Our Start-up of the Week is Travaplan, a travel platform that makes it easier for businesspeople and coordinators to plan, book and manage their travel.
“Our automated approval process removes the complexity and time taken to approve and book travel, making it more convenient for the employee and reducing cost for the business,” explained Lewis McMahon, co-founder of Travaplan.
“We personalise the travel experience through our live itinerary, which is available on the traveller’s mobile and assists them on their trip with information about their flights and directions to their hotel. Travellers can coordinate on trips through chat and the ability to view each other’s itineraries. This is particularly useful where travellers are originating from different locations for events such as conferences and sales meetings.”
‘We believe our users can plan, approve and book a trip using our booking partners in less than 20pc of the time taken today’
– LEWIS MCMAHON
Travaplan’s Locate feature enables the business to identify the location of a traveller in the event of emergency, thereby complying with duty-of-care requirements.
“We also provide the CFO with visibility of their travel spend, regardless of how it is booked, through comprehensive, up-to-date reporting,” McMahon explained.
According to McMahon, the global business travel market is estimated to be worth €1.1trn and is going through a phase of major disruption.
“According to a recent Phocuswright survey, 90pc of businesses have moved away from tightly managed travel policies where all travel has to be booked through a single supplier, to a more flexible solution where employees or an internal travel coordinator can book directly online themselves.
“This is particularly true for short-haul trips where it is easier and more cost-effective to book the flights and accommodation online as there are no fees and [there is] greater choice.
“This is also driven by the fact that millennials, who are used to booking travel online themselves, now account for 50pc of business travellers,” said McMahon.
Both McMahon and co-founder Colm Fitzpatrick are engineers by profession.
“This is my third start-up. In 1993, I co-founded Ocuco, which has grown to become a global leader in opticians’ software.
“In 1999, I founded Storage Online, which was acquired through a trade sale in 2015.
“Colm has held CEO positions in a number of US multinationals and earned 1m air miles in the three years up to 2016 when we co-founded Travaplan.”
McMahon said he likes to think about Travaplan as a series of interconnected engines bringing all of a company’s travel-related workflows into a single unified platform.
“We believe our users can plan approve and book a trip using our booking partners in less than 20pc of the time taken today but we also provide the kind of tools only found today across multiple solutions and platforms.”
There are four key components to the Travaplan platform: Plan Engine, Book Engine, Trip Engine and Reporting Engine.
Plan Engine is a toolbox of useful integrations, with Firebase, Skyscanner, Booking.com, CarTrawler and a series of other useful booking platforms allowing users to search and save options for flights, hotels and car rentals as well as discuss and select their required options, allowing a trip to be priced and sent for approval if needed. McMahon said it is about putting travel agency tools in the hands of the traveller and the travel coordinator.
Book Engine is an easy one-click booking for the self-booker, or, in a more complex setting, a set of workflow tools to enable centralised direct booking of company travel. “We have special work screens for busy coordinators so nothing is missed. It’s also an email collection system that takes booking confirmation emails regardless of source, extracts the important data from them and builds flexible/configurable mobile app travel itineraries to replace the usual ‘six pages in a plastic cover’ or ‘four emails somewhere in your inbox’ systems in widespread use today. This means that whether you book a mix of some direct and some travel agency bookings, we can capture all of your travel into a single database for reporting.”
Trip Engine is the traveller’s world where itineraries are helpful, with directions or links to useful additional services such as airport parking, restaurant bookings and airport transfers. “It’s also a place where you can see the itineraries or fellow travellers, send them messages and, if necessary, locate them on a map. Companies can also locate their travellers in the event of a security problem, fulfilling duty of care.”
And finally, Reporting Engine takes the Book Engine’s database and produces reports about travellers, trips and spending with travel providers.
“Our goal is to have more than 2,000 companies using Travaplan in Europe and the US by 2021, and make Travaplan the go-to application when it comes to business travel,” McMahon said.
According to McMahon, Travaplan’s beta phase has already attracted businesses with a combined travel spend of €100m.
“We recently raised seed investment from a combination of private investors and Enterprise Ireland, which will help reach our target of over 100 customers in Ireland and the UK by the end of 2018, at which point we will be looking at Series A investment to target the US market.”
He said that a guiding philosophy is ease of use. “We spent a lot of time on design to accomplish this.
“One of our main challenges is ensuring that we keep it easy to use whilst still providing customers with the functionality they need.”
Keep things simple
McMahon’s first start-up was in 1993. “That was five years before Google was founded, so the world was a very different place.
“The start-up scene has also changed dramatically since then. There are significantly more supports in place, and international expansion is a more realistic proposition.
“We have been helped along our journey by Dún Laoghaire Local Enterprise Office, Enterprise Ireland HPSU and NDRC. It is a very exciting place to be and has given both myself and Colm a new lease of life in our 50s.
“We have continuously learned from the energetic younger members of the start-up community whilst hopefully offering them the benefit of some of our experience.”
His advice to fellow-founders is built upon hard-earned experience.
“Listen and learn from your customers. Develop your product around what customers actually want rather than your perception of what they might want. Keep things simple.”
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