The travel industry is an incredibly fragmented and complex system: tour operators, DMO and hospitality reps, and travel agents number in the tens of thousands, all spread across the globe with few opportunities to interact directly beyond annual trade shows and events.
3BaysOver aims to unify a bit of this system, by reducing complexity, increasing connections and nurturing relationships through an online platform dedicated to the travel trade.
3BaysOver, based in Geneva, Switzerland, bills itself as "The Professional Network For Travel," and promises to aggregate professional contacts from the travel industry in one place rather than across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other non-travel dedicated networks.
The platform is free, and easy-to-use, promising a streamlined and simple way to manage relationships, share new products, find new business, and generally manage industry networks in a dedicate space that exists 24/7.
Rather than waiting for an annual trade show to catch up with partners, friends and colleagues, travel professionals will benefit from a dedicated online ecosystem focused on increasing the impact and decreasing the turnaround time to sourcing new suppliers, building contacts and fostering relationships.
3BaysOver estimates that 80% of transactions in the $2 trillion travel industry are B2B, and after initially flirting with B2C decided to focus exclusively on this B2B opportunity.
"Travel is an inherently social industry, so it goes with the territory that people want to stay in touch and connected," says Andy Ryan, co-founder and CEO of 3BaysOver. "We've drilled down our focus into relationships and helping a complex and fragmented industry to more effectively manage their business relationships, while also touching upon industry events and trade-shows."
The 3BaysOver team is 8 strong, including the 2 founders, Andy Ryan (CEO, British/Swiss) and Diego Giol (Product, Argentinian/Italian), in addition to JF Blachon (CTO, French) and Caroline Schmitt (Marketing, Swedish). Lorena Waserman (Argentinian/Colombian) is a highly experienced travel expert and is in charge of industry relationships.
The startup raised its first funding round in August 2011, and plans to embark on their seed round of at least $500k in the coming months.
3BaysOver is free to use, and launches in beta today: click here to sign up. Q&A below.
The full Tnooz Q&A with Andy:
What exactly is 3BaysOver?
3BaysOver is a networking platform and online marketplace designed exclusively for the world's travel professionals. Companies and organisations throughout the industry value chain (from accommodation and transport suppliers, through inbound and outbound tour operators, to retail agents, tourism boards and industry events) use 3BaysOver to increase their visibility with trade partners, to more efficiently manage existing and new relationships, to have real-time access to industry news and information, and to more easily manage a portfolio of products and services. We're like a travel trade show, but online, open all year and anyone can join for free!
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
One of the main reasons why the travel industry today remains so fragmented and inefficient is that no one has yet created a platform that brings buyers and sellers of travel together in a useful but also extremely user-friendly way. This is in contrast with many other industries for which such industry-wide platforms do exist (eg. Alibaba for manufacturing, Angellist for early stage investing, Dribbble for design, etc).
At the same time, online tools for the travel industry tend to be a) very difficult for the user to understand and get used to, and b) unreasonably expensive. With this in mind, we set out to create an online platform that is highly accessible in terms of both price and usability, with a genuinely zero learning curve: even the most technophobic user can be connecting with other travel companies, uploading products and photos, sharing information with their network, etc. - all within minutes of registering, and we promise they'll be doing it with a smile on their face.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
If you own a travel company or organisation, or work in one in a position where you want to increase sales, strengthen relationships, gain new business and more easily connect with your audience, then you'll want to be present on 3BaysOver. And it's completely free to get started.
Many of our customers use Facebook and LinkedIn for their business, but we have yet to meet one who believes that those are good solutions for the travel trade - especially on the B2B side.
The travel industry is complex and unique in its structure, so we, like them, believe a platform designed exclusively for its members is needed today, with simple but useful features that make the day-to-day work of travel professionals easier, more productive and more enjoyable.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We already have a global network of beta users as well as advisors and industry insiders, who are eager to invite their contacts onto the platform.
In terms of growing our user base, we are implementing a number of parallel strategies, which include strategic partnerships with travel companies, tourism organisations and industry events, highly targeted campaigns aimed at regions or sectors which we believe are disproportionately under-served today (ie. creating 'mini-marketplaces') reaching niche market sectors via bloggers and specialist publications, and engaging with potential customers at trade shows, during road shows and in other industry gatherings.
We also hope the quality of the platform and our top-notch customer support will help drive significant organic growth.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Like any ambitious startup, we expect our vision to evolve along with the industry itself and the needs of our users, and ours has already evolved since we started (for example the platform initially also had a B2C aspect to it, which we eventually decided to actively de-select given the size of the opportunity on the B2B side).
We are very attentive to what's going on in travel and we're ready to tweak the concept or our strategy if needed - that's an advantage of being a nimble little startup and not a big corporation!
The tremendously positive response we has received from our early users suggests that if the vision does fail, it will do so on execution and not on the validity of the concept, so we are investing a lot in making sure we roll it out effectively and create as healthy and as thriving a marketplace as possible.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Our team is young and dynamic but we all have 10+ years of business experience behind us, so plenty of mistakes have been made and many lessons have been learned! Probably the biggest ones relate to people: hiring team members who weren't right for the role or for the environment.
So we've been very careful about only hiring, and only partnering with, people who share our vision and values and work ethic. This is critical in any company, but especially in a bootstrapping startup.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
If you ask our customers what is wrong, they will tell you that a lot is. And many will tell you that it's not so much the B2C side that needs improvement, as they have an endless array of sites where they can sell rooms/tours/packages or be reviewed or participate in affiliate programs, but it's within the industry itself that things can and should improve.
More specifically, what's broken today is how information and knowledge flow within the industry value chain, how trade relationships are created and then grow, how a travel company sources new business, connects with its partners and stays informed about what is going on in both its core and extended network.
Meeting once a year at a trade show and exchanging printed brochures is no longer enough, so we've created 3BaysOver to in essence be like a trade show, but online, year-round, and much more engaging.
The initial groan of "oh no not another profile/social network to manage" is quickly eclipsed when considering the utility of having a 24/7 online home dedicated to B2B travel industry connections that might have taken years to nurture in face-to-face encounters in various countries.
It's expensive to travel to several conferences and trade shows each year, an expense that is often prohibitive for smaller tour operators looking to expand their global reach.
Even for larger outfits that regularly attend travel industry events, the CRM tools could prove valuable insofar as managing and nurturing relationships.
The world is a big place, with a ever-shifting landscape that makes it very complex. Fragmentation is also an issue, as agents increasingly specialize in one particular niche. Having a tool that provides easy connections to others in the same industry will also reduce some of the pressure to use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for industry-specific connections.
In addition, the ability to update company profiles to include the latest product offerings will reduce the turnaround time for bookings and tour development. For example, a rafting company in Chile would be able to update the season's latest adventures, allowing travel agents and suppliers around the world to see the update in real-time rather than waiting for a brochure to be designed, printed and sent in the mail.
The real-time aspect, in addition to having a network dedicated to connecting businesses to businesses, is very interesting and we're looking forward to seeing the uptake of this tool and how effective it will be in opening up new revenue streams in the travel industry.
The main issue is going to be convincing people to sign up, create a profile, and start using the network. The success of 3BaysOver is directly correlated to who is on the platform, and how active they are, so they will need to do a fantastic job of building good will and getting active users.
Showcasing success stories will be an essential component of convincing hold outs to sign up.
The freemium/ease-of-use focus is also a smart direction as a full subscription model would be too hard of a sell upfront. It's smart to prove the utility of the tool, and then charge for the features that make it even more useful.