Travel startups continue to rake in venture capital dollars as more people become comfortable traveling amid the global pandemic. The latest is SmarterTravel, which brought in $9.5 million in Series B funding co-led by Link Ventures and Second Alpha, with existing investors also participating.
In addition to the fundraise, the company, a provider of personalized travel recommendations and targeted travel content, announced its name change from HopJump, which reflects the company’s renewed vision of providing an informative online travel experience, CEO Jordan Staab told TechCrunch.
SmarterTravel has 7 million email newsletter subscribers and uses proprietary artificial intelligence fixes to give customers travel information and discounts. The company writes articles on every facet of travel to inform customers, especially now with airlines, hotels and countries placing certain restrictions on travel.
“The travel consumer is changing how they absorb information,” Staab said. “The consumer is coming to us instead of visiting 20 websites before they book. Before, you might have combed through reviews, but now you just want an expert to tell you, and that is what we are.”
HopJump was started in 2018 by Staab as a digital marketing agency helping big brands with user acquisition campaigns. As it was building up to an initial public offering, Staab said the company wanted to move into building its own brand and saw an opportunity in travel, which accounts for a big market — 10% of global gross domestic product, he added.
The company went on to provide hotel discount travel prices to consumers but found it to be challenging. There are a lot of nuances and different approaches for offering four-star hotel rooms for two-star prices and bundling tactics, Staab explained.
“We fell in love with uncomplicating the process,” he said. “Consumers just want a good price from a company they trust, and that is what we set out to solve.”
In January 2020, the company launched its first product and had 60 members join in the first few months, but then the global pandemic hit. Suddenly, HopJump went from managing rapid growth to managing how the company might shut down.
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Still eager to stay in travel, the company pivoted back to marketing so it could continue examining the travel industry, he said. While the company was figuring out its next move, Staab said folks at SmarterTravel were helpful to them, and when he heard that its parent company, TripAdvisor, was needing to make layoffs, and that division was going to be let go, he decided to purchase that asset along with seven others, including Airfarewatchdog, Family Vacation Critic and Oyster. The deal closed in 2020.
Lisa Dolan, managing director at Link Ventures, said that SmarterTravel’s growth was one of the drivers of her firm’s investment. When no one was traveling due to COVID, the company acquired travel companies and made it through the pandemic while other startups in the space were struggling.
She also cited its strong revenue-generating business on the email side and that it capitalized on the fact that even in the pandemic, people were conducting web searches for car rentals, things to do in certain cities and looking for vacation inspiration.
SmarterTravel is going after a U.S. travel and tourism industry valued at $580.7 billion in 2019. It is also not the only one to gain investor attention recently. For example, just over the past month companies like Thatch raised $3 million for its platform aimed at travel creators, travel tech company Hopper brought in $175 million, Wheel the World grabbed $2 million for its disability-friendly vacation planner and Elude raised $2.1 million to bring spontaneous travel back to a hard-hit industry.
Meanwhile, the funding will drive SmarterTravel’s aim to grow rapidly in terms of getting its name out there, building new travel products and hiring key staff. The company already has 50 people, but needs more, Staab said.
“Travel has had a tough couple of years, but some pockets of it are back, and we are seeing that,” he added. “In a year that should have been a bad year, our growth has been good. We were up eight times in revenue in the past 12 months. We are growing, profitable and have extra funding to lean into the growth. It is not going to be easy growth, but we are well-positioned to understand how to do it.”
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