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Omio takes $100M to shuttle through the coronavirus crisis

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Multimodal travel platform Omio (formerly GoEuro) has raised $100M in late stage funding to help see its business through the coronavirus crisis. It also says it’s eyeing potential M&A opportunities within the hard-hit sector.

New and existing investors in the Berlin -based startup participated in the late stage convertible note, although omio isn’t disclosing any new names. Among the list of returning investors are: Temasek, Kinnevik, Goldman Sachs, NEA and Kleiner Perkins. Omio’s business has now pulled in around $400M in total since being founded back in 2013 — with the prior raise being a $150M round back in 2018.

In a supporting statement on the latest raise, Georgi Ganev, CEO of Kinnevik, said: “We are very impressed how fast and effective Omio adapted to such an unprecedented crisis for the global travel industry. The management team has delivered quickly and we can see the robustness of the business model which is well diversified across markets and transport modes. We are looking forward to supporting Omio on its way to become the go-to destination for travellers across the world.”

While COVID-19 has thrown up major headwinds to global tourism and travel — with foreign trips discouraged by specific government quarantine requirements, and the overarching requirement for people to maintain social distancing meaning certain types of holidays or activities are less attractive or even feasible, Omio is nonetheless sounding upbeat — reporting a partial recovery in bookings this summer in Europe.

In Germany and France it says bookings are above 50% of the pre-COVID-19 level at this point, despite only “marginal” marketing spend over the crisis period.

Its business is likely better positioned than some in the travel space to adapt to changes in how people are moving around and holidaying, given it caters to multiple modes of transport. The travel aggregator platform spans flights, rail, buses and even ferry routes, allowing users to quickly compare different modes of transport for their planned journey.

More recently Omio has added car sharing and car rentals to its platform, including via a partnership with rentalcars.com. So as travellers in Europe have adapted to living with COVID-19 — perhaps opting to take more local trips and/or avoiding mass transit when they go on holiday — it’s in a strong position to cater to changing demand through its partnerships with ground transportation networks and providers.

“That diversification in terms of not depending on a single mode of transport has really helped the business come back much stronger, because we’re not depending on — for example — air or bus,” CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch. “The diversification has helped us.”

“People will travel a lot more to smaller regions, explore the countryside a little more,” he predicts, suggesting the current dilution of travel focus it’s seeing — away from usual tourist hotspot destinations in favor of a broader, more rural mix of places — augurs a wider shift to more a diversified, more sustainable type of travel being here to stay.

“It’s not longer just airport to airport travel,” he notes. “People are traveling to where they want to go — and it’s a lot more distributed across geographies, where people want to explore. A platform like ours can accelerate this behaviour because we serve, not just flights, but trains, buses, even ferries etc, you can actually reach any destination with us.”

Direct booking via Omio’s platform is possible where it has partner agreements in place (so not universally across all routes, though it may still be able to offer route planning info).

Its multimodal booking mix extends to 37 countries in Europe and North America — where it launched at the start of this year. Last year it acquired Rome2Rio, bulking out its global flight and transport planning inventory. The grand vision is “all transport, end to end, in a single product”, as Shaam puts it — although executing on that means continuing to build out partnerships and integrations across its market footprint. 

Asked whether the new funding will give Omio enough headroom to see it through the current coronavirus crisis, Shaam tells TechCrunch: “The unknown unknown is how long the crisis lasts. But as we can see if the crisis lasts a couple of years we will make it through that.”

He says the raise will help the business come out of the crisis “stronger” — by enabling Omio to spend on adapting its product to meet changing consumer demand, such as the shift to ground transportation. “All of those things we can use these capital to shape the future of how the travel industry actually interacts with consumers,” he suggests.

Another shift in the industry that’s been triggered by the coronavirus relates to consumer expectations around information. In short, people expect a lot more travel intel up front.

“We have hypotheses on what comes back [post-crisis]. I think travel will be a lot more information centric, especially coming out of COVID-19. Customers will seek clarity in the near term around basic information around what regions can I travel to, do I need to quarantine, do I need to wear a mask inside the train etc,” he says.

“But that’ll drive a type of consumer behavior where they are seeking more information and companies will need to provide this information to satisfy the consumer needs of the future. Because consumers are getting used to having relevant information at the right point in time. So it’s not a data dump of all information… it’s when I get to the train station, what do I need to do?

“Each of those is almost hyperlocal in terms of information and that’s going to drive a change in consumer behaviour.”

Omio’s initial response to this need for more information up front was the launch of a hub — called the Open Travel Index — where users can look up information on restrictions related to specific destinations to help them plan their journey.

However he admits it’s a struggle to keep up with requirements that can switch over night (in one recent example, the UK added France to a list of countries from which returning travellers must self quarantine for two weeks — leading to a mad dash by scores of holidaymakers trying to beat a 4am deadline to get back on UK soil).

“This is a product we launched about a month and a half ago that tells you, if you’re based in the UK, where you can go in Europe,” he says. “We need to update it faster because information’s changing very, very quickly — so it’s on us now to figure out how to keep up with the constant changes of information.”

Discussing other COVID-19 changes, Shaam points to the shift to apps that’s being accelerated by the public health crisis — a trend that’s being replicated in multiple industries of course, not just travel.

“More than half of the ground transport industry was booked at a kiosk at a station [before COVID-19]. So this will drive a clear change with people uncomfortable touching a kiosk button,” he adds, arguing that that shift will help create better consumer products in the sector.

“If you imagine the kind of consumer products that the app/web world has created you can imagine that should come to the consumer experiences in travel,” he suggests. “So these are the things, I think, that will come in terms of consumer behavior and it’s up to us to make sure that we lead that change as a company.”

“We’re investing quite heavily in some of the other shifts that we’re seeing — in terms of days to departure, flexibility of fares, more insurance type products so you can cancel,” he adds. “We’re also trying to help customers in terms of whether they can go.

“We’re investing heavily in routing so you can connect modes of transport, not just flights, so you can travel longer distances with just trains. And we’re also in talks with all our suppliers to say hey, how can we help you come back — because not all suppliers are state monopolies. There’s a lot of small, medium suppliers on our product and we want to bring them back as well so we’re investing there as well.”

On M&A, Shaam says growth via acquisition is “definitely on the radar for us”. Though he also says it’s not top of the priority list right now.

“We’ve actively got our ears out. More so now, going forward, than looking back — because the last four months, imagine what we went through as a travel company, I just wanted to stablize that situation and bring us to a stable position,” he says.

“We are still in COVID-19. The situation’s not yet over, so our primary goal coming out of this is very much investing in the shifts in consumer behavior in our core product… Any M&A acquisitions we’ll do is more opportunistic, based on [factors like] pricing and what’s happening in the industry.

“But more of our capital and my time and everything will go a lot more to build the future of transport. Because that’s going to change so much more for so many millions of consumers that use our product today.”

There is still plenty of work that can be done on Omio’s core proposition — aka, linking up natural travel search for consumers by knitting together a diverse mix and range of service providers in a way that shrinks the strain of travel planning, and building out support for even more multifaceted trips people might wish to take in future.

“No one brings the natural search for consumers. Consumers just want to go London to Portsmouth. They don’t say ‘London Portsmouth train’. They do that today because that’s what the industry forces them to do — so by enabling this core product to work where you can search any modes of transport, anywhere in Europe, one click to buy, everything is a simple, mobile ticket, and you use the whole product on the app — that’s the big driver for the industry,” Shaam adds.

“On top of that you’ve got shifts towards ground transport, shifts towards app, shifts towards sustainability, which is a big topic — even pre-COVID-19 — that we can actually help drive even more change coming out of this. These are the bigger opportunities for us.”

Uncertainty clearly remains a constant for the travel sector now that COVID-19 has become a terrible ‘new normal’. So even with an unexpected summer travel bump in Europe it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months as the region moves from summer to winter.

“In general the overall business outlook we’re taking is purely something of more caution,” says Shaam. “We just don’t know. Anything at all with respect to COVID-19, no one knows, basically. I’ve seen a number of reports in the industry but no one really knows. So in general our outlook is one of caution. And that’s why we were surprised in our uptick already through the summer. We didn’t even expect that kind of growth with near zero marketing spend levels.”

“We’ll adapt,” he adds. “The business is high variable costs so we can scale up and down fairly easily, so it’s asset light and these things help us adapt. And let’s see what happens in the winter.”

Over in the US — where Omio happened to launch slightly ahead of the COVID-19 crisis — he says it’s been a very different story, with no bookings bump. “No surprise, given the situation there,” he says, emphasizing the importance of government interventions to help control the spread of the virus.

“Governments play a very important role here. Europe has done a superior job compared to a lot of other regions in the world… But entire economies [in the region] depend on tourism,” he says. “Hopefully entire [European] countries shouldn’t go into shutdowns again because the systems are strong enough to identify local spike in cases and they ring fence it very quickly and can act on it. It’s the same as us as a company. If there’s a second wave we know how to react because we’ve gone through this horrible phrase one… So using those learnings and applying them quickly I think will help stabilize the industry as a whole.”

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