Travel aggregator Omio hops over the pond to launch in North America

Travel aggregator Omio, which operates a multimodal transport planning and booking platform for intercity and long distance tips, has hopped over the pond to launch in North America — its first market outside its home base of Europe.

From today, consumers in the U.S. and Canada can use Omio’s website or app to compare prices, schedules, duration and other variables for more than 23,000 train and bus routes across the two markets — with booking also baked into the platform. As well as wheeled regional intercity transport options the trip planner tool lets users view, compare and book flights.

Omio says it’s partnered with “leading transport providers” in North America including Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, OurBus and Academy for launch — saying “more routes and providers will be added through the year”.

In total it says it’s partnered with more than 800 transport providers across Europe and North America.

Just over a year ago the Berlin-based startup — formerly known as GoEuro — revealed it was rebranding, announcing an ambition to take its platform global, saying it would rely on an “a la carte” menu of products it had built up to cater to different-sized travel providers since the business was founded in 2013 to help it expand further a field and scale the business globally. Although CEO and founder, Naren Shaam, told us it was still deciding on its first stop beyond Europe at that point — with the US, South America and Asia all in the mix then.

In the event Omio has opted for North America — in spite of the region’s heavy reliance on flights for domestic and regional travel, given a relative paucity of high speed rail infrastructure.

Last February Shaam also told us Omio didn’t want to launch a “lightweight” flight-only product in the U.S. — which likely explains why the launch has been in the works for almost a year as it worked to put in place enough train and bus partnerships to support “thousands” of on-the-ground transport options at launch.

Omio says travellers from North American currently make up around 10% of its customer base — and claims an average of 27M monthly users overall (from more than 120 countries) — giving it a monthly baseline of circa 2.7M U.S. and Canadian users who it can start to nudge towards domestic travel planning, not just foreign trips, and thereby grow usage in a major market.

It also recently acquired rival travel planner startup, Rome2Rio — beefing up its global transport network with transport search and discovery options for more than 10M locations worldwide.

Asked why it picked North America for its first global market expansion, Shaam told TechCrunch: “America is sometimes seen as a market dominated by air and private car, yet there is a huge opportunity for ground transportation (around $8BN according to our data) in specific parts of the USA in particular.

“This, combined with the fact that around 10% of our existing customer base travelling in Europe is from the US and/or Canada, means it’s a compelling market for us. South America and parts of Asia are still markets we’re actively interested in — we don’t see it particularly as a question of either/or but have chosen to focus resources on North America to start with. Plus, our product market fit is natural in certain corridors. Like NE corridor, where with a little bit of effort we can meaningfully create a superb experience for customers there.”

He said Omio will focus initially on digital marketing (“across a range of channels”) to grow usage in the region, including looking to do so via partnerships. “We expect to test and learn in terms of the exact shape and spend,” he added.

On competitive landscape Shaam says Omio has various competitors in different markets — but named Wanderu in the U.S.

“We believe there’s a number of things that set us apart from other search or booking platforms,” he added, discussing differentiation. “In particular, it’s possible to directly compare different modes at-a-glance and then book them onsite with Omio. This means customers benefit from our easy-to-use platform all the way from search to post-booking, including our customer service. Secondly, our breadth of inventory: We offer trains, bus, flight, as well as ferries and airport transports. Many of our competitors offer just one or two modes, so consumers don’t have the opportunity to fully compare their options.

“Our app is also a key differentiator: it’s free to use (and no need to register just to try it out) and was recently named one of the best ‘Everyday Essentials’ by Google.”

Shaam declined to specify Omio’s target for user growth in its first year in North America, saying only: “We hope to see our product become part of the everyday for travelers, and especially those already familiar with us from their European travels.”

Asked where else its global expansion plan might take it this year he pointed to the Rome2Rio acquisition, saying that’s something it’s building on — to give it “reach into other countries”.

“Right now, as well launching in North America our focus is on continuing to expand within Europe both in terms of geography and modes of transport, for example with ferries and airport transfers,” he noted, adding that the expansion plans “don’t stop there”.

“We’re also building on our recent acquisition of Rome2Rio which, as we begin to link parts of the two products together, will give us reach into other countries. And we’re continuing to look at completely new markets; we’ll share more when the time is right,” he added.