The travel firm flying high on staycations boom - comment

Back in February, when it felt like we still lived in a pre-Covid existence, I attended and helped to publicise the Travalyst conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre alongside Prince Harry’s (when he was still called Prince Harry) team at a high-profile business event that featured industry sector players like Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Skyscanner.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:30 am
Rental property Craigmaddie Muir Roundhouse, Milngavie. Picture: contributed.
Rental property Craigmaddie Muir Roundhouse, Milngavie. Picture: contributed.

Like so much in our post-Covid world, how much has changed since then is one of those things you occasionally sit back and think about and it is mind-blowing. The travel sector, in particular, has been turned on its head – and it’s tough to see how our own travel tech superstar Skyscanner has had its wings clipped since the onset of the pandemic.

In 2017, when I was on holiday with my family up near Aviemore, I got a call from a contact who put me in touch with TravelNest founder Doug Stephenson. The platform positioned to support holiday rental owners had been founded three years before, and was building its product and team, making some impressive hires including Skyscanner’s former chief technology officer, and was on the verge of a £3 million plus investment round led by venture capitalist firms Pentech, Mangrove Capital Partners and Frontline Ventures.

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I spent the next couple of weeks giving Doug and his leadership team advice around the planned funding announcement. Fast-forward three years, and Stephenson and TravelNest are poised to be one of the rare winners in a sector ravaged by Covid-19.

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Catching up with the team recently, I was keen to hear how staycation trends are benefiting the business since tourism reopened post-lockdown. There has been a 250 per cent year-on-year increase in reservations in July, when the platform experienced a record booking month, with more than £1m in total booking value achieved. As one of TravelNest’s marketing executives puts it, “since tourism reopened, significant traveller behavioural change has led to switching from international to domestic, hotel to vacation rentals and urban to rural”.

TravelNest’s mission is to “dramatically improve occupancy, while reducing administration time for vacation rental owners and hosts”. While vacation rentals through platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia have risen dramatically, a high percentage of nights can still remain unsold, which TravelNest describes as a “disconnect between demand and supply”.

When the travel tech start-up points to more than 80 per cent of properties being listed on a single channel, you get a clear picture of how market dynamics play to its advantage. In “start-up speak”, it is ready to disrupt a fast-growing marketplace and already counts thousands of customers and properties on its site.

Plans

In a TravelNest traveller optimism survey carried out prior to the easing of lockdown, 73 per cent of respondents said they were likely or very likely to book a trip once Covid-19 restrictions eased; 84 per cent planned to take a trip over the next 12 months; and 66 per cent said their preference was for a holiday rental. Pre-Covid, vacation rentals made up around 15 per cent of overall holiday accommodation and the TravelNest survey says this could quadruple over the next year alone.

Even in a post-Covid world, commentators agree that holiday rentals will continue to take market share from hotels as after staying in a holiday home for the first time, the likelihood that a traveller will then prefer a traditional hotel as their first choice of accommodation is almost halved.

TravelNest and its team of more than 40 are advised by non-executive director Mark Logan, Skyscanner’s former chief operating officer, and word on the street suggests they have a series of interesting announcements in the pipeline.The venture was always considered “one to watch” on the Scottish start-up scene and the shifting plates in the travel market have only upped its credentials recently.

Nick Freer is the founding director of the Freer Consultancy

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