ROVE plans to take advantage of an appetite for adventure following the lifting of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Dublin cloud-based booking platform for the experience and adventure travel sector ROVE has closed an early seed round worth €450,000.

The investment round was led by Zoosh Ventures and Enterprise Ireland.

“There are investors that appreciate now is the time to invest in new product innovation so as the travel sector rebounds those start-ups will be ready to win the market and scale quickly”

ROVE was founded in 2019 by Brian Kearney, former head of Digital at Fitbit, to make active and experience based travel more readily accessible.

The investment will position ROVE to take advantage of a growing market segment following the lifting of Covid19 travel restrictions.

And we called it the Irish ROVE

Speaking with Thinkbusiness, Kearney explained that adventure and activity-based travel is poised to become a booming business with online travel agents, hotels, and other platforms racing to grab a piece. The global market size for adventure tourism is €150bn annually, according to research firm Allied Market Research 2019

“ROVE was setup to help people discover and book unique experiences in destinations around the world,” said Kearney. “It can be hard to find great activities and experiences when you land in a new destination. We want to uncover these amazing experiences and make them easily and instantly bookable.

The rise in demand for adventure tourism has been driven by an upsurge in government initiatives promoting experiential tourism. In Ireland, the success of the Wild Atlantic Way in positioning the region as an adventure travel destination and investing in experiential product development, has captured a valuable new tourist segment.

The beachside holiday or regular sight-seeing city breaks are losing appeal as younger travellers are seeking out more active and immersive travel experiences.

Kearney explained that there are significant shifts in what consumers want out of a travel holiday today. “Tourists want to go beyond gazing out of a tourist bus and actually spend time exploring a destination. Activities such as hiking, biking, rafting and diving while on holiday have all exploded in popularity in recent years.”

However, travel experiences are one of the least digitised segments of the travel industry with just 13pc of bookings happening online, in real-time. Bookings for activities largely happen in destination and in person, very close to the intended time of departure, this has been a major challenge for any company looking for a significant degree of scale in this market.

The post-Covid19 future of travel

Kearney said: ‘’85pc of leisure travellers decide which activities and experiences to book only after arriving at their destination. So last minute, in-destination bookings are key to success in this sector. We are developing digital solutions that offer live availability, enabling travellers to make an instant booking directly from their phone”.  

Zoosh Ventures, Managing Partner, Bert Farrell is joining the ROVE board of directors as part of this financing. 

Farrell said: “The market potential for ROVE is enormous. The global market for travel activities is growing faster than any other segment of the travel industry. As we start to see this market shifting towards online and mobile bookings it becomes an exciting opportunity. With this new round of funding, and technical support from Zoosh, ROVE will come out of this period of unprecedented disruption with a stronger platform for growth”.

ROVE was recently been recognised as an Enterprise Ireland High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU), and Enterprise Ireland participated in the funding round with a €200,000 investment.

“ROVE is a progressive early-stage travel tech company focused on the growing and underserved adventure tourism sector,” said Niall McEvoy, High Potential Start-Ups ICT Manager, Enterprise Ireland.

“The travel tech sector has been deeply impacted by the current crisis, but it is important for Enterprise Ireland that we continue to support innovation in the sector to help early stage companies position for recovery in this key technology vertical. We are delighted to support the company in developing the technology and building their team as they start to scale the business globally,” he added.

Responding to questions about the potential for the travel tech segment to rebound, Kearney said there is still an appetite for investing in travel tech.

“Yes, there are investors that appreciate now is the time to invest in new product innovation so as the travel sector rebounds those start-ups will be ready to win the market and scale quickly. However, the business model must stack up in a post-Covid19 world, if it does, then the start-up is an investable proposition. Unfortunately, some business models that worked well pre-Covid19 might not be viable in a post Covid19 world.

“Now is a great time for start-ups in development to position themselves as innovation partners to established travel industry organisations. For example, at ROVE we are developing technology that will assist established Hotel groups offer their guests the ability to book tours and activities from their front desk, adding a new line of revenue to the business,” said Kearney.

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 2 July, 2020

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