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Holiday-makers and businesses alike have found 2020 tricky to navigate with quarantine restrictions ruling out international trips for many. But as travel companies see a surge in bookings for summer 2021, we speak to co-founders of Pluto, a travel planning and insurance app. Since lockdown, the company has been working hard to stay relevant and guide customers whatever their travel plans - home or away, this year or next.

“The pandemic taught us that we were too reliant on travel insurance as the sole entry point and source of revenue,” says co-founder Alex Rainey. “When people travel in a different way - domestic travel, short breaks or trips to safer destinations - travel insurance becomes much less applicable.”

As an app-based agile business, Pluto responded by diversifying its business and launching Pinboard, a free planning tool for travellers. From staycations to day trips, Pinboard can be used by any traveller with a smartphone looking to plan their next trip, share their travel plan with friends, or read recommendations. In future, the team plans to monetise Pinboard by offering a booking service for accommodation or flights.

Remember, if you’re planning to travel in the next few months, be sure to check the Government advice and quarantine restrictions before you book.

All about travel

“Pinboard was being worked on before lockdown but it basically allowed us to focus almost exclusively on it,” Alex says. “We want Pluto to be about more than just insurance. We want to provide something that all travellers can benefit from to help them get the most out of their travels.”

Pinboard app screenshot
Pinboard, a free travel planning tool

Unlike Pluto’s travel insurance, available only to British residents, Pinboard can be used by travellers around the globe. “We’ve seen a lot of people planning trips off the beaten track rather than busy capital cities. With those sorts of trips, extra planning goes a long way,” he says.

Alex, 30, and co-founder Harry Williams, 26, have been working on Pluto full-time since 2018. They now have an additional four employees. The team uses Starling to manage their business banking.

Pluto co-founders, Alex and Harry
Alex Rainey and Harry Williams, co-founders of Pluto

So far, Pluto has worked with their customers, travel brands and influencers to create travel plans for 25 destinations, from Paris to the Peak District. Customers can also create and share their own boards.

Responding to the coronavirus

Pluto is authorised through the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and has a partnership with Zurich Insurance. Customers can buy travel insurance for a single trip or cover for the whole year. Additional cover is available for winter sports, business trips and gadgets. “If you’re after a quick quote, you’ll get your policy in under a minute. If you want a tailored policy, it will take only a few minutes more,” he says.

“For the first month of lockdown, we processed a lot of claims and focused on customer support,” says Alex. “You can use the app to make a claim or speak to a human, anytime.”

Pluto offers customer service through its in-app messaging platform. It also has a 24/7 emergency number and an option to speak to a UK GP for free if you’re unwell while abroad, a service that’s provided by Babylon Health.

“Pluto, like other insurers, can’t cover travel disruption caused by coronavirus because your insurance can only cover you for things that aren’t known about when you book your trip. However, if you need medical treatment for coronavirus abroad, Pluto will be able to cover any costs.”

Ethical technology

Pluto is in the process of becoming a B Corporation, a certificate for businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

To balance profits and purpose, it donates 10% of profits to the Travel Foundation, a UK-based charity that works in partnership with businesses and governments to enable and promote sustainable tourism.

As a branchless, paperless bank, Starling was a great fit for Pluto’s ethos, ethics and needs. “I always kept a close eye on the new banks in this space,” says Alex. “The account was set up in a minute or two, there was no faff. It’s brilliant - we love it.”

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