About a month after outting an open API platform for its customers to augment their apps, business trip SaaS startup TravelPerk has launched a standalone API product aimed at helping the wider travel industry provide up-to-date information on travel restrictions and risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TravelSafe API is a monthly subscription product that lets travel providers integrate pandemic-related information on point to point restrictions between destinations during the booking process — with the service pulling data from official sources and local governmental websites that TravelPerk says is cross referenced by its own customer care agents.
It’s also calculating the risk level for travel to a particular country which it says is based on real-time analysis of the reproductive rate of the epidemic (R0).
The API launch follows TravelPerk’s acquisition of risk management startup Albatross in July, as the pandemic has pushed it to build out its travel risk management offerings.
Travel startups have of course been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with the virus decimating demand for international trips and wiping out huge swathes of the business travel market. And, while domestic staycationing does appear to have offset some of the vacation-related demand crunch, it’s still a tough outlook for business tips — as scores of information workers Zoom into meetings from home.
TravelPerk’s response to the COVID-19 demand shock has been to focus on product development — and today’s launch of a subscription API looks like an attempt to find a business opportunity amid the travel crisis, while also offering a service it hopes will support the wider industry to reboot stalled demand.
The API has also been developed out of necessity, with TravelPerk initially putting the service together for its own customers, as it sought to provide them with the reassurance they needed to make a booking.
Now it’s opening access to the wider ecosystem of airlines, travel agents and booking platforms as a standalone product available via monthly subscription (without the need to lock into a contract).
“Access to TravelSafe is not dependent upon being a pre-existing TravelPerk customer. The TravelSafe API is a standalone product available to any company,” confirms CEO and co-founder Avi Meir. “We built this technology for our own platform initially, because we knew that in such an uncertain time our customers and travelers really needed accurate, up-to-date information. However, we quickly realised that this same need exists across the sector and that what we’d built for ourselves could be really valuable across the travel industry.”
“Our goal is to become the most open travel management platform, and this is the first step towards us building an ecosystem of travel services that lets other travel companies, and the industry as a whole, benefit from our technology investments,” he adds.
Meir says TravelPerk is expecting the strongest demand to come from mid-sized travel management companies — given the “developer-friendly” nature of the product (he touts ease and speed of integration as big draws) — and also because the content is “unique to TravelSafe and updated in real-time”. (That said, when we ask about the risk scoring element he confirms the information the TravelSafe API offers is “an aggregation of the best data and information available, rather than our subjective assessment”.)
“This is vital given the pace of change in the travel industry at the moment,” he adds.
Keeping travel guidance up-to-date with a highly volatile pandemic that’s complicated by a lack of access to data (and/or good quality data) about how the virus is spreading in different regions is clearly a major challenge.
Nonetheless Meir reckons technology can help an inherently uncertain situation via tools that collate and surface the best of the information that’s out there. (He also disputes there’s any tension in a travel company offering risk assessment advice on travel, arguing its incentives are aligned with ensuring safe travel.)
“We cannot improve the quality or the accuracy of the data that exists on Covid-19 globally, but we can make it much easier for travelers to access and understand the information that is available,” says Meir. “Currently, travelers are really struggling to find clear, digestible, and accurate information on the rules that apply to them. People often have to read multiple articles and go to many different sources just to understand what the local guidelines are, the risk-level, whether they must quarantine upon return and so on.
“To solve this problem, we invested in developing advanced information processing tools, automated daily updates of risk levels using R-rates computation, and internal tools to facilitate the checking and updating of this data by our policy analysts. This allows the TravelSafe API to offer safe, concise, and accurate information even amongst so much change and uncertainty.”
Asked about TravelPerk’s own API-based platform — following the launch last month — he describes the market response as “phenomenal”. “Since we launched three weeks ago, we saw 50 new partners reach out to begin building integrations, one full integration with Payhawk went live, and a number of other partners coming close to finishing their integration and getting ready to go live with the platform,” he says, adding: “We’re really pleased with both the level of interest so far and how easy our partners have found it to use the API.”