Lee Hayhurst reports from the Travo@10 Start-up summit in London, sponsored by Travelport and Cheapflights and hosted at at News UK’s new offices.
London and the UK’s regional hubs are vibrant breeding grounds for travel start-ups but, globally, the industry’s focus is moving east, a Travolution 10th Anniversary Summit was told.
The half-day event, sponsored by Travelport and Cheapflights, was held in London at the new offices of News UK, the parent company of The Sun and The Times.
The capital has a stated ambition to be a world centre for travel start-ups, having established the Traveltech Lab, an incubator run by London & Partners, the mayor’s official promotional company.
Speaking about Travelport’s approach to innovation and startups, Simon Ferguson, managing director for northern Europe, pointed to demographic trends.
“By 2025, 75% of the world’s workforce will be under 25, so you have to think as a big business how you are going to attract people to want to work for you,” he said.
“The concept of being relevant as a big legacy business goes far deeper than just asking if your proposition or products are relevant.
“It’s how are you going to get people who are relevant and attract them in a world where the next generation expect certain things from their employer and places of work.
“Great things are happening in this city. The whole ‘Silicon Roundabout’ [Old Street] tech hub is fantastic. Then there are hubs around the UK, such as Edinburgh and Bristol.
“But you’ve got to look at what’s happening globally. One in five travel apps is consumed in South Korea. That’s an incredible stat.
“The rate of growth of tech-savvy young people in Asia-Pacific is phenomenal. Yes, we’re doing great things here, but by 2020, Asia-Pacific will be the most-travelled-to region.
“If you put a pin in a map of where the axis of travel worldwide sits, in 1975 it would have been somewhere midway over the Atlantic.
“That pin has steadily been moving east. It passed the Meridian Line in Greenwich a couple of years ago.
“This is why Turkey and the Middle East carriers are investing so much, because they think the world is moving east.”
Other speakers agreed there were advantages to being based in the UK, both as a launchpad for the rest of the world and as a place from where they can access vital support.
Simon Robinson, chief executive of Yolo Leisure & Technology and former chief executive of Thomas Cook retail, said: “The UK is one of the leading investment centres in the world. It’s a great market to cut your teeth on and prove your model, but it’s a small world, and there are other markets.
“It’s having that trust and footprint that you can tap into other markets. If you can tap into that investor community here, you can get that real global vision.”
Fellow investor Stewart Baird, chief executive of Stone Ventures, said London was not the be all and end all for young travel firms looking for financial support or talent.
“We chose to base ourselves in Worcester because we wanted to be outside London,” he said. “A lot of the talent is being nurtured in regional universities.”
Sam Bruce, founder of start-up Much Better Adventures, and Eddie Robb, who founded Make It Social, both stressed the opportunities of being UK-based.