Catch experiences, not flights: How the TravelTech industry has pivoted in an attempt to adapt to COVID-19

Not so long ago, there was a time when we pushed and shoved our fellow travelers in order to capture the best photo in popular tourist spots. This was before lockdown life became humanities new ‘norm’. Expected by none, but experienced by all, this new world has an eerie emptiness about it. Be it the Vatican in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Times Square in New York, areas which are usually teeming with the busy hum of tourists are suddenly silent. Consequently, the tourism industry, which currently accounts for 10% of global GDP has been adversely affected.  

The World Travel and Tourism Council have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could cut up to 50 million jobs worldwide. It is estimated that even once the outbreak is over, it could take up to 10 months for the industry to recover. If ever there were a time to pivot business models overnight, this would be it. Many players in the travel industry have been adopting the ‘virtual travel’ ploy to remain relevant during this time of extreme uncertainty.


In a bid to keep their hosts earning an income during the current crisis, Airbnb have launched ‘Online Experiences’. Who’s to say that just because you’re staying home, you can’t cook a traditional meal with a family in Morocco, meditate with a Buddhist monk or learn Irish dancing?

With community at the core of all they do, Airbnb use live Zoom video calls to connect groups of paying customers (typically 10) to one of their 50+ Online Experiences spread across 30 countries. They hope to grow the number of Online Experiences exponentially over the coming months to offer those who are stuck at home, a way to learn new things, travel virtually and connect with others.

Culture Trip

Culture Trip has garnered a cult following over the last few years thanks to their niche knowledge of local art, food and culture across numerous cities – making it possible to experience a city just like the locals!

With the continuous rise of the millennials and the elite preferring experiential travel to traditional travel, Culture Trip had always been at the forefront of providing tips and tricks to suit all budgets. Recently, they have launched their ‘Stay Home, Stay Curious’ series. From providing information on which site to use to view the grandiose of the Colosseum in Rome, to providing an audio-led 3D tour through the archeological wonders of Petra in Jordan, one is sure to find an interesting spot to discover! Additionally, the site offers ‘cloud tourism’ a guide and tips series of different cities ranging from Seoul to Istanbul, where one is invited to “experience the sights and sounds of a place – without even leaving your home.”


This is a favourite amongst avid travelers, who use the site for both booking hotels and gaining inspiration for their future travels.

Jetsetter have pivoted quickly with their #GoLater campaign, to keep their subscribers still involved with the site and give them an incentive to plan future travels. The campaign involves sending a virtual postcard to Jetsetter with the #GoLater, featuring places which they deem worthy of visiting post-lockdown. Participants are entered into the sweepstakes and if they are lucky enough to have their entry featured on the social media pages, they stand to win anything ranging from a Sunday brunch to a three day stay at a pre-chosen hotel (once travel restrictions are eased).

Although, this pandemic is sure to put the travel sector into distress, it is interesting to see all the different approaches companies have taken to adapt to the crisis. Draconian as it may be, one of the few positives to come out of the lockdown has been the positive impact on the environment. With lessened air pollution, flora and fauna in abundance and the dolphins returning to the Venice canals, travelling post COVID-19 may be a truly enjoyable experience for us all. So Stay Home Now to #GoLater!

Earlier this month, we launched our Q1 2020 MENA Venture Investment Report, providing an in-depth review of venture investment over the last three months. In it, the data highlights the early effects of COVID-19 on MENA’s startups.