Ireland may not be the centre of the universe but when it comes to travel tech, it should be.
As an island nation, travel – and travel technology in all its forms – has always been of vital importance to Ireland. It’s why St. Brendan pipped Christopher Columbus in voyaging to America by a mere 900 years.
Being an island on Europe’s western periphery ensured Ireland played a central role in the history of aviation too. Iconic aviators from Alcock and Brown to Charles Lindbergh all made a beeline for these shores.
Antrim’s Lilian Bland was the world’s first female aviation engineer and when the Atlantic was first crossed from east to west in 1928, an Irishman, James Fitzmaurice, was on board. For a time, the modest Limerick port of Foynes, still famous for its flying boats, was the actual epicentre of commercial aviation.
Ireland’s journey to becoming one of the world’s great travel tech hubs
This aviation heritage helped inspire further successes, from creating the modern duty free shopping concept to developing aircraft leasing as a standalone business. Today, well over 50% of the world’s leased commercial airlines are managed from Ireland.
“It’s why, if you look around at the key figures who dominate air travel, you’ll see people such as Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, Alan Joyce at Qantas, and Willie Walsh at IAG,” says John Magill, senior development advisor with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.
Certainly, as a country with a widespread diaspora, the Irish are well used to travelling. And as the land of the “Hundred Thousand Welcomes”, it is renowned for its hospitality too.
All of this helps explain why Ireland is today one of the world’s great travel tech hubs.
Meet Ireland’s travel tech innovators
In recent years, it has given rise to world-beating innovators, such as Hostelworld, the world’s leading hostel-focused online booking platform.
It has helped spawn CarTrawler too, the world’s leading B2B travel technology platform providing transport solutions to almost one billion passengers annually, and Roomex, a leading hotel booking platform for business travel.
“We have a cohort of people who love this industry and who have a passion for it,” explains Magill.
It’s why Ireland is home to one of the most active Travel Massive chapters in the world, he reckons. Travel Massive is the community for travel industry founders, leaders, and creators. “In Ireland it’s all about getting people to events so that they can help each other out.”
Ireland’s traditional strength in ICT feeds into travel technology too. “When you tell the world you are writing your software in Ireland, nobody blinks. For the last 40 years we have been the second largest exporter of software in the world,” he says.
The fact that artificial intelligence is increasingly driving the travel industry plays to Ireland’s strengths, giving rise to a new crop of high flyers.
These include companies such as Boxever, developer of a personalisation platform that uses data and AI to make customer interactions smarter. It works with airlines around the world, including Ryanair, Viva Air Group, and Hong Kong Express.
Specialist room revenue agency Revanista provides AI-supported yield optimisation and channel management to hoteliers.
Aerospace Software Developments (ASD) develops applications based on RFID identity chip technology for the aviation and aerospace sectors.
“From engineering and technology right through to innovative tour operators such as Topflight, who have expanded into new markets such as UK school tours, travel is something we are really good at,” says Magill.
Global reach of Irish travel tech companies
The fact that major travel tech companies such as Airbnb, Google, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor all have their European hubs, and in many cases EMEA HQs, in Ireland also feeds into its unique travel tech ecosystem, points out Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland.
Irish travel tech companies have global reach too. CarTrawler is working with Alaska Airlines and Likewhere, which provides travellers with a personalised content experience, is working with the Hilton Hotels group.
“In essence, Irish travel tech companies have core technologies to empower stakeholders to transform the customer journey, drive operational efficiencies, and unlock greater profitability through dynamic pricing, ancillary revenues, and personalization,” says Walsh.
“Ireland is a travel tech hub with very many leading companies in the market – across ancillary revenues, dynamic pricing and booking technology – taking you along the entire customer journey, from pre-ticket booking to post-trip.”
Ireland’s travel heritage enables it to see clearly the problems travel companies have, while its tech heritage helps it to develop innovative solutions.
“It’s not just transforming the customer journey but driving operational efficiencies and building new revenue streams – brand new opportunities are opening up that really have an impact on the bottom line,” says Walsh.
The advent of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) has long since shaken up the travel industry, disintermediating the traditional connection between providers and customers.
The right travel tech can bridge this gap. “The travel industry has realised that the most important part of their business is their customer. They recognise the need to own the customer journey. To do that they have to make sure that the journey is seamless, that they are able to meet customers across every device, in their own time zones, reaching out to them at the right time, with the right offer,” says Walsh.
Irish travel tech companies are helping them do just that. “Airlines have figured out the value of ancillary revenues but hotels and cruise ships have not. There is now a massive opportunity for them to do so, and to further extend that relationship so that the customer doesn’t have to go to loads of different places to get things done.”
Irish travel tech companies already have a wealth of experience in the core areas “where there is an urgency for revenues”, she says.
“Enterprise Ireland can connect you with these market leaders and the advanced technologies they have developed that are driving profitability across the travel industry.”
For travel tech, Ireland is the premier destination.