Before complaining about leg space and in-flight food options became the status quo in commercial globetrotting, travel agents used to be the all-in-one concierges that laid out the intricate details of lengthy vacations. Now that automated mobile messaging has become the cause célèbre of catering to consumers’ needs at every moment, one of Kayak’s founders thinks travel apps are ready for a revolution.
VentureBeat reported on Thursday (May 12) that Paul English, former CTO and cofounder of travel aggregator Kayak, launched Lola, an iOS-specific travel concierge app. What English hopes will separate Lola from the rash of other travel apps on the App Store, though, is his service’s insistence on using the nascent automated messaging scene to remind travelers of important appointments and bridge together the often disparate experience of catching flights, checking into hotels and so much more — à la travel agents of days gone by.
“What we’re doing now with Lola is we’re not bringing back the old-school travel agent,” English told VentureBeat. “We’re trying to reinvent the travel agency. I have engineers, 20 people on the product team, 15 travel agents and 10 overhead people like me and the designers. I have five people on the AI team.”
English and Lola are coming to market with at least $19.7 million in funding. In fact, Lola’s investors may have had a bigger hand than most in shaping the app’s path to market. English explained that his initial vision for the app was as an all-purpose mobile commerce concierge assistant, but at the suggestion that he focus on the nearly 8 percent of the U.S. GDP spent in the travel commerce space (English’s figure), Lola took form instead as a message-based solution for making flights and booking rooms.
“People don’t like talking on the phone,” English said. “In terms of minutes per day, messaging isn’t just overtaking phone calls but every activity on the phone. There’s a network effect [with messaging]. It gets more valuable with the more people in.”