the rapid growth of the global travel and tourism industry is showing few signs of slowing down, contributing a record $8.8 trillion to the world’s economy and providing 319 million jobs last year.
Facing increased demand but also unprecedented competition, travel providers know they must remain relevant and constantly improve their product to ensure their continued success. The vacationers of today expect far more than just a good night’s sleep and plentiful breakfast.
Whether it’s travel-focused innovation, advertising solutions, fintech, cybersecurity or big data, international travel and hospitality corporations are constantly seeking to gain an advantage. With in-house development proving costly and labor-intensive, and off-the-shelf technology restrictive, travel vendors are increasingly looking to start-ups to provide the disruptive technologies that can make their product stand out from the crowd.
Rom Hendler, an Israeli veteran of the travel and tourism industry, is certainly no stranger to the need for innovation in the hospitality sector. Prior to returning to Israel in 2016, Hendler spent years as chief administration, chief marketing and chief information officer for Las Vegas Sands Corporation – the world’s largest integrated resorts company.
After returning to his home country, Hendler combined his industry experience with his awareness of the flourishing Israeli innovation ecosystem to establish InnoVel, a Tel Aviv-based company connecting international travel and hospitality companies to Israeli technology.
“Travel is a huge industry, one of the biggest in the world, but there’s a lot of small players and it’s very fragmented,” Hendler told The Jerusalem Post.
“If a start-up has a solution and needs to choose a vertical to work in, it will choose the one that is most accessible. Start-ups want these tourism corporations as their customers, but they need to work together to enable them to scale.”
Under Hendler’s leadership, InnoVel aims to operate as the Israeli innovation arm of international tourism and travel corporations, providing access to early and growth-stage start-ups and facilitating commercialization.
“The objective is to bring as many corporations as possible to Israel, and provide them with access to the market,” said Hendler.
“You can now see that there is a growing understanding regarding Israeli technology in the travel sector. A lot of what we have done is educating the industry at conferences all over the world. I try to bring Israeli start-ups with me and put them on stage.”
While Hendler at first questioned how much he should emphasize Israel as the origin of the innovation due to potential political biases, he soon found that the angle of accessing Israel was of significant appeal to corporations.
Beyond the 250 or so Israeli start-ups dedicated to travel technology, Hendler also identifies solutions that are currently not being used for travel purposes, as entrepreneurs will often look for the path of least resistance toward commercialization. The strong local presence of automotive manufacturers in Israel, for example, has led to many cybersecurity companies gravitating to the autonomous car sector.
On Tuesday, InnoVel will host its fourth “Travel Tech Israel” conference, welcoming hundreds of executives from both the travel and hi-tech industries to Jaffa’s Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
Among the Israeli start-ups showcasing their solutions will be train ticketing technology developer Save A Train, travel analytics platform Mabrian and tax-free shopping solution Refundit. Leading global travel companies attending include Expedia, Skyscanner, Booking.com, KIWI and Yotel Hotels.
“We try to create a lot of face-to-face time for start-ups with corporates and help them develop some type of relationship, even if a deal isn’t going to be signed tomorrow,” said Hendler.
“We oversee the process. On one hand, the industry doesn’t know how to work with start-ups. On the other hand, the start-ups tend to always say that they can solve the problem, and only then try to figure out the solution later. Sometimes they can, sometimes they cannot. We try to be as transparent as possible because we want to exceed expectations.”