Despite the Pandemic, Brazil's Travel Tech Scene is Thriving
Brazil is proving to be a fertile ground for travel tech companies. According to a recent study, the country has 219 companies that provide corporate travel, online travel, distribution, and business intelligence. Entrepreneurs established the majority of these businesses in the last seven years.
The country is positioning itself to become a Latin American travel tech hub comparable to Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina. These companies are investing now to gain a competitive edge in the post-pandemic period, and they are playing the long game.
According to the So Paulo consultancy Loureiro Consultores, Brazil’s travel tech businesses are expected to generate or service about $6 billion (35 billion reals) in gross travel volume in 2022. The report expands on a rough version published a year ago by business travel company Onfly.
The “agency and online reservations” area seems to be Brazil’s most robust category of travel IT firms, accounting for 29% of the total.
To be sure, global brands like Booking.com, Expedia, and the Despegar-owned brand Decolar are major online travel sellers in Brazil. In addition, Hurb (formerly Hotel Urbano) is a local player, although it is backed in parts by Booking Holdings. Finally, Submarinoviagens is the online brand of CVC Corp, the established travel giant that claims itself as the largest group of travel and tourist businesses in the Americas.
Nonetheless, despite these well-capitalized brands, smaller local competitors seem to be gaining momentum. 123milhas and Viajanet are among the agencies that have maintained or increased their market share throughout the crisis, thanks in part to smart marketing on Lusophone social media.
Voopter has maintained its share of the travel price-comparison search, or metasearch, market, despite competition from Mundi, a brand purchased by Booking Holdings, Skyscanner, Trip.com Group, and Google’s travel search.
YouVisa is a travel company that provides an adjacent service by digitizing and simplifying the still enigmatic process of obtaining visas for international travel.
Just as Oyo Rooms and Ayenda Hoteles in Colombia have generated buzz with their branded hospitality franchise models, Brazil has its own similar tech-forward hospitality startup: Voa Hotéis.
Housi in Brazil, like Sonder in the United States and Casai in Mexico, operates on similar business models. It sometimes signs master leases from property managers, creates short-term rentals, and markets them through online agencies. In addition, it sometimes owns the property itself. In December, the startup raised $11 million in funding.
Optimized for Brazilian Travel
The rise of domestic travel tech and trends in internet use and flight expansion is laying the foundation for a rebound.
Millions of Brazilians moved from offline to online due to pandemic restrictions, similar to how China experienced a spike in digitization after the SARS epidemic in 2003. An estimated 150 million Brazilians use the internet, with the recent expansion of mobile broadband benefitting them.
The success of the new airline Azul in introducing flights to places that other carriers had overlooked is also benefiting the growing middle class.
Investors have mostly ignored the Portuguese-speaking country because they believe its middle-class has not yet reached “the inflection points” at which it would substantially increase travel spending, to use language from a Boston Consulting Group report.
Investors have also been cautious about the country, which had only attracted around 5 million international visitors each year on average before the pandemic.
However, the relative lack of foreign investor activity has made room for newer homegrown players to take and solidify positions in the long term.
Strength in corporate travel tech
Brazil’s travel tech scene seems to be doing particularly well in corporate travel.
Brazil currently lacks a competitor to Barcelona-based TravelPerk or Palo Alto-based TripActions.
Onfly, Paytrack, and Voll are three of the most promising businesses that could follow in their steps. However, it is still early on in the game.
B2B Reservas is another promising company. It handles corporate travel distribution, reservations, and payments by connecting hotels to the biggest travel agencies, similar to HRS’s corporate travel marketplace.
In an economy dominated by family-owned or state-backed conglomerates, the growth of these stand-alone companies is remarkable. However, it seems that many legacy companies in Brazil’s travel industry have left gaps that can be exploited by entrants, as Azul has shown in the face of established airlines like LATAM and Gol.
Enterprise or business-to-business technology vendors are another intriguing categories in Brazil’s travel tech scene.
Sensys Travel, for instance, is a business intelligence company that assists travel brands in tracking the rates that their competitors are placing on the market in “real-time.”
Any effort to capture a travel company ecosystem should consider whether or not to include so-called mobility players, including ride-hailing companies, ground transportation operators, and next-generation aircraft manufacturers. Some analysts, such as Lufthansa Innovation Hub, include mobility players in their assessments.
Brazil may offer a more compelling case for adding mobility players than other markets.
The line between IT players providing tourism, business travel, and mobility in Brazil is often more hazy than in other markets. Much of the country’s leisure and business travel occurs outside of aircraft (almost no rail). WiiMove, like Berlin-based Omio, aims to capture multi-modal choices for travelers.
The little cruise industry in Brazil is one of the country’s travel mysteries.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the country’s Economic growth is expected to expand by more than 4.3 percent this year. In addition, a gradual easing of the pandemic should lead to a recovery in leisure and business travel.