Sunday 14 March 2021
The budding travel company could also be in crisis
The ups and downs are part of our DNA.
Before the pandemic, online travel agency Tourlane had one of the greatest hopes on the German startup scene. Then came the shattering of the aura. A year later, co-founder Julian Weslick drew a positive balance: Flexibility is key, and organized paths aren’t necessary. “We are trying new things.”
From a high flying company to a child in trouble: Online travel agency Turlin, like many other startups in the travel sector, has been hit hard by the Corona crisis. Before the pandemic, one of the greatest hopes of the German startup scene was, and he was able to convince the legendary American financier Sequoia to invest.
Founders Julian Stiffel and Julian Weslick told the story last summer In the capital’s “Zero Hour podcast.”“How their bookings collapsed at the start of the crisis. In the summer, the startup saw a slight upward trend before the second shutdown of the company led to a kind of“ hibernation ”.
How can you survive for a year like this? How can a startup afford that? And when can the business get back on track? Julian Weslick asks himself these questions in an interview.
Mr Weslick, how is Turlin doing today, one year into the outbreak?
The current situation is unchanged. We saw a slight upward trend in the past summer, but other than that, the reservation volume normalized to around ten percent of the pre-Corona level. We expect it will take another three to six months before the infection rate becomes stable enough for consumers to clear – and demand increases again. Because we still see that clients want to travel. Just booked yesterday – for New Zealand in 2023.
Three to six months before normalization – that might be much later than you had hoped for last year, right?
We always thought and calculated different scenarios. We have just come to an intermediate scenario. We were hoping that early January things would settle down and people start booking. Unfortunately, that is not the case at this time. We plan very conservatively with our company, remain well positioned and trusted by our investors. In November they expanded another round of financing – a clear indication that they are following our strategy.
How did you react to the outbreak a year ago?
First we stopped marketing altogether, then we put sales-based operating teams into a short time business. And then some jobs were removed, mainly for subjects of no strategic importance over the next two or three years – that’s how we stopped our international expansion. But there were also areas in which we had not intentionally modified anything – technology, for example. We are using time in the crisis to make progress on this.
On the one hand, it is about improving the customer experience and improving the visualization of trips with descriptions and photos. The second is to connect more partners to our systems from the supply side so that they can be booked directly. And third, we used the time to address issues that were difficult to improve during ongoing operations. Operations are difficult to change when you are traveling at 220 kilometers per hour. At the start of the crisis, for example, we were overwhelmed by all cancellations and rebooking. Now we have built solutions with which we can do this in an automated and scalable way, even when traveling with 30 components.
Then in the summer there was a temporary upward trend. How strong is she with you?
This has continued for two to three months, and it always depends on relaxation. During this period, we achieved about 40 percent of the sales volume from the pre-Corona period. But we’ve also seen that very few countries are considered travel destinations. It wasn’t because of the customers, but because travel was so volatile: flights were canceled from day to day, and each country had a different approach. This makes it extremely difficult for companies to handle the situation.
What if it took nine or twelve months instead of three or six for the situation to return to normal?
This is planned in our scenarios. We finance long term. We don’t know how quickly sales will return – that’s why we made our scenario planning as independent from sales as possible. We have tried twice now to make the best possible assumptions, but it was always different. We just have to keep company management flexible. I firmly believe that we will come out of the crisis stronger – because we are such a startup. As a startup, we’re used to the fact that not everything is always running smoothly. The ups and downs are part of our DNA. We are innovative and trying new things.
It seems to you that investors have unlimited confidence in this company. Is it really like that?
Yeah. Our shareholders’ faith in Tourlane has only been boosted by Corona. We have proven ourselves in this crisis. Every entrepreneur knows its ups and downs, but there has never been such a huge crisis before, and we hope we never face it again in our entrepreneurial life. Investors recognized us again, in a state of crisis.
What about Turlin’s business model, is confidence not broken there?
Yes, we only see ourselves affirming our business model. The trend will be more towards solo travel. You no longer want to sit on a plane with 200 people and then spend the entire vacation in a hotel. And digitalization is accelerating – also in our market, which remains largely dependent on traditional tour operators and travel agencies. This plays into our cards.
Niklas Werminghouse spoke to Julian Veselik
The interview first appeared in Capital.de
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