Disrupting the short-term rental market in Scotland

Covid-19, and the subsequent global shutdown, has hit Scotland’s travel tech sector hard.

As people around the world are told to stay home, travel and tourism are on hold. For Edinburgh, with its rich history and annual events such as the Edinburgh International Festival, the loss of millions of annual tourists has been a huge economic blow.

Companies that provide a unique service within the industry, such as Skyscanner and Airbnb, have survived the pandemic and will no doubt start to see their business improve as the travel industry returns to pre-levels. the pandemic.

However, we have already seen widespread disruption as millions book holidays in droves now that the pandemic has slowed.

Recent news has seen passengers at Heathrow airport suffer flight cancellations, long queues, lost luggage and strike threats, while people traveling to France via the port of Dover have suffered hours late due to understaffing and Brexit bureaucracy.

To try to ease the stress of the trip, Janani Prabhakaran hopes to disrupt the baggage handling space with his business Without baggage. The company runs a network that collects, stores and transports travelers’ bags.

DIGIT sat down with Prabhakaran to discuss the Scottish travel tech market, the current state of travel and tourism in Scotland and starting his business in one of the toughest business environments in recent history ..


Disrupt the movement of baggage

With Unbaggaged, Prabhakaran provides an on-demand baggage management network. The platform allows the traveler to select where, when and how much baggage should be collected and stored. The luggage will then be delivered to the final location.

She developed the idea for Unbaggaged in 2018, but officially launched the business on May 25, 2021, currently focusing her services in Scotland’s capital.

Prabhakaran says, “I came up with the idea in 2018 while studying at the University of Strathclyde. I love to travel and I had already visited a dozen countries.

On a trip through London and with a series of bags to tend to, Prabhakaran left his short-term rental and stored them in a luggage locker. “I went to the British Museum, I came back to collect the [my bags]and I paid about 50-60 pounds for four hours.

“I then took a taxi to the airport because I was late and still missed my flight. I probably spent around £100 in total just for luggage and transport and I I still missed my flight.

This negative experience led Prabhakaran to consider that there must be an easier way. That’s when the idea for Unbaggagged came to him.

She decided to launch her idea in Edinburgh and initially focused on short-term rental properties, which had no baggage handling system for users of her service – Prabhakaran saw a gap on the market.

“Over 30% of travelers globally experience baggage issues, and when we spoke to Airbnbs, each of them told us, ‘We don’t have any bags, we just tell them to go and drop them off. their luggage in the lockers at Edinburgh bus station.’, every single one of them,” she comments.

Prabhakaran continues, “We have recruited nearly 475 properties, as well as tour operators and event venues, to affiliate with us. Every tourist we see at these 475 properties faces this problem in Edinburgh alone. If you go to London that puts a figure at 2 million people, just stay in Airbnbs.

The scale of the problem is highlighted in previous research from the Office of National Statistics. In 2019, there were 93.1 million overseas visits by UK residents, while overseas residents made 40.9 million visits to the UK.


Scottish travel technology

Traveling can be a stressful experience; with the possibility of things going wrong at any stage of the process, from delayed flights to lost luggage and missing connections.

However, Prabhakaran notices a change in the UK traveltech scene: “The whole supply chain is covered, which is great. If you take other startups and other countries, they don’t cover the whole story. Maybe only accommodation and flight or train,” she says.

Prabhakaran adds, “I think one of the interesting things I’ve found about the traveltech community is that they don’t just focus on hotels, accommodation or lights, but the whole travel.”

However, she admits that although the sector is strong here and despite its small size, it can learn a lot from the traveltech sectors in other European countries.

“I think Barcelona and the Catalan himself have been around longer. They’ve established themselves. It’s something Scotland could do,” she said.

Prabhakaran adds that leading travel tech organization Skyscanner is a great example of what Scotland does well: “There is a need for other companies to get that level of recognition or showcase on a global platform,” she says.

“That’s where Scotland are a bit lacking in establishing themselves overall where Barcelona, ​​or even Portugal, are doing a very good job.”

Prabhakaran notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a major change in the way his sector has had to operate over the past two and a half years, and that has certainly been the case in Scotland.


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After officially opening her business days before the pandemic hit, rather than giving up, as some have suggested, she says Unbaggagged has been working to improve.

“It was a difficult year, but we worked a lot technically; we have done integrations with taxi companies; we have expanded our team; we expanded our Airbnb portfolio; we have made our website smooth and functional.

Leveling up instead of closing down was a smart move. The Tech Nation Travel Tech Report 2021 conducted last year indicated that, despite the pandemic, investments in travel technology have proven resilient.

More than £1bn has been raised by travel tech companies over the past three years, while companies have received over 800 deals over the same period.

The companies also raised £358m in 2020 from 249 deals, while 50% are in the seed stage, showing a real pipeline within the industry.

Prabhakaran comments that after the pandemic there will be challenges, but you still have to look forward: “The principle is the same – you survive and deal with it, you build your resilience and that leads to a better place. .

“That’s what I see now, at least in terms of businesses I see such as accommodations, tour operators, events like fringe venues as well. Everyone is adapting.”


A technological future

Now that we are coming out of the pandemic, there is an opportunity to start acknowledging and changing the way we travel, Prabhakaran believes.

It’s also an opportunity to bring technology into the mix, which Prabhakaran increasingly sees: “There are a lot of interesting technologies coming in, like IoT, data sensors, etc.”

Technology has dramatically changed the way people travel, particularly in the last 10 years, and the travel tech sector has grown significantly into a multi-billion pound industry.

In Scotland, companies like Edinburgh-based Skyscanner have a valuation of over £1.4 billion and employ over 1,500 people according to data from Pitchbook.

Additionally, travel tech company Airbnb went public in 2020 with a market capital of $88 billion and is Prabhakaran’s biggest client.

She notes other technologies: “Even if you think of something simpler, like a visa. At one point we all had a physical visa to go to the airport. Now it’s an electronic visa, it’s also fast.

“These things are getting better and that’s what the pandemic has done, I think, is give us the opportunity to innovate. The travel industry is very traditional. It is very difficult for people to change their minds about this [innovation],” she says.

Asked what she sees as the future of baggage handling, Prabhakaran notes that it is becoming a more interesting area.

“It’s a boring task if you think about it. This is my argument. Imagine if we took the boring part out of your trip and helped travelers get the most out of their last day/first day in town.

“Our long-term vision is to have the ‘add luggage storage and transportation’ button that promotes hands-free travel and a ‘new way to travel’.

“The market will become much more interesting. I think we’ll see a lot of collaboration happen between competitors. It’s something I look forward to, myself.


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