Home / Business / Handiscover, the startup that helps you find accessible travel accommodation, raises $700K

Handiscover, the startup that helps you find accessible travel accommodation, raises $700K

Handiscover, a startup that lets you find and book accessible travel accommodation, has raised $700,000 in new funding. The round is backed by Howzat Partners, which has previously invested in a number of successful travel companies, such as publicly-listed Trivago and more recently Lodgify. Tranquility Capital, a Swedish family fund with a background in accessibility, also participated.

Originally launched in June 2015 to enable hosts to list accommodation and have Handiscover’s algorithm classify the accessibility of their properties or rooms, the startup has since evolved into a fully fledged two-sided marketplace, enabling consumers to search for and book travel accommodation based on various accessibility needs. The idea, founder Sebastien Archambeaud tells me, was born from his own experience as the father of 13-year-old Teo (pictured) who has a muscle condition and uses a wheelchair to get around.

“When travelling as the family we got so frustrated about the lack of purposeful information about accessibility of both vacation rentals and/or rooms for hotels,” he says. “That was what planted the first seed in my mind. Having a long background in international management and some previous tech experience and knowledge about building marketplaces, I thought I was well equipped to build a project like that. But as usual it never is as easy at it first sounds”.

Easy it might not be, but Handiscover seems to be making a decent dent so far, and appears more than capable of picking up any slack left by Airbnb’s recent acquisition of lesser-sized Accomable, which it has since shuttered. Handiscover currently lists 28,000 properties and rooms, and covers 83 countries, with more to come.

“Our mission is to enable people with disabilities and special needs (15-20 percent of the population) to travel the world, by being able to find a great choice of accommodations at different price levels, adapted to our users specific needs,” explains Archambeaud. “As there is no international standard for accessibility we created our own, using an algorithm to classify accommodations according to their level of accessibility, in a consumer friendly way”.

Archambeaud says direct competitors are mostly traditional travel agencies that specialise in disability, meaning they might have a website but are mainly focused on selling full holiday packages by phone. “We are more into helping our community travel the ‘modern’ way by bringing the freedom of booking online, when you want and with a large international choice,” he says, revealing that Handiscover will soon be working with travel tech company Amadeus to scale supply in terms of the number of hotels listed.

Meanwhile, asked what he thinks of Airbnb’s acquisition of Accomable, Archambeaud had this to say: “[It] was a great signal that our community is relevant from a business point of view and that Airbnb takes an interest in it. For us it has just been positive so far, both business-wise when talking to investors, but also from a community point of view”.

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Airbnbing can be a ton of work. Between key pickups, tidying, and maintenance emergencies, renting out your place isn’t such a passive revenue source. But Vacasa equips owners with full-service vacation home management, including listings on top rental platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, as well as local cleaners who come between guests. It now manages 10,000 vacation rental properties in over 16 countries. With the peer-to-peer housing market maturing and Airbnb looking to go public, private equity firms see an opportunity in who controls the end relationship with home owners like Vacasa does. So today the startup is announcing it’s raised $64 million in a Series B bridge round led by Riverwood, and joined by Level Equity, Assurant, and Newspring. The cash will fuel Vacasa’s expansion into real estate as it seeks to sell property to people who want to own and rent out a vacation home. Vacasa was impressively bootstrapped from 2009 until 2015. “I’ve always been passionate about vacation rentals. When traveling with friends or family, I love having common spaces to come together in” says CEO Eric Breon. He founded the company after owning a vacation cabin on the Washington Coast. He’d go up in the Spring, spend a weekend fixing up the place, it’d sit idle all summer, and then he’d have to spend another weekend closing it up. He considered a local property manager, but they massively underestimated how much he could earn off renting it out. So Breon built Vacasa to make it easy for home owners to earn the most money without a hassle. After years growing the business organically, Vacasa raised a $35 million series A from Level Equity in 2015, then $5 million more from Assurant. Then in fall of 2017, it raised an $103.5 million series B. Now it’s topping up that round with $64 million and a new valuation warranted by the startup’s growth this past year. That brings Vacasa to a total of $207.5 million in funding While that’s just a fraction of the over $4.4 billion Airbnb has raised. But Vacasa caters to a more upscale market that don’t want to manage the properties themselves. With plenty of popular listings sites out there, Vacasa gets easy distribution. But eventually as the other giants in the space become public companies, they’ll be forced to chase bigger margins that could see them compete with Vacasa after years of partnership. Breon remains confident, though. When I ask him the biggest existential threat to the business, he declares that “We’ve reached a point where failure isn’t a realistic outcome. We have great retention of our homeowners, and strong recurring revenue. The question is more about how quickly we can continue scaling into the huge $32 billion market we’re focused on.” Getting to an exit might not be quite so straightforward, but with life seeming to get more stressful by the year, there’ll be no shortage of people seeking a getaway.

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