Travel Startup Funding Peaked Pre-COVID. Now TravelPerk And Others Are Scaling Up

Among startup categories, travel has followed one of the more unusual investment trajectories.

Funding to the space hit a peak in 2019, amid buzz around a likely Airbnb IPO. At the time, investors were also enthusiastically backing businesses targeting business travel, customized online trip planning, and new models for upscale accommodations.

Then COVID hit, and travel spending dried up. While startups in the space did well on the funding front in 2021 — when pretty much every sector was up — we’ve yet to retrace pre-pandemic highs. For perspective, we charted out the past five years below.

Could travel funding be perking up?

But could things be perking up?

Certainly we’re seeing some big checks lately. Barcelona-headquartered TravelPerk, a business travel management platform, announced on Tuesday that it had raised $104 million in a financing led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, and joined by Kinnevik and Felix Capital. The investment, a Series D-1 extension, set a $1.4 billion valuation for the 9-year-old company, which markets to small and medium-sized businesses.

Just over a month earlier, we saw an even bigger round for Singapore-based Klook, focused on booking for leisure travel and activities. The company picked up $210 million in a December round led by Bessemer Venture Partners.

Smaller but still good-sized rounds are also racking up. This includes an $85 million Series F last year for Berlin-based GetYourGuide, which connects travelers with local guides, and a $70 million round for San Francisco’s Kasa Living, which provides flexible-term accommodations.

The IPO market could also deliver the biggest travel-related startup debut in years if Navan carries out plans for an offering. The corporate travel and expense management software provider filed confidentially for a public offering back in 2022, targeting a $12 billion valuation.  Though valuations and market expectations have changed since then, the company is still high on the list of potential 2024 IPO candidates.

Demand picking up too?

Meanwhile, business travel spending has bounced back a good deal from its pandemic lows.

In an October member poll by the Global Business Travel Association, the majority of respondents said the sector reached near-full recovery in 2023. Most business travel buyers also reported increases in employees attending in-person meetings and conferences, although virtual meetings and hybrid events haven’t lost their popularity either.

Tourists are also back in a big way. Klook, when announcing its financing last month, noted that for many Asian markets 2023 marked the first year of travel recovery, with a rebound in tourism figures and flight bookings. In tandem, the company itself also achieved overall profitability for the first time last year.

Meanwhile, popular tourist destinations were even more crowded than usual. European cities had more visitors than many could comfortably handle, while in the U.S., summer travel bookings hit record highs.

Against that backdrop, it’s not unreasonable to expect at least some of that rising enthusiasm for travel could filter down to startups in the space.

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Illustration: Dom Guzman

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