Skylark Travel has gone through its fair share of growing pains since its 2016 beta-testing period, but the OTA-agency hybrid is now growing at a quick clip, realizing eight-times growth in the last two years.

Skylark also recently announced it raised $4 million in financing, with backers including Ovation Travel Group (a longtime Skylark supporter) and its founder Paul Metselaar and BCD Travel.

"We've learned a lot," Skylark CEO Paul Tumpowsky said of his agency's growth. "It's not that easy to build an OTA, and it's even harder to build an OTA that has a giant zipper down the back of it so that our advisors can actually help our clients when they really need help."

Skylark, a Virtuoso agency, offers consumers the option to search, browse and book transactions online themselves, or chat with a luxury advisor. 

"That's also been a really big success factor, because our advisors are doing three times the volume of a traditional advisor, mostly because a lot of the things that are heavily administrative -- like credit cards and other stuff like that -- the clients are just doing themselves," Tumpowsky said. "Our advisors are spending much more time doing things that are a real value add."

Outside of Ovation and BCD, Skylark's investors include 25Madison, Bessemer Venture Partners, Vectr Ventures and Clarim Holdings.

In addition to Skylark's overall growth, Tumpowsky is excited about its customer acquisition. The average customer used the agency for 1.9 trips annually last year, which he described as "extraordinarily high."

He attributes that to two factors. First, Skylark is offering a high level of service online, something not frequently found. Second, Skylark enables consumers who might not want to "bother" their travel advisor with a quick trip to book right on its site themselves.

"The notion of doing something in the middle of the night and still getting treated with Virtuoso amenities from Skylark is something that's inherently quite easy for a younger, luxury customer," he said.

Skylark has come a long way from its 2016 beta test. Then, the site was "really brittle," Tumpowsky said. The agency has invested in user experience, both on desktop and mobile, and delivering a simplified booking experience.

"Everything that we're doing right now we've gotten wrong at least twice, and we've been fortunate enough to have partners that have allowed us to recover from our mistakes," he said.

Skylark has four employee agents. Its business is about 80% online and 20% offline, with offline trips averaging $10,000 to $25,000 each.

The agency, which primarily sells hotels and international business-class air, is also developing a business-to-business product for leisure agencies that want to enhance their ability to sell air.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI