How Covid-19 changed the plans of travel startups

Airbnb, GetyourGuide, Holidu and Tourlane about the new hype of nearby destinations

The travel industry was arguably hit the hardest by the pandemic. With almost all planes grounded, travel restrictions in place and a global virus outbreak, hotels had to close and the tourism industry went from 100 to 0 in a matter of weeks. As Johannes Reck, Co-founder and CEO of GetyourGuide, recalls: “We could literally see the business evaporate in front of our eyes.” 

But every crisis also opens up new opportunities, accelerates changes and helps to discover new perspectives. So we’ve asked some of the biggest startups in the travel industry how consumer behavior has changed, what long-term trends they expect in their industry and how they manage to get through the crisis. 

Changes in consumer behavior  

This year, we are seeing that German travelers want to explore the areas and communities close to their home as well as visiting classic holiday destinations such as the North and Baltic Sea coasts”, says Kathrin Anselm, General Manager DACH, CEE and Russia from Airbnb. 

New research has identified a series of trends that will shape travel in the weeks and months to come. According to a survey carried out by Airbnb recently, almost 3 in 5 respondents said that they have considered booking a trip closer to their home and more than 2 in 5 respondents said they are interested in booking an experience close to home. 

These domestic travel aspirations can also be seen in booking data at the end of May: the majority of trips booked by Airbnb users in Germany were to destinations between 80 to 320 kilometres from their home. Moreover, the number of domestic nights booked in Germany in the first week of June is nearly 60% higher than during the same period last year. Meanwhile, German travelers are booking more spontaneous, short trips: beginning 8 to 30 days after the booking with a trip length between 2 to 6 days. 

Overall, Airbnb’s booking data shows that travel is beginning to bounce back. “The innate human desire to travel and connect has only become stronger while we’ve been apart”, emphasizes Kathrin Anselm. This trend is also confirmed by Holidu’s founder Johannes Siebers who says that his company has observed a strong increase in bookings right after the German Government announced the end date of the travel restrictions.

“After 2 months with a strong decline in bookings we notice that people are travelling again now. Especially holiday homes are very interesting, because people can rent a whole house or an apartment for themselves.” Private accommodations, where you spend your holiday alone with your loved ones, seem to be especially preferred in these times, also backed by the Deutscher Ferienhaus Verband that confirms that the bookings in that sector are already back to a pre-crisis-level. 

Long-term travel habits

“My personal expectation is that Corona is a catalyst for many trends that have already been there before. For example, already before Corona there was a strong shift from offline to online bookings, which is now accelerating. And already before Corona, sustainability, a desire to stay close to nature, domestic holidays and holidays in very individual settings have been a strong trend, which is now even strengthened. So I expect in the mid-term and long-term that Covid-19 rather accelerates trends that are already there, than completely changes our travel behavior”, says Johannes Siebers, CEO & Co-founder of Holidu. 

Julian Stiefel, Co-founder & Co-CEO of Tourlane, is convinced that travelling will be much more appreciated after the lockdown. According to him, travel has lost some of its magic in recent years. Tourlane is therefore observing a trend towards more conscious travel. “The shift from mass tourism to individual tourism is accelerated by Corona, and topics such as sustainability and environmental protection are topics that are gaining in importance. (...)" 

This is a trend that also Michael Buller, chairman of the board of Verband Internet Reisevertrieb e.V. (VIR) and consultant for the travel industry, sees right now. He estimates that looking forward, sustainable travel will play a bigger role. For 2020 and 2021 he remains cautious, though: “I would hope that we will continue along this conscious path, but this also costs time and money, and the current economic environment makes this process significantly more difficult.” Nevertheless, he expects that business travel will decrease in the future. With the increased use of virtual meeting platforms, face to face meetings are not necessary all the time. “We will still travel to meet face to face, but less often and rather for more special occasions”, he points out. 

Kathrin Anselm, General Manager DACH, CEE and Russia at Airbnb
Kathrin Anselm, General Manager DACH, CEE and Russia at Airbnb
Johannes Reck, Co-founder and CEO of GetYourGuide
Kathrin Anselm, General Manager DACH, CEE and Russia at Airbnb
Johannes Reck, Co-founder and CEO of GetYourGuide
Johannes Siebers, Co-founder and CEO of Holidu (on the right)
Kathrin Anselm, General Manager DACH, CEE and Russia at Airbnb
Johannes Reck, Co-founder and CEO of GetYourGuide
Johannes Siebers, Co-founder and CEO of Holidu (on the right)
Julian Stiefel, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Tourlane

Different strategies to navigate through the crisis

Next to launching Online Experiences during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in early April to connect people whilst they were staying home, Airbnb is responding to the demand for nearby trips with an update for the app and the homepage to help guests rediscover their own backyards by making it easier to book local travel, including at the last-minute. However, at Airbnb they had to make some tough decisions, as Kathrin Anselm explains: 

We recently laid off 1,900 people, 25 percent of the company. For a company whose mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, this was particularly painful. We couldn’t protect every job, but we could protect our people and we did everything we could. We gave all departing employees 14 weeks of pay, healthcare, gave them their laptops so they could find a new role, and set up a Talent Directory on our website to help people find new roles.” 

GetyourGuide was able to cut cost by 50% and to avoid layoffs completely during the crisis. By being transparent about their financials and incentivising their employees with shares per salary policies the company recorded a spike in productivity during that time. 

Holidu’s long term strategy has not fundamentally changed due to Corona, but there has been a strong focus on domestic travel and domestic inventory, as well as flexible cancellation policies.

Tourlane stays in close contact with their customers to help them reschedule their trips or replanning them. As technology is a key part of their business, they have continued in heavily investing in their technological development to improve their services. 

Airbnb is a platform which brokers arrangements for lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. It was founded in 2008 and has grown to about 6300 employees, 4,500,000 listings in over 65,000 cities in 191 countries and is valued at $26bn. 

GetYourGuide, which was founded in 2009, operates an online platform for booking tours, attractions, and activities worldwide. With a valuation of about $1.8bn, the unicorn employs more than 800 people.

Holidu is a Munich-based startup which developed a platform for the renting of holiday homes. It was founded in 2014 and has received a total funding amount of $50.7m since then. Holidu is one of the fastest-growing travel tech companies worldwide, offering a proprietary image recognition technology to compare the prices of millions of rental properties.

Tourlane, the online provider for tailor-made trips, founded in Berlin in 2016, combines technology with the expertise of experienced travel experts to personalize the travel experience for their customers. They currently have over 250 employees and over $80M in funding. Even though the company has experienced a 100% loss of business, they did not have to lay off a lot of people.