Uber is testing adding rail and coach travel to its app in the UK, allowing customers to book longer distance journeys through a fully integrated connection to Berlin-based multimodal travel platform Omio.
The latter has developed its own consumer-oriented apps for booking intercity and international travel, across a wide variety of supported transportation options, over nearly a decade of operations. But in recent years, it has been plowing resources to build out a B2B line — making inventory available to partners through APIs so they can add transportation booking options to their own apps and platforms.
According to founder and CEO Naren Shaam, Uber is not the first such band for Omio. But he tells TechCrunch it is the first partner to gain full access to its ground transportation inventory — which currently covers more than 1,000 transportation providers in 37 countries.
“Uber is the first partner to have access to our full ticketing API at both this scale and the first to allow you as a customer to do absolutely everything within the Uber app — so it’s the first on this product we’re offering “, he says.
Omio’s past B2B partnerships have included some transport providers themselves, such as UK-based LNER, as well as travel search engine Kayak and smartphone maker Huawei, among others.
The ride hailing giant is also the largest B2B partner Omio has signed up to date: Shaam says the tie-up will place its inventory for the approximately 5 million+ customers Uber claims in the UK market.
And while Omio’s own app includes non-ground transportation options (such as ferries and even flights), he says the platform remains strongest in terms of inventory for booking rail and coach/bus travel – hence it starts there with Uber. Although Shaam hints there could be more to come. “This is the beginning of our collaboration; it will expand – beyond geography,” he suggests, noting that Omio’s B2B partners can “pick and choose” from the full range of supported transportation models to offer their own customers.
“It’s very clear to me that we’re never going to have 100% of all the eyeballs in the wall if we’re just using Omio, so the company is evolving into a more data company – where the data and our inventory become a core asset,” he adds, while discussing the increasing focus on B2B alongside what he sees as a nice scaling B2C business in its own right.
“We’ve built up a very unique inventory for years…so basically during the pandemic…we realized that what we’ve built – the core of the asset – is a unique inventory that is hard to access anywhere, so we started a team for b2b.”
From the outset, the ground connection will allow UK Uber users to book international trains via Omio’s API if they feel like it.
While getting out of the country and entering France can be more challenging – given the recent post-Brexit travel chaos affecting holidaymakers at borders and airports (related to post-pandemic staffing problems), to not to mention the ongoing wage-related train strikes over the summer… (Shaam confirms that Omio has seen some of that disruption in its UK data, with users switching to shorter travel distances, for example, but he says he expects such changes to be temporary.)
Andrew Brem, managing director of Uber UK, commented on the partnership in a statement: “We are delighted to be launching our new travel offering this summer, enabling a seamless door-to-door travel experience in the UK. Partnering with Omio will enhance our efforts accelerating to become the go-to travel app for our UK users”.
Trips booked through Uber’s app using Omio’s API generate a commission for Omio – some of which goes back to Uber for making the habit. (The distribution of the commission is not disclosed.) It also generates revenue from Uber by licensing its technology.
Uber, for its part, has long expanded its core ride-hailing platform by integrating additional functionality — aiming to become an urban convenience hub (aka a “super app”) where you can book everything from dinner and a movie, and order a ride to get there.
So adding ground transportation over longer distances adds a new chord to that game and could help tackle last mile rides on both ends of a train journey, say. Or (again) bringing in some revenue from users who might switch from fare offer to cheaper train or bus options if they can be persuaded to make those bookings in the app.
Challenges also remain for Uber to turn a profit. When it reported Q2 earnings yesterday, it still couldn’t claim that — but it did generate another quarter of free cash flow and was rewarded by investors who bumped the stock price on another positive signal suggesting it’s at least itself can finance, so won’t literally burn itself. Don’t have money.
Returning to the Omio connection, Shaam says the ground transportation booking functionality provided by the API will be added to the Uber app in phases with a basic set of features at launch today – which he expects Uber to use in the coming months. will expand.
“It’s a new product for Uber and while we’ve gained a lot of knowledge over time building long-haul overland transportation, Uber mainly focuses on downtown public transportation and the use cases are very different. For long distances you will have multiple fare classes, cancellations, a reservation system, seat reservation etc – a very different product than just a ride announcement product – so it will be in phases where they add multiple products.
“So the first one is on your ‘transit tab’ – where you can search from say London to Manchester or Oxford or even Heathrow Express, or London to Paris on Eurostar, and you can transact entirely on the Uber transit product long distance train or bus.”
“The full scope of the basic aspects of the product should be there initially, I think – I really believe the add-ons come as they bring the Uber magic to life,” he adds.
But will Uber users — who typically use the app to book a quick taxi ride or a hot meal — really think about using the platform for a less spontaneous purchase, such as a train or bus trip to another city or region? ?
Shaam responds, pointing to “high overlap”, in terms of customers, despite the two products being built for very different use cases – while also playing some “complementary” segmentation between these respective customer bases (e.g. by noting that Uber has a higher share of business travelers among users). So the suggestion is that there is enough similarity and difference between their platforms for the collaboration to generate new business for both.
Shaam will not be involved in sharing internal estimates of the number of Uber customers he expects to pick up, but he says he hopes the partnership will help Omio significantly increase its penetration of the UK market – which he confirms. which is not currently one of the larger markets.
Asked if Uber will roll out the transportation booking feature to other markets like the US, he also sounds hopeful, while confirming that today’s launch is a bit of a test to see how users interact with it. So just how far this long(er) distance booking feature flies within Uber’s digital real estate remains to be seen.
“Hopefully the partnership isn’t limited to the UK, but it’s a new product for Uber and they need to launch in one market, test and hopefully depending on the success of that – for both sides – we plan to scale it up.” he adds.
Omio is generally buoyed from the COVID-19 travel freeze and pandemic disruption in an optimistic mood — announcing an $80 million Series E summit in June and reporting an uptick in demand, which Shaam is now repeating again. He remains in bullish form, talking about the scale of mobile booking opportunity that has yet to be harnessed when it comes to the kind of intercity/long-haul travel that Omio has made its mission.
“One of the bets we’ve made during the pandemic is a massive shift from kiosk [based-booking] to mobile because of what happened with COVID-19,” he says. “It is a surprise to me that 50%+ of the entire rail industry still sells their tickets at a kiosk. If you really look at it, both hotels and airlines are a higher basket – a higher average basket – slightly more complex experience and no one I speak to can remember ever booking a flight off the internet or in the offline world, so it’s very very quiet an industry that is significantly offline and that whole thing is going to come to mobile – because of the simplicity of the way train products work (by geography).
“I think most of it will be mobile and our own data shows that 80% of all our tickets are sold over the phone. Unbelievable when you compare it to other travel segments. So to me it’s a natural trend that’s going on that’s been accelerated by COVID-19 – so this is something we can bet on pretty easily; a move to mobile is accelerated with more products and more service links.”
Mobile-app-based versus kiosk-based bookings could entice travelers by helping them beat (at least some of) the queues, he suggests, or avoiding unfriendly user interfaces on outdated ticket machines that may not even support the user’s local language and that are not often upgraded.
You could say Omio’s post-pandemic view of its travel industry is ‘forward, up’ and outward’ – with a strategy of spreading its usefulness far and wide by integrating into all sorts of other apps (or super-apps) that travelers may want to use to get where they need to go. And Shaam confirms that more B2B partnerships are in the works.
“The purpose of our B2B business is very similar to a SaaS,” he adds. “You plug in once and then it adds – hopefully – annual recurring revenue and we just add more partners in different vertical markets… to parallel industries and give them some of our revenue so that the economy is attractive to them as well. anyone who wants to sell transportation, but wouldn’t necessarily want to, or have the capital to… go through the trouble of rebuilding 1,000 integrations in 37 countries because it’s a single API, less than a second of latency. plug in to Omio and then you are connected to our entire ecosystem.”