TLabs Showcase – Green Path Transfers
TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based green travel-focused ground transport service Green Path Transfers.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Green Path Transfers, part of the WHL Group, is a new, global, eco-friendly airport transfer and ground transportation network. We are currently operational in over 30 destinations around the world, with over 100 expected by the end of this year.
Our focus is on partnering with local operators who have made a commitment to environmental sustainability, especially through the use of low carbon emission fuels or engines.
We also offset 100% of any emissions produced, recognising that some operators are yet to build out fleets with this technology (especially in emerging economies).
Green Path Transfers is being led by Adrian Cordiner, formerly with whl.travel, supported by an operations team in Vietnam.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Green Path Transfers has been financed by both the WHL Group, and a group of Brazilian investors.
The Green Path Transfers IT platform is a new build, however it also incorporates a number of standard modules for things such as online distribution (affiliates, agents, XML/API), reporting, financial management etc. developed for other WHL Group businesses such as whl.travel and Urban Adventures.
This has kept funding required quite low.
In common with other WHL Group businesses, Green Path Transfers will also leverage the existing franchise network, regional offices and distribution relationships the group has
What problem are you trying to solve?
Two main issues we are tackling:
- First, ground transportation in much of the developing world is still very fragmented and immature. Whereas you have large professional transfer services already operating in much of Europe, Nth America etc., in a lot of the developing world the service is really an add- on business of small local inbound tour operators. They do not know how to access global markets with a professional transfer service priced for distribution (a problem they have as well with their other tour and activity products), nor do they have the technology to plug into global distribution, and this is where Green Path Transfers comes in. We work with many of these small local tour operators already in their other businesses (tours, activities, accommodation bookings), so we know them and trust them to deliver a reliable service. Green Path Transfers are simply in this case focussing our training, distribution efforts etc. around the transfers element of their business, giving them access to the technology to plug them into global markets.
- Second is the move to a low carbon future. The WHL Group is committed in all its businesses to minimising our environmental footprint and supporting local communities. In designing the airport transfers business we noted the increasing number of “green” transfer and taxi companies appearing around the world and had the idea to try and bring as many of these into one big global family as we could. Doing this we could leverage our collective presence to push a very visible green transfer option to the world. We also saw the chance to take the learning from the developed world to support those in the developing world who were keen to learn about green options but had no access to learning. Finally, we are witnessing a continued strong growth in the number of large companies publically expressing a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint, which in turn is forcing them to take a close look at purchasing from companies right along the supply chain (airlines, hotels, transfer companies, car rental companies) offering green options.
The technological underpinnings of the Green Path Transfers system also allows real-time availability and instantly confirmed bookings, making it attractive both to the 3rd party distributors, as well as to travellers who have become accustomed to instant booking functionality.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Green Path Transfers offers transfers from airports, ship ports, bus stations, train stations and border crossings, as well as inter-city and inter-country transfers.
Wherever possible, we have partnered with companies using low-emission vehicles – these vehicles are clearly marked in the search results of the website, in order to allow the customer a completely transparent booking and check-out process with the vehicle of their choice.
All emissions generated by the vehicles used for the provision of our services are completely offset as well – currently we work with two 3rd party offset partners active in the travel sector, Blue Ventures (BVCO) in the UK and Atmosfair based in Germany.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We will sell both direct to the public, as well as to other travel organisations. As such, our key customers at launch are:
- Leisure travellers: Whether due to unfamiliarity with a destination, safety concerns, ease or comfort, a significant number of leisure travellers choose pre-booked transfers as a way to get from airport to hotel or from city to city. A significant and growing proportion of leisure travellers are more and more aware of the impact of their travel on the environment, and we believe that, given the option, many of these would prefer to aim for a “greener” option, all other factors (comfort level, ease of use, cost) being relatively equal.
- Corporate travellers: Many organisations have a clearly defined Corporate Social Responsibility policy, and for many of these, their environmental impact is considered quite strongly. A number of these organisations have extended the application of their CSR policy to also include their suppliers. We believe that these types of organisations would appreciate a transfer supplier with such a strong, clear interest in environmental sustainability.
- Distribution partners/Affiliates: Most transfers tend to get sold as ancillary product, sold alongside other higher value travel products such as hotels and flights. Most OTAs, wholesalers and travel agents already sell transfers as part of the range of travel product on offer. We believe Green Path Transfers offers them something new and unique, fitting in well with some new green sites some of them are working on.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
The core transfer business is not a new one, however pushing into some of the more frontier markets we have planned, plus going green, needed some careful thinking.
Getting customers to book a reliable transfer service in countries where this has not existed till now is not a problem, but buying green could be if the price was not competitive.
Customer survey work we did told us that provided price and service were comparable to non-green options, we would get the business in most cases.
We think we have this covered now.
We also had the added incentive from our Brazilian investors who want to play a leading role in responding to the Brazilian government push to go green for the World Cup in 2012 and the Olympics in 2016.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Income is generated from commission on each of our transfers. We do not charge any annual fees for our partners. Our local partners continue to stay part of the Green Path Transfers network if they maintain their commitment to go green, and if they continue to offer competitive prices and excellent service.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Unique, appealing twist on an existing product
- Strength of the global network, reaching destinations others can’t
- Ability to leverage other WHL Group assets.
- A network of operators with strong shared values and a shared mission (building a greener future)
- Limited exposure.
- Difficulty recruiting partners in some destinations offering low-emission vehicles being. They are essentially non-existent, especially in developing countries.
- To become a recognized brand name within the travel industry and the travelling public for providing eco-friendly ground transportation
- To become a global partner to worldwide corporations with a focus on environmental sustainability
- Larger organisations moving into the space
- Low/zero emission vehicles becoming so prevalent that this is no longer a unique selling point
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
There haven’t yet been any people who have said that the business won’t be successful, although some have questioned how big we think the market for this service may be.
Most people have been extremely supportive, and where people have offered constructive criticism, we have done our best to analyse it and take it on board.
Our local partners have brought with them a wealth of knowledge about the ground transportation industry and experience in selling green locally.
This has certainly helped shaped the business strategy.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We have a number of success metrics:
- Firstly, we’d love to be operational in 200 destinations around the world within 12 months.
- Secondly, we want 95%+ of these customers so happy with the service and their decision to go green (based upon our customer feedback), that they come back, as well as refer a friend.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.