You travel, share experiences on social networks, travel companies reward you for sharing and so on - sounds simple, step forward Freeppie.
The startup, beta coming in September, has torn up the social travel model, scrapped commission payments and is asking instead for a 1 Euro hotel booking fee per night.
It also plans to earn revenue by enabling tour operators and other suppliers to market their wares via the platform although this will be free until 2014 to people to test it all out. Once it reaches a critical mass advertising, special marketing campaigns for suppliers and users' data profiling are potential other future revenue models.
Freeppie is the brain-child of three friends and tourism professionals- Luca Perfetto, founder and CEO, Urbano Brini co-founder and marketing manager and Marco Callarelli, co-founder and product manager. The core team is backed up by IT experts, engineers and other advisers.
The company is self-funded by its founders to the tune of $250,000 to date.
Rivals in the space are both online travel agencies and social travel networks including the big boys Expedia, Booking.com and Tripadvisor although it says the concept is totally different and sits between OTA and social.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
Freeppie introduces a revolutionary, more ethical and social way to book travel and tourism services.
It is the first social travel network that rewards people for their social actions as they share their travel experiences via reviews, pictures and other content with their social community.
Rewards are credits that can be used to book discounted and free trips on the platform.
It allows operators (hotels, restaurants, flights and tour companies, etc.) to sell with no commissions and to use this margin and their unstressed inventory to increase their social visibility by offering discounts and free spaces to travellers who act like travel advisors in exchange for nominal and certified exposure.
Therefore, for the first time in the industry, a platform is able to make people travel for free and guarantee and certify the operators’ return on investment in social strategies.
Why should people or companies use your start-up?
Freeppie starts with cutting out completely the commission costs for suppliers.
Why are we able to do that?
Because although we also offer the functionality of the booking platforms, Freeppie is a social network that stimulates the direct relationship between clients and suppliers using marketing tools and actions.
This value and operators’ unstressed inventory is regenerated into rewards for travellers.
For the first time people are given discounts and allowed to travel for free. Travelers are in fact given the chance to book discounted and free trips in exchange for nominal and certified social publicity.
Specifically they have the chance to fully exploit their 'social potential', - they give advice and write reviews about their experiences, sharing them with a community of real friends and real people on social travel networks integrated with the Freeppie platform and they gain credits through which they will be able to book discounted or free trips. The more they share, the more they save, the more they can travel for free.
From the operators’ stand point, Freeppie guarantees a real possibility of genuine social visibility - reviews are certified, viral and real.
Operators have also the possibility to interact with users thanks to their social profile, where they can check reviews, pictures and comments, upload offers and share users opinions on their Facebook page.
Freeppie is the first platform that regenerates otherwise lost value to the market, finally rewarding travelers for their social actions plus a very powerful marketing tool that allows operators to solve all the current problems of the market - commissions, social exposure, nominal profile, interactions, fake reviews. A real social travel network, finally ethical!
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We believe that the concept is pretty disruptive and will drive the attention of the media.
Freeppie will be launched at the Travel Innovation Summit at PhoCusWright Conference, we are confident that many bloggers, social experts and journalists will be happy to write about this new concept on their web pages. This will definitely help us to get more users.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
The idea started by analysing the frustration of the market towards fake reviews. We felt like giving an answer to that.
We thought that the market does need true and verified reviews so the community of travellers and hoteliers can be finally happy with real comments.
I remember one day, during the creation of Freeppie, when we thought about the eventual opportunity 'not to ask hotels to pay commissions. that made everything more easy and more social. So now we would have happy users travelling for free and happy hoteliers not being struggled by commissions. That moment made us realize that the old style commission model was about to end.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
Freeppie is a great concept. Our goal now is to see the market and the tech/tourism industry accepting this new idea and running with it. This would already be enough.
Speaking honestly we want Freeppie to become global soon and to get the attention of millions of users and thousands of hotels that are happy to use this ambitious platform ready to become a very important community of travellers around the world.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Freeppie’s idea comes from the interpretation of global market trends based on the web 2.0 needs.
With web 2.0, people share their travel experiences driven by the hedonistic need of social self-exposure. As people trust more real people and friends than advertising or press, travelers become more and more important influencing their social community choices. Social advisors substitute then the role of professionals like press and operators.
Furthermore people's advice drives demand and helps provide more value to money spent on travels. However, despite the value travelers create for the market, they are not properly rewarded.
From an operators’ stand point there is a growing need for social exposure. There are currently many unsolved problems with travel platforms such us high price of commissions, uncertain return on social strategy investments, impossibility to interact with users, anonymous and fake reviews.
The market is controlled by a few big players that erode up to 30% of their margins, limiting revenue and therefore quality to travelers. This is what we call 'unethical market'.
Although these travel platforms are adding “reviews and opinions” and other “social tools” on hotels and services they sell, we believe they are only pretending so.
In fact OTAs have no interest in turning social as they keep on driving traffic to their websites and want to influence the users’ choices by having them book preferred offers (that often correspond to higher commissions from suppliers and special marketing actions). Real social interactions are cut apart and these little tools are only used as a way to attract users and appear more reliable to them.
This seems like a startup with lots going for it - hopefully, finally, moving the discussion on from so many newcomers combining social and travel.
Lots of people travel frequently and enjoy sharing their experiences via their social media networks so why not get something in return? It's not that unlike today's loyalty schemes.
The fact that Freeppie isn't charging commission will tempt tour operators, hotels and others suppliers to dip a toe in the water as will the ability to test marketing packages for free until next year.
Other positives are the idea of social return on investment as well as the challenge of genuine user reviews, both issues the travel sector has been grappling with for some time.
Getting critical mass is going to be, well, critical and needs to be quick in terms of both users and suppliers, there isn't any point in a traveller recommending places to go and things to do if the companies involved are participating.
One question might be that while many OTAs and deals sites out there are based on distressed inventory this model is about 'unstressed'. It makes you wonder about the overall mentality when it comes to the internet as a sales channel and consumer expectations as well as whether suppliers will want to push unstressed products in that direction.
One final challenge could lie in deciding how to reward travellers, e.g. will it be to do with how great an influencer/brand advocate someone is, interactions, the size of their social following or some other metrics....?
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.