Impala CEO, Ben Stephenson,
Over the last twenty years or so, we’ve all got used to going online to book accommodation. We filter our search by location, price and dates, scroll down a list of available options and then reach for a credit card. Generally, it’s a seamless experience.
So does the world really need another hotel booking system? Well somebody clearly thinks it does. Earlier this month, London based travel data company, Impala secured $20 million in series B funding having raised $11 million in series A just four months earlier.
Now when VCs start writing checks – and in this case the money came from Lakestar and Latitude Ventures – it usually means they feel there is a market to be disrupted. So when I spoke to Impala founder and CEO, Ben Stephenson I asked him if there was genuine scope to disrupt a travel market that has already been well and truly shaken up – certainly in terms of hotel data and booking.
A Lack Of Automation
“People do have the impression that everything is automated, but that is actually not true,” he says. “Outside of the big booking sites such as Booking.com and Expedia, you’ll find a lot of information is transferred manually. And this is very slow and reliant on the hotels’ own CRM systems.” As a result, he says, “things can get out of kilter.”
Pipes For The Industry
As something of a market insider – he previously worked for a luxury travel agent – Stephenson saw an opportunity to build an infrastructure that would allow data to be transferred freely between parties such as travel agents, booking sites and hotels. The goal then was to provide “pipes” for the industry rather than simply setting up a “booking platform” per se.
Nevertheless, the initial focus was on real-time booking. And that’s where the development of the company has taken an unexpected turn.
As Stephenson explains, the decision to build data transfer architecture rather than just a booking engine has enabled Impala to offer solutions to a range of industry partners. He cites electronic entertainment providers as an example. “When hotel guests check out of a room the T.V. data has to be wiped,” he says. “Our system enables that to be done.” So in addition to Trip Advisor, electronics giant Phillips is among Impala’s first big-name customers.
A Greenfield Area
And as Stephenson stresses. The same data transfer technology can equally underpin the activities of third party services such as concierge provision and laundry. “This is actually a greenfield area,” he says.
To date, the company is actively working with 350 hotels, with another 3,500 waiting to come on stream. As Stephenson explains, the company’s expansion plans have generated new challenges. “We’re bringing hotels on board at a rapid pace. And to do that successfully, we need to offer global 24/7 support,” he says.
Which is one good reason for raising Series B funding. But why so soon after Series A? Stephenson says this was down to enthusiasm on the part of the investors. Lakestar- the lead investor – has a strong interest in the travel market, having funded Airbnb, and GetYourGuide among others. Latitude Ventures has invested in TravelPerk and Secret Escapes.
So what was the attraction? Well, with hotels worldwide taking 6.3 billion bookings every year, this is a huge market. Impala’s aim is not only to streamline processes but also change the way that customers and hotels interact with each other across a range of services. As Lakestar partner Christoph Schuh said in a canned quote: ‘Impala has the potential to become an important layer for the future of travel, a trillion-dollar industry.”
It’s not something that’s a given. The challenge for Impala is to build gain traction in the booking market – originally the target – whilst also enabling a broader range of data-led services. “What we want to do over the next 12 months is really start working with hotel room distributors,” says Stephenson.