After an initial fundraising of 1.7 million carried out in the middle of the first Covid wave with Kima Venture (Xavier Niels’s Venture Capital) and business angels, the Annecy start-up Explora Project has just completed a second round of financing. , four million euros this time, from CapHorn Invest, Aonia Ventures, 50 Partners and Crédit Agricole Alpes Développement. Its ambition: to establish its economic and technological model to pave the way for much more sensible tourism.
Shake up business models
“We must change the travel agencies’ models, succeed in offering something different to customers, revolutionize this sector, which is still far too CO2-intensive. Today, the most profitable stays for agencies are long-haul trips, which are therefore the most polluting. This model is neither sustainable nor acceptable.tackle Stanislas Gruau, founder in 2019 of the Explora Project, joined a few months later by Alix Gauthier, at the beginning in 2010 of Copines de voyage, another start-up in the travel ecosystem.
After a first life in commerce in Switzerland, passionate about sports and nature, Stanislas Gruau had given up everything to create his own travel structure in 2019, specializing in wilderness expeditions. “with limited carbon impact” and in small groups. And if Covid-19 has wiped out a number of journeymen, including the Giants, his agency appears to have been strengthened. 500 travelers in the first year of existence, 4,000 expected this year…, the growth is exponential. And the co-founders expect an annual doubling for, ” at least “the next three years.
“The health crisis has accelerated our roadmap. In 2020, we were up against the wall, like all the actors of the journey. But we reacted very quickly, we almost immediately created a hundred experiences in France, less than 100 kilometers from metropolitan areas, we withdrew long-haul flights, we calculated the carbon impact of each of our journeys etc..
At the end of last year, the Explora Project continued its development by maintaining new activities tested during Covid: family adventures, wellness expeditions or even cultural immersions. Always with the same common point: “rustic experiences limit the carbon impact as much as possible”.
In addition, 80% of the catalog of destinations offered by the Explora Project is accessible by train: wild hiking in the Pyrenees, exploring the glaciers of Vanoise, yoga in Aravis, family sports in Croatia, bivouac in Vercors… “We are a French agency that takes French people to Europe by avoiding planes as much as possible”, explains Stanislas Gruau.
Become a 100% “no plane” directory agency
The ambition with the Annecy start-up? Succeed in the medium term in offering a catalog of holiday destinations whose travel would be 100% carbon-free, thus becoming the first French “no-plane” travel agency.
“To achieve 100% zero flights, we are of course dependent on the European rail network, which is still very imperfect. But we also depend on more intrinsic factors: the economic model. In order to offer total “no flights” and long-haul travel, we must have the financial capacity to do so. Long-distance trips are the most profitable, and to eliminate them, we need to increase our margins on the short and low-carbon trips that we want to favor.”analyzes the manager.
“Our gross margin is around 35%, double the industry average, because we are completely disintermediate: there is no one between the local guide and us. On the other hand, our net margins are low because we have a large payroll to be able to handle all of this”.
To increase its margins, it relies on technology and automation. The first fundraising had made it possible to initiate an “Explora Hub”. This second fundraising will fund its completion. This platform will allow advanced automation of processes: reservations, confirmations, exchanges with service providers. The investment is significant, approximately one million euros, but it will already make it possible to automate 60% of the administrative tasks in the coming months. Extremely time-consuming tasks due to the positioning of the Explora Project in wilderness travel, a sector where the actors are very fragmented.
The Explora Project currently has around twenty employees and will be recruiting 7/8 people in the coming weeks, including 4 for technological development. Next step announced within three years: Expand the offer to Europeans and become the European leader in nature travel.