Expedia Group works with tech startups to make travel easier

Skift grip

As part of Expedia’s move to push the travel industry toward equity, the company is helping startups solve their own problems and learn from them. And startups also learn from each other.

Justin Dawes

As the founder of a short-term rental software platform dedicated to people with disabilities, Lorraine Woodward said she sees a lot of talk about accessibility from major travel companies.

While many companies have internal diversity, equity and inclusion programs, they arguably all fall short when it comes to traveler services. And it takes actions – not just words – to make a difference.

That’s why she’s optimistic that her new partnership with Expedia Group could lead to a change in the industry.

His company, Become Profitableis one of 12 travel tech startups who are part of the first cohort of Expedia Group’s new Open World Accelerator program.

“I believe that when a company makes this type of commitment, others will follow. But we need a leader, and I think Expedia will — with our help,” Woodward said.

learn from each other

Becoming Rentable is a short-term rental ad platform that contains 36 filters for different types of disabilities, not only for people in wheelchairs or walkers, but also for people who are blind, deaf or autistic.

The company also offers paid appraisal and certification services for property owners and managers to verify that vacation rentals are accessible in some way. If a landlord wants to make a property more accessible, the startup can help too.

Woodward founded the company with his own experience in mind. She and her two adult sons suffer from muscular dystrophy, which severely limits what they can do. She designed a fully accessible beach house in North Carolina so they had a reliable option. Since she listed the home as a vacation rental and accessibility spread, more than 350 families have used the space, she said.

Lorraine Woodward bought a beach wheelchair for the guests of the accessible home she designed in North Carolina.

The problem Woodward sees with listings on major vacation rental booking platforms is that able-bodied owners often don’t understand the practical needs of people with varying levels of ability. Thus, owners often label a property as accessible even though it is not. “Wheelchair accessible” could mean different things to different people who use a wheelchair.

“We kept finding that. I promise if you step into any of these great platforms you will see the same,” Woodward said.

Around 1.3 billion people around the world, including approximately 61 million in the United States, have a disability. The majority want to travel but can’t due to accessibility issues, which Woodward said he learned through countless hours of research and conversations. This is a large segment of the market that is potentially being left behind.

Vrbo, Expedia’s short-term rental booking platform, is not immune to criticism. The platform currently only has two filters for accessibility – one for wheelchair accessibility and one for elevators – another common issue with many platforms.

“I hope that by working with us they will modify and change the way they do business,” Woodward said. “I think that’s the cool thing about this program. Not only are we going to benefit from their talents, knowledge and people, but I think we can do something for them as a company and their Vrbo brand.

Expedia Group confirmed that was the idea: to learn from each other. He didn’t share any plans on planned updates for Vrbo. The company previously said the accelerator was designed specifically to drive industry innovation and break down barriers to travel.

Founded in 2021, Becoming Profitable has 1,200 properties listed in the United States. Woodward wants to multiply that number quickly, strengthen the software product, and scale the assessment services.

Collaboration with travel tech start-ups

The 12 accelerator startups recently spent a week in Seattle with the Expedia team to launch the program. There are already several plans between startups to collaborate with each other. One of Becoming Rental’s links was with Misterb&ba Parisian short-term rental booking platform dedicated to the LGBTQ community.

Misterb&b has a portfolio of over a million properties listed exclusively on its platform, according to CEO Matthieu Jost. All hosts and guests are part of the LGBTQ community.

Jost founded the startup in 2014 after he and his partner were kicked out of a vacation rental for being a same-sex couple. He pointed a recent discriminatory case via Airbnb as an example of why its platform is needed even in 2022.

Apart from discrimination, he said his platform addresses the issue of safety for hosts and tenants. The platform also recently added a social layer, through which travelers and locals can connect with each other at their destinations.

“Security and lack of connection are really the two challenges for the LGBTQ community when we travel,” Jost said.

Through a potential partnership with Becoming Rental or one of many other disability-focused startups, he looks forward to making his platform more inclusive.

“Within our community there are for sure people with disabilities, so we also started having initial conversations with some of the other startups to see how Misterb&b could address the community within the community,” Jost said. “That’s something we’ll try to build on during the program.”

Vanessa Karel, founder of Grethersaid she was also in early conversations about collaborating with others.

Greether, based in California, is one of the tech startups in the program focused on travel services for women. The Greether platform verifies and connects female travelers with women at their destinations who can act as a tour guide or even share important safety information.

The platform primarily addresses security issues that women face when traveling, Karel said.

The startup has greeters in 450 cities in 90 countries, she said. There is a lot of demand in Latin American countries, so the company plans to expand there this year. Karel also plans to partner with other female-led tourism businesses around the world.

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