(Bloomberg) — In January, the experiential travel platform Peek celebrated $1 billion in bookings since its founding in 2012. Then the novel coronavirus hit. Ruzwana Bashir, founder of the San Francisco-based startup, watched business vanish overnight. “By April, we were at zero,” she says. “With America in lockdown, people couldn’t experience anything. Things looked dire.”
Fast-forward through the turbulent spring and early summer months, which saw travel slow to a crawl, and now Bashir is telling a different story. Hers is one of the few nimble travel businesses that have found themselves booming; in July, Peek saw $50 million in bookings and has continued to break monthly sales records since, as travelers eagerly look for exciting ways to explore their own backyards.
The few thriving corners of the travel industry offer hope of a rebound and the possibility of traveling safely, even during an uncertain period. They may stoke your wanderlust or allow you to explore safely and securely—but they’re also good reminders that the travel industry still means big business.
Local Experiences, Wherever You’re Stuck
Peek is a two-sided marketplace that connects consumers to thousands of small business owners creating such travel experiences as cooking classes or kayak trips. “When our operators don’t get bookings, we don’t get bookings,” says Bashir, whose company takes a cut from each activity purchased on her site. Peek entered the pandemic fresh off a $23 million Series B funding.
Bashir used her newfound financial stability to advise clients on applying for disaster loans, implementing contactless payment, and creating Covid-19-safe tours. Bookings skyrocketed to $50 million in July as shelter-in-place orders began to lift—a figure that represents 5% of Peek’s all-time sales.
The bigger picture: Viator, a Tripadvisor company, also used small business relief to keep its vendors—and its own business—going. And Airbnb stayed afloat in the pandemic’s early days by launching 400-some virtual experiences, such as a Peloton-compatible “Cycling With an Olympian” class.
What you might book: Broadway may be closed until 2021, but you can still belt out showtunes with actors who serve as guides on Peek’s $40, two-hour theater district walking tour.
The Vacation Home You Don’t Actually Own
Members-only vacation clubs, which provide access to a collection of luxury homes with on-site concierges, are capitalizing on city dwellers who need long-term escapes and idyllic remote offices. Among them, Denver-based Exclusive Resorts says it saw its largest growth in membership sales since 2014 in this year’s third quarter—and has grown head count by almost 10% since March.
“Members are looking for a change of scenery, and now that many offices and schools are remote, they are taking full advantage,” says Chief Executive Officer James Henderson. Bookings for 14-plus-day vacations in 2021 have already doubled 2020 numbers, and new partnerships that offer private jet and medical evacuation transport are easing the anxieties of traveling during a pandemic.
The bigger picture: