Phocuswright and Travelabs — Powering Great Decisions for Online Travel Reinvention

This is article by Valentin Dombrovsky, Chief Alchemist at Travelabs, organizer at Travel Tech Conference Russia.

Recently, I’ve become a Phocuswright Innovation Platform Ambassador. I’ve been trying to help travel startups in various ways since starting my way in the travel tech industry in 2011 — I saw opportunities in sharing my previous business experience and connecting people from the very start. A few weeks ago I wondered how I managed to partner with one of the leading authorities in travel tech after just 6 years in the industry. So, today I decided to cover a few “milestones” that led me to my current role in the Phocuswright eco‐system and to share some of my future plans too.

6 years ago I watched the 1st Phocuswright Conference US online via live-streaming. I was working on my 1st travel startup and felt passion towards travel technology — maybe even more than travel itself (it’s interesting that I’ve been outside of Russia only once before starting my career in the industry). I discovered Phocuswright thanks to one of the Russian travel startups that presented there. And thanks to the conference website, I discovered a valuable industry resource — Tnooz.

In 2012 I started writing for Tnooz. Through the Phocuswright Conference live stream in 2012, I was able to watch and cover two demonstrators, Rome2rio and Dealangel. This article helped me to get in touch with the CEO of Dealangel, Roman Peskin who was mentor at StartupYard accelerator — the one which our startup Travelatus joined later.

So, back in 2013, my travel startup participated in a 3-month acceleration programme in the Czech Republic. Our startup didn’t turn out to have great success, but it helped me to make the next step: join Excursiopedia at the end of 2013. This company gave a lot to me and one of the biggest opportunities was to travel to The Phocuswright Conference US in November 2014. It was my first trip to US, by the way.

And it was a really great experience! I remember the feeling of getting acquainted with so many people travel industry leaders who seemed to be “unreachable” before. And the inspiration continued through watching promising startups and influential speakers on stage. The conference format even allowed me to a couple of questions from the crowd. I think, I looked like puppy on the playground with so many interesting things to do and eyes wide open. Well, I was so young 3 years ago!

Former Excursiopedia CEO Kirill Sermyagin and me moving along the halls of Phocuswright Conference 2014

Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for Excursiopedia and I had to leave the company in September 2015 ‐ that was when Travelabs was founded. By the way, in 2015‐2016 covered some of the startups demonstrating at Phocuswright events too (see articles 14‐16 here). Being inspired by Phocuswright, I decided to launch a travel tech event with a bit of “Phocuswright touch” in Moscow — and Travel Tech Conference Russia was born in 2016. I won’t go too much into detail regarding the event which takes place this year — I just want to say that we’re very proud to partner with Phocuswright for our 2nd event in 2017. I believe it happened thanks to Phocuswright’s new approach towards startups — something they call The Phocuswright Innovation Platform. See my interview with Mike Coletta, Manager, Research and Innovation, to understand what this new approach means for startups.

In a few words: it’s an unprecedented step towards providing more opportunities for startups via Phocuswright events, research, community engagement, mentoring and partner events like ours. And it’s great to see that startups have more opportunities today than they had just few years before.

You know, there’s something that I don’t disclose too often. Back in 2013 my company Travelatus got the chance demonstrate on stage at what was formerly called the Phocuswright Travel Innovation Summit. We only needed enough money to cover the trip and the participation fee of $8000 (and as of this year startups can present at Phocuswright Battleground for free!), but our funding came up short. We thought that we’d get them via investments, but it didn’t happen. It wasn’t “tragedy” for us, but, surely today, startups have more opportunities at hand than we had 4 years ago. And yes, Travel Tech Conference Russia is one of such opportunities.

I understand that I am one of thousands of entrepreneurs for whom Phocuswright has played some role (feel free to share your stories in comments). I might be one of the few who have created a closer relationship with this organization by following the same goal of supporting travel tech industry innovations and connecting travel tech pros. I am grateful to everyone in on the Phocuswright team — you help to build the roads for the travel industry to move forward.

What’s next? Well, first, I’m happy to join the Phocuswright team at their events in the US and Europe. If you’re going to be there, let’s meet! Second, I’m going to continue putting effort into connecting the travel industry around technology and helping startups — be it through my personal advice or events. The 2nd Travel Tech Conference Russia will be a major milestone and we’ll see what comes next. And of course, I’ll be happy to move forward together with Phocuswright and everyone who supports travel tech innovations — I believe, we have an exciting future ahead of us!

Thank you, Eugene Ko, for helping me with the edits for the article.