Cat Jones: Our Vision Is for a World in Which Flight-free Holidays Are the Norm

August 24, 2022

At Byway, our vision is for a world in which flight-free holidays are the norm, and a vibrant sustainable travel ecosystem flourishes away from the beaten path.

Our mission is to make flight-free holidays mainstream, and so accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable travel.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve always been a slow traveller. I’ve never owned a car and love travelling by bike, bus and train, stopping in locally run places and really getting to know a region.

As a start-up coach and investor with degrees in Sustainable Development and Physics, I jumped at the opportunity to make environmentally friendly travel more accessible as Covid sent travel as we knew it into free-fall.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Love the journey! That’s our company motto – slow travel helps people enjoy their journeys much more than any other type of travel – but it’s perhaps something I should have lived by a little more when starting the company.

So much of life as a founder is thinking ten steps ahead, reaching further, generating momentum and building a vision of the future, that I need to remind myself to be present in the joys of each day.

I love that celebrating every win and enjoying time with the team has become ingrained in our company culture: loving the journey is so important both in travel and in life.

What problem does your business solve?

The climate impact of travel is what we’re solving for. You could get the train from London to Edinburgh and back five times and your carbon footprint would still be lower than if you flew there. Giving up one return flight to Europe is better for the climate than spending a year as a vegan.

However, the complexities of researching and booking cross-border sustainable travel trips – and the risk of added hassle and cost when trips are disrupted – makes DIY-ing a slow travel journey something many people won’t consider.

We take all of the planning and hassle out of multi-stop flight free holidays.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

Byway really started with my annual family holiday. Each year, we go on a multi-stop journey, travelling by train, boat and bike.

The trips are always wonderful – we slow down to appreciate lesser-known locations, bypass touristy hotspots and feel like we’re discovering the world on our terms. But wow, are they a pain to organise and book!

When we’d get home, friends would ask for the route so they could take the same holiday without having to do the research and planning.

As we’ve become more aware of the impact of air travel on the climate, the environmental need for simpler flight-free travel has become urgent. A few years ago, I had a job investing in start ups, and while I was doing that I was looking at data to inform my investment decisions.

The data showed the rise of sustainability as a driver for people’s decision making alongside the rise of the slow food movement, practicing mindfulness and shopping local.

As the pandemic hit I knew the time had come for slower travel to take centre stage, so I founded Byway to make sustainable, multi-stop trips easy, and to help more people discover the joys of slow travel.

What is your magic sauce?

Our tech. Byway is the world’s first dynamic slow travel packaging technology. It personalises routes based on customer’s inputs (interests, dates, regions, dietary requirements etc) and then plans the route based on the accommodation and ground transport available.

While other route planners optimise for speed, ours optimises for enjoyment! Its itineraries prioritise picturesque routes, off the beaten path stop-offs and super enjoyable journeys by train and boat – even if they take longer than the fastest direct route.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our mission is to make slow travel holidays mainstream. All the work we’re doing is to make slow travel available to all. We’re currently expanding our offering into more European destinations and are excited to be able to offer trips to more countries.

We’re also bringing Byway to booking partners, event companies, travel agencies and even other holiday companies, to help them offer slower and flight free travel to their customers.

Alongside this, we’re hiring a lot of roles and expanding our marketing efforts to help people consider slow travel for their next holiday.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

You’d think starting a travel company at the height of the pandemic sounds would have been an uphill battle, but we’ve had so much support from investors, press, customers and supporters passionate about enjoying travel sustainably, it’s been growth and great energy all the way.

There have been a lot of hurdles to deal with in the travel industry in the past two years, but the fact that we were founded in lockdown meant we could design the business from day one to be resilient and respond to changes quickly.

We are excited by where things are headed, and will always push for more. The biggest challenge to making slow travel mainstream is to make rail travel more accessible and affordable.

Currently, the UK aviation industry receives £7 billion per year in subsidies, while train prices remain a significant barrier for many in opting for flight-free alternatives. In order to make the required impact on emissions, we need to see these subsidies being diverted into train travel.

With greater unity and mobilisation of the tourism industry as seen in the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism unveiled at COP26, we hope that climate action in travel will comes into its own with the hero of brands like Byway.

With more affordable train prices, sustainable travel will be an option for more people.

From accessible digital booking systems to improved infrastructure, the push for greater accessibility is changing the transport industry for the better. TfL have increased the number of tube stations with step free access by 28% since 2019, with targets to increase this to 40% by 2022.

In addition, the need for centring disabled voices to shape the future of transport is being recognised by initiatives such as TfL’s public consultation programme, which helps identify the most impactful design alterations to improve transport accessibility.

All of our Byway itineraries come with a ‘make it accessible’ option, and we are hoping to see accessible design take a centre stage for travel providers to create truly inclusive trips.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

If you like taking holidays – check out Byway.travel

If you’d like to work for a B Corp that’s building tech to reduce carbon emissions – check out byway.travel/jobs

If you’d like to offer slow travel to your customers or employees – check out byway.travel/partnerships

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