With a new chairman on board, Lola Travel Co. is looking next to the official launch of its travel-planning app in May after receiving $19.7 million.
Lola cofounder Paul English, who cofounded the popular travel-booking website Kayak.com, said Tuesday that the company will use the money to build out its mobile platforms. Much of the money is being transfered from Blade, the startup incubator English is winding down. Another $8 million comes from Accel Partners and General Catalyst, two venture firms that have backed English in the past.
The new app will let users log on and correspond via text message with a live travel agent who does what a travel agent does — help to plan a trip. Through the Lola app, agents find users hotels, flights, and events: “Anything you can book yourself, we can book for you,” English said.
In other words, Lola is one part messenger app, one part travel agency. It’s set to move out of beta in May. A yearly subscription to Lola is $99 and lets users plan as many trips as they want, around the clock.
Once launched, Lola will join a crowded online travel space, where worldwide revenues top $350 billion annually. In contrast, the number of travel agents and agencies has been steadily shrinking since the early 1990s as more people moved to cut out the middleman by booking their own trips over the Internet.
But investors are hoping Lola’s signature combination — the old-style travel agent conveniently delivered via a new-school mobile booking platform — will pay off.
Indeed, the idea has drawn a constellation of travel-industry veterans. On Tuesday, the company said Barney Harford, who is largely credited with turning around the ailing travel-booking site Orbitz Worldwide to the point where it was sold to Expedia for $1.3 billion in 2015, will join its board as the nonexecutive chairman.
English in 2012 sold Kayak.com to Expedia’s main competitor, Priceline, for $1.8 billion. Kayak.com connections run through Lola’s executive board and include the company’s cofounder Bill O’Donnell, who was Kayak.com’s chief architect.
Two early Kayak.com investors, Joel Cutler of General Catalyst and Harry Nelis of Accel, sit on Lola’s board.
English said Lola will soon move from the offices in Fort Point where Blade was located to a building nearby.Amanda Burke can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @charlie_acb.