Impala, a platform that serves up rich, realtime data about hotel rooms, has raised $20m from investors to accelerate its rapid expansion. The new capital, which comes only four months after closing a successful $11m Series A round, will allow the start-up to boost competition and consumer choice in the travel sector as it helps hotels to break out of clunky, outdated software systems.
The Series B round was led by Lakestar, whose invested into companies AirBnb, GetYourGuide, HomeToGo, Klarna, Spotify and Revolut, was joined by Latitude Ventures, the Series B+ sister fund to European VC firm LocalGlobe, known for investments in Transferwise, Zoopla, Monzo, Robinhood, TravelPerk and SecretEscapes. Impala’s existing backers include Kima Ventures, the fund started by billionaire French telecoms entrepreneur Xavier Niel, and Stride.VC.
Impala is doing for hospitality what companies like Plaid – recently bought by Visa for $5.3bn have done for finance: creating a set of digital ‘pipes’ or ‘rails’ that seamlessly link businesses’ internal software to a wider ecosystem of products and apps. Impala’s current customers include Phillips and TripAdvisor; it is also working with more than 300 hotels, including Accor, Mercure and Hyatt-branded properties, and has a backlog of 3,500 hotels awaiting connection to its platform.
Ben Stephenson, Impala CEO and co-founder said, “Just like the trend towards open banking, the hospitality sector needs solutions that are smart, responsive and can ‘talk’ to the world outside – unlike the siloed, old-school operating systems they’re saddled with at the moment. Our technology hopes to become the standard that lets everyone communicate. By democratising access to hotel data, Impala will fundamentally change the way people book hotels and interact with the places they stay. We want to become the rails on which hotel travel runs.”
The market opportunity for Impala is huge. Around the world, hotels take around 6.3bn bookings a year; the hotel industry generated approximately $600bn in revenue in 2018, and the global travel and tourism industry as a whole is one of the largest in the world, contributing nearly $9trn in total to the global economy.
Christoph Schuh, partner at Lakestar, said: ‘Impala has the potential to become an important layer for the future of travel, a trillion-dollar industry. Impala has assembled an exceptional team with top talent from across the travel industry, and we’re delighted to support them on this next phase of their journey. This investment perfectly fits into our travel tech cluster, where we have done investments like AirBnB, GetYourGuide, HomeToGo, omio and others.”
Like banks, hotels currently use closed-off software that’s installed on-site in order to manage their properties. These programs are very difficult to change and don’t readily connect to other services. If a hotel wants to offer information about its rooms to a travel agency or technology company, it must pay around $25,000 to open up its data – on top of which they then must pay commission fees per booking. Even then, the information served up is very basic, restricted to room availability and cost.
Impala, by contrast, uses a technique known as ‘robotic process automation’ to access data from hotels’ systems quickly and accurately. This means it can capture much more information about individual rooms, for a fraction of the cost, and bring it together in one place in the cloud.
As well as giving hotels greater control over their inventory, Impala’s platform allows travel agencies to search by the kind of detailed parameters guests really care about – such as square footage, the presence of a bath or whether the room has a view. Crucially, Impala’s platform can also be accessed swiftly and easily via an API – a digital ‘plug in’ point between one software system and another.
Impala is currently focused on companies that only need to ‘read’ data about rooms, not make bookings – particularly technology firms that provide hotels with ‘smart’ digital infrastructure such as thermostats, keycards or televisions. With the new funding, though, Impala is investing in tools to take bookings, in a move that will revolutionise the potential for cross-selling hotel rooms via specialist travel agencies, niche publishers, search engines and e-commerce sites, among others. With these advances, Impala aims to take the experience of personalised travel to the next level.
Julian Rowe, partner at Latitude Ventures, said, “The Impala team is building a mission-critical, rich, connective layer in the vast hotel industry. Online travel was one of the earliest mass use-cases of the internet – yet the underlying infrastructure supporting it has barely evolved. Impala will enable hotels to establish deeper, more personalised relationships with travellers, helping them become better businesses. At the same time, Impala can support competition and unlock a new level of customer experience. Travellers stand to benefit hugely.”
Impala CEO and co-founder Stephenson, who is 31-years old, taught himself to code as a teenager in Middlesbrough before moving to Bath to study French and Italian at university. When he dropped out for family reasons, he set up a web design company that he could run flexibly. His last job before starting Impala involved working with a luxury travel company in London to build an app to connect to their partner hotels – an experience which brought him face-to-face with the inadequacy of the digital infrastructure behind global travel.
Stephenson said, “You can imagine a world where you don’t just search for a room for two travellers in Paris, but a room in Paris, with a sofa, between the 12th and 14th floors.
“Impala can offer the incredibly granular experience that consumers currently expect, which is what will let us lead the next generation of travel start-ups.”