Trying to get a handle on 5 years of consumer travel startups

Numerous consumer-focused travel startups have launched in the past five years.

They tackle many facets of travel, ranging from hotel and flight search to ground transport, social travel, trip planning and the shared economy. Startups are a major source of innovation and new ideas in our industry.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Michael Cameron, cofounder of Rome2rio.

As one of those startup companies, we are interested in how our compatriots are tracking. In addition, we would like to understand more about industry trends, about which ideas are getting traction, and which ones are struggling.

How do startups source traffic? How much money have they raised? Are their apps getting traction? All good questions, but it is hard to find answers.

We decided to collect a series of data points for 82 consumer (B2C) travel startups that have launched in the past five years. We used SimilarWeb to analyze web traffic for each site, and Xyo to measure app downloads.

Crunchbase was used to source fundraising information. We recognise that these resources are far from perfect. We describe a variety of biases and potential inaccuracies at the end of this article, so all numbers should be considered approximations.

Also, daily usage is not the right metric for all companies. Factors such as user engagement and revenue per visitor are also important and not captured by this analysis. However, the data we have collated does provide a fascinating overview of the market.

Please let us know if you think some of the data is incorrect, or if we are missing someone important, in the comments section below.

Anyway, here is our list, ordered by the combined monthly web traffic and total app installs:

consumer startups

(SimilarWeb October 2014 statistics used for web traffic and sources. used to tally Android, iPhone and iPad global downloads.)

Here are some of our observations:

Getting traction with consumers is hard. That’s not news, but the data certainly reinforces the message. Because travel sites and apps are not used daily, it is difficult to achieve substantial monthly traffic numbers without acquiring a massive consumer base, which can be challenging without a substantial marketing budget. Many companies in the list have raised between $500,000 and $10 million but have yet to reach 500,000 monthly visits or app installs.

Getting traction takes time. Many of the companies at the top of the list launched back in 2010 or 2011. Many of the big travel success stories launched more than five years ago. AirBnB launched back in 2008 and now has 15.8 million monthly web visits and 6.6 million app installs. BlaBlaCar has been going since 2006 and has 12m monthly web visits and 6.7 million app installs.

Ground transport is dominating. Uber, Olacabs, Lyft, Roadtrippers, GoEuro, RelayRides, Gett, Hailo and of course Rome2rio. Whether it’s taxi services, multi-modal, trip planning or rental cars – ground transport is clearly an area of growth with plenty of latent demand.

Travel guides are doing well. Ulmon, Triposo and GuidePal are all doing well with impressive app download numbers. Clearly this area is ripe for disruption as the traditional guidebook businesses have struggled to go digital. Ulmon stands out with more than 10.4 million app installs and just $1.6 million in funding.

Less traffic for tours and activities. GetYourGuide, Peek and Excursiopedia have modest traffic, but then Viator numbers are also modest (4 million monthly web visits and 0.6 million app installs) suggesting that t&a visitors convert well and are highly monetizable.

Major growth in Brazil. It is hardly surprising to see Uber topping our list, but Hotel Urbano is less well known. The site has taken off in just three years, and appears to drive substantial traffic from display ads, its Facebook page, and via its blog. Aviasales is also doing well in the Russian market.

Direct traffic and SEO are key. Roadtrippers, Aviasales and Hotel Urbano aside, most startups listed appear to obtain traffic from a combination of SEO and direct visits rather than referrals or social.

Hipmunk keeps growing. Sure, it is still small when compared to Kayak (20.3 million monthly web visits and 15.6 million app downloads) or Expedia (52.7 million monthly web visits and 13 million app downloads) but I would hardly call it irrelevant or roadkill, as Steve Hafner would have us believe. Recent deals with Yelp and Yahoo have no doubt helped fuel Hipmunk’s growth.

Roadtrippers has nailed social. It is the only travel startup we have seen to derive a significant portion of its traffic from social channels. According to SimilarWeb, roughly 50% of its 3.5 million monthly visits are from Facebook. Impressive.

2011 and 2012 were boom years. 47 startups launched during this time, but things seem to have slowed down since then in the consumer travel space.

$3,227 million raised and 120 million monthly visits and app downloads in total. That’s $27 on average per user acquired. Some startups have acquired users with much less capital including Ulmon ($0.15 per user), Triposo ($0.25), Rome2rio ($0.62) and RoadTrippers ($1.02).

As discussed, we are aware of some potential flaws with this analysis including:

  • SimilarWeb numbers do not appear to accurately cover mobile web usage. A startup with high mobile web usage, but low desktop web and app numbers would be under-represented in the list.
  • Many b2c startups also have partner integration such as white-labels, widgets or API connections that won’t be measured here.
  • Certain geographic biases exist and it can be difficult to get accurate numbers in some countries such as China. For this reason we omitted Didi-Dache from the list.
  • App download numbers seem particularly challenging to measure perfectly. Xyo was the most accurate site we could find. Also, app download numbers do not reflect engagement or repeat usage.
  • By summing total app downloads with monthly visits we are combining two completely different numbers that are not really comparable. However, for the sake of this analysis it provides a sensible rough ordering.

Special thanks to Valentin Dombrovsky, Timothy O’Neil-Dunne and Ari Steinberg for providing valuable feedback on the analysis.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Michael Cameron, cofounder of Rome2rio.

NB2: Startups image via Shutterstock.

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