global vision of a single platform to help travellers move all over the world.

“The amount of capital that’s gone into intercity transport is tiny compared to innercity transport,” he notes. “That means that if you’re still going after a global problem that we want to solve that means that we need to raise capital at some point in the future. For now we’re just very comfortable with what we have but it doesn’t mean that we’ll stop.”

One potential future market Omio is likely to approach only very cautiously is China.

A b2c partnership with local travel booking platform Qunar, which GoEuro inked back in 2017, to link Chinese consumers with European travel opportunities, means Omio has a commercial reason to be sensitive of any moves into that market.

The complexity and challenge of going into China as an outsider is of course another major reason to go slow.

“I want to say very carefully that China is a market we need a lot more time to understand before we go into, as I think there’s enough lessons learned from all the tech companies from the West,” says Shaam readily. “It’s not going to be a rushed decision. So in that case the partnership with have with Qunar — I don’t see any changes in the near term because going into China is a big step for us. And it’s not an easy decision anyway.”

Lyft makes it easier to track business travel expenses

Lyft announced today that taking a business trip and then actually turning in your travel receipts just got a whole lot easier. A new feature for business profiles will allow employers to create a direct connection between employee trips and travel managers in charge of their reimbursement.

While this integrated functionality is not new for the ridesharing company, it is the smoothest it has ever been. In 2016, Lyft launched its business profiles to allow users the ability to easily share receipts via their work emails. Then, in the summer of 2017, the company announced in-app integration with expense management partners like Concur and Expensify to expedite the process further.

Now, instead of emailing a receipt, people can choose from a pre-selected list of expense codes before their ride even begins to ensure that receipts are sent along to their company and its business management system. This feature will also use the trip data to provide travel managers with access to monthly reports that keep track of employees’ costs, rides and routes.

With the task of chasing down receipts off their plates, Lyft hopes this will allow companies the opportunity to fine-tune their travel processes instead.

Sea-Tac Airport speeds to the top of the list in Ookla’s ranking of best free Wi-Fi in North America

(BigStock Photo / Maridav)

When it comes to flying these days, few things are free anymore. But free Wi-Fi is still a perk worth enjoying and a new analysis by Seattle-based Ookla ranks the best airports in North America when it comes to speed and reliability.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has taken over the top spot, unseating Denver International, which held the title for fastest free Wi-Fi in the U.S. and Canada the previous two years.

Sea-Tac’s download speeds jumped from 43.66 Mbps in 2017 to 103.00 Mbps in 2018. The testing and analysis was run on Ookla’s flagship application, Speedtest, from January through April of this year.

Sea-Tac is also now faster than the other global winners recognized in Ookla’s 2017 report, including Gold Coast Airport in Australia, Congonhas-São Paulo Airport in Brazil, Dubai International, Seoul Incheon International Airport in South Korea, Sheremetyevo International Airport in Russia and Mohammed V International Airport in Morocco.

A number of airports saw significant declines in Wi-Fi speeds, according to Ookla, including: Detroit (58.9 percent decline), Miami (27.1 percent decline) and Dallas Fort Worth (25.6 percent decline).

“Nothing improves a traveler’s trip quite like reliably fast Wi-Fi can,” Ookla co-founder and GM Doug Suttles said in a news release. “What our comprehensive analysis shows is that surprisingly only a few airports across the U.S. and Canada have recognized just what an impact this can have. Wi-Fi speed can make all the difference for the business traveler finalizing a presentation or a family downloading videos to keep their kids occupied.”

(Ookla Graphic)

Online travel agency Exoticca bags $4.1M for market expansion

Barcelona-based online travel agency Exoticca — which sells “affordable luxury” holidays to popular destinations such as India, Kenya, Brazil, Thailand and South Africa — has closed a €3.5 million (~$4.1 million) Series A to expand into more markets.

The lead investor is early-stage Madrid-based VC K Fund, with existing investors Sabadell Venture Capital and Grupo Palau also participating, along with new investors Nero Ventures, Palladium Corporate Venture and Smartech Capital.

Exoticca was founded in 2013 and currently operates in three European markets: Spain, France and the U.K. The new funding will be put toward expanding that tally — with the German market next in line, and a launch into the U.S. and Canada also on the horizon. Funds will also be funneled into further developing the platform.

“The company spent the first couple of years developing the technological platform and sales have grown very rapidly since then (€4.4 million in 2016, €10.5 million in 2017 and a budget of more than €20 million for 2018),” says CEO Pere Valles, a recent recruit to the business and previously CEO of Scytl.

Valles argues that Exoticca’s progress to date proves both the profitability of its business model — noting that Spain was “the first market which Exoticca launched is already profitable” — and its replicability. “Last year we launched the U.K. and France and the U.K. is already bigger than Spain,” he says, adding: “In July, we are launching in Germany and we have plans to open in the U.S. and Canada in 2019.”

Valles says the market Exoticca is operating in is one of the few travel market segments that has not yet been digitized — with people still purchasing these types of trips in traditional “offline” travel agencies, owing to relative complexity, with the holidays typically having multiple legs and components, perhaps including international and domestic flights, land transportation, hotels in different locations, tour guides and so on.

Exoticca’s platform allows users to buy such trips online in a single visit, thanks to a proprietary booking engine that integrates with all the various providers — enabling real-time pricing for each component (so no need to phone up for an actual price before being able to book, for example).

“There is nobody else who provides real-time pricing for these types of trips through an online platform,” argues Valles. “Our competition uses internet only to generate leads and then close the sale either on the phone or in a store while we allow our customers to do the entire purchase process online in a single visit.”

There are some differences versus traditional bricks-and-mortar travel agents, though. Exoticca customers can’t spec out a very bespoke holiday in discussion with an agent, for example.

Rather it offers an inventory of around 50 trip packages in its permanent portfolio, covering what are described as “the most popular destinations” for its target travel category. (Though Valles points out it does offer a degree of light personalization — such as being able to pick a hotel category and optional excursions, for example.)

If you’re content to choose from the selection, Exoticca claims the trips are 30 percent cheaper on average versus “traditional providers” — as a consequence of the disintermediation process (i.e. it acting as both wholesaler and retailer).

“Each one of these trip packages is our ‘own’ product in the sense that we are the ones who ‘build’ it by engaging directly with the provider of each component,” says Valles, adding: “We also give our own personal touch to the tours in each one of these destinations.”

There’s a pretty striking branding style on show too — which features 1950s-esque graphics illustrating elements of the holiday packages and service…

Presumably the hope is the retro styling will resonate with the older adults who are the demographic most likely to be in the market for long-haul, luxury trips.

“We have customers in all age groups but those between 45 and 65 tend to be ‘overrepresented,’ ” agrees Valles.

He says the company is generally targeting a similar customer profile to that of GV-backed members-only travel club Secret Escapes.

Though they are not like-for-like competitors, with Exoticca’s product certainly having more of a focus on, well, exotic holidays — versus Secret Escapes offering hotel getaways to almost anywhere (so long as the hotel is up to snuff).

Other European online travel agency startups include the likes of Dreamlines, which is focused exclusively on cruise holidays to address a distinct market segment; and Evaneos, a marketplace for tailored travel experiences that connects travelers directly with a community of local travel agents — so is doing the lead generation Exoticca’s approach avoids.

Valles says the packages it sells are with “high-quality providers” (4- and 5-star hotels) but offered at “discounted prices” intended to appeal to a mass market of middle- and upper-class travelers.

The overall aim is to “democratize” this segment of the travel market. (“A great experience at a reasonable cost” is the pitch.) Though if they really succeed in widening the funnel they may end up undermining their luxury promise. But clearly that’s not something they have to worry about yet.

Funding wise, Valles says Exoticca previously raised €1 million in two seed rounds, one with F&F and another with Sabadell Venture Capital. The business is not breaking out any user or usage metrics at this stage, five years in.