The travel start-up Fora wants to reinvent the travel agent

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As pandemic restrictions eased, travel spending began to increase. According The latest report from Phocuswright on the US travel marketU.S. gross bookings grew 67% in 2021 to $272.6 billion and are projected to reach $461.7 billion by 2025, 13% above 2019 levels.

But the way consumers plan and book their trips is different today than it was in 2019. According to the American Society of Travel Advisors, nearly half of travelers (44%) believe they are more likely to use a travel counselor to plan and book travel when the pandemic ends.

Consumer interest in travel agencies, coupled with the fact that women lost 395,000 jobs since 2020, has inspired the three co-founders of travel tech startup Fora to create a new kind of travel agency that allows anyone with a passion for travel to earn income as an advisor.

Launched in 2021, For a is a technology travel agency that provides resources for entrepreneurs interested in a part-time or full-time career as a travel consultant. Fora’s platform includes training for its advisor community – 97% of Fora advisors have never sold travel before – as well as access to a supplier hub, commission tracking and creation tools content and marketing.

Today, New York-based Fora announces a $13.5 million Series A funding round led by Heartcore Capital and Forerunner. The funding follows a $5 million seed funding round in November 2021.

“People are traveling again, and there’s this real need for travel advisors to decipher the world of travel these days,” says Henley Vazquez, co-founder and travel advisor at Fora. “It’s complicated; everyone wants to go back. Also, there are so many women out of the workforce… and [selling travel] seems like a fun, flexible and interesting job.

But for women interested in a career as a travel consultant — especially in a flexible position — part-time work is hard to come by, Vazquez says. “More [the travel agent technology] is terrible, and the margins are small. What if we could solve this problem? That was really the genesis of Fora’s idea.

“Business in a box”

Vazquez co-founded Fora alongside co-founder and CTO Jake Peters and co-founder Evan Frank, who previously co-founded home rental provider Onefinestay.

Fora’s platform for travel advisors has several components: one is a training program to certify agents, while another handles bookings and commissions. Additional components include marketing tools to help advisors drive demand — Peters says Fora will provide advisors with pre-made content to help with their marketing efforts — as well as a community feature where advisors can collaborate and share insights. ideas.

“Our philosophy is that there’s enough travel spend out there that it doesn’t need to be a competitive situation among travel advisors in the community,” says Peters.

It’s not like being an influencer.

Henley Vazquez – Forums

“We try to make the work of advisors amazing and make it something that people can reliably earn a living for.”

“It’s an all-in-one business,” adds Frank. “It’s not just about the technology, the platform – although that’s a big part of it – but also how it integrates the training that we provide and the tools that we give to advisors, who may be off the platform.” For example, he continues, Fora enables content creation and publishing, allowing advisors to create their own travel guides.

‘Human-powered OTA’

Since its launch, Fora has had nearly 500 advisors on its platform as well as 30,000 people on the waiting list.

Facebook marketing has been a primary tool for reaching potential Fora travel advisors. The target customer is often “the go-to person for travel in their community or circle…the person you contact before going somewhere,” Frank explains.

“What we’ve found is that it’s something very specific [people self-identify as] – people interested in sharing their travel knowledge in some way. But some people want to share that knowledge without doing the work,” he says.

“It’s not like being an influencer…we really go against that,” adds Vazquez. “We’re really focused on finding people who want to get involved and planning trips, not just about them.”

To assess those on the waitlist, Fora uses various surveys and scoring systems to determine who is actually interested in the job stream.

So far, Fora lets in between 50 and 100 advisors per month, but over the next six to 12 months, the startup intends to expand its network to anyone interested and passionate about participating.

“We see the future as being much more of a platform type business than a host agency that restricts numbers dramatically,” Frank says.

Stones says the latest round of funding has validated Fora’s hypothesis. “We didn’t know there were all these people who wanted to do this, and we didn’t know if we could make a subset of those people succeed. So we feel we have validated that so far.

“The next phase for us is to turn this into a holistic experience for our advisors…by building operations to support a so-called large-scale hospitality agency.”

In addition to building Fora’s marketing capabilities and improving its training programs, Fora will use the funding to refine its operations to support additional advisors and strengthen the offering.

“Connecting to the supply is going to be, I think, the hardest part, because it’s kind of a mess,” Peters says. “Even if you talk to OTAs or anyone trying to enable online bookings, it’s quite complicated.”

Fora currently has exclusive partnerships with Four Seasons, Rosewood, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hyatt and others, but the platform intends to move to direct connectivity.

The ultimate goal is to “build something that combines the best parts of an OTA with the best parts of an agency,” Frank says. In other words, “a human-powered OTA”.

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