Recommendations from friends, user generated content, guest reviews, curated content, city-specific guides...the trip-planning process can be overwhelming.
Where to start, how to gather and what to do with all that information when you need it the most: on the ground, wandering around the actual destination being researched.
Suggestme.com, which launched today, has taken a bite out of this juicy info-apple.
By parsing the millions of travel mentions on social media, Suggestme.com curates an algorithmically-organized view of a city. Users can see the pulse of a city from the perspective of social media posts, and then can pick and choose their favorites to export to mobile, desktop or print.
Co-founder Henk Jan Bijmolt, who has experience running several other Netherlands-based travel websites, found frustration with a folded map during a trip to Barcelona in 2012. The map just didn't have anything of interest for him in particular. After the trip, he sat down with his team to come up with a potential solution.
Even though we are experienced travellers, it is still difficult to find interesting things to do in an unfamiliar destination. Therefore, we decided to use our years worth of experience with travel concepts and knowledge to combat the problem!
Each city is laid out with a top slider, which rotates through the most popular items in the chosen city.
Clicking through to the "All Things To Do" in a city brings up a list of the most-mentioned venues and areas in the city. Of course, there are some that are a bit off - the airport is very popular, but hardly something that would make the list of the most exciting things to do in a city.
Nonetheless, the interface is pin-worthy and clean, providing a glimpse into the meanderings of travelers and locals in the city.
Clicking through on a venue provides a fully-fleshed out view of the place: mapped location, weather, video, website, and address. One of the most revealing assets on the page include the number of visitors by day, and number of visitors by hour. It's a clever way to learn about the ebb-and-flow of traffic - for example, to plan a museum visit in a less popular time frame.
Other interesting components include the number of mentions today - a quick insight into the daily popularity trend - and highlights from recent social media posts.
User flow is encouraged by placing other things to do near the location beneath the vital stats. This allows trip planners to move geo-logically through the city, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood in their exploration.
The "favorite" button is also on each thumbnail, allowing for a quick creation of a trip plan direct from the current venue.
In the crowded trip planning and inspiration space, Suggestme.com has carved out a solid niche by focusing on the crowd-aggregation model of publicly shared social media posts and check-ins. Seeing the natural flow of people is a very intelligent way to think about trip planning - looking for an off-the-beaten path choice? Then beware the number of mentions.
Of course, the site is brand-new, and still has some quirks. In the example above, the Monmouth Coffee Company is billed as "popular" but shows no recent mentions. It's clearly popular, as a quick search reveals, but looks a bit discordant given the context.
Nonetheless, it's a smart move, as is the ability to take a trip plan and realize it out in the world via the mobile. This transference ensures that the trip planning process is not all for naught, bringing the actual plan into the palm of the user's traveling hand.
Co-founder Henk Jan Bijmolt took a moment away from Launch Day to speak with Tnooz about their 8-person company.
Describe what your startup does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
Suggestme allows you to discover and organise things to do in a particular destination from which you can generate your own personal travel guide. Alongside the most famous sights, the website will give you suggestions to make your trip unique. Through continuous monitoring of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare we know exactly what is happening in each city!
This collection of social data is then processed so that the user can see the conditions at a particular highlight; if it is crowded, or quiet. Visitors to the site can also filter the highlights into words used in social media such as ‘romantic’ or ‘live music’. Alongside this feature, you can also read what has been said on social media about the highlight.
What is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our first income source was through hotel and flight ticket commissions. Later in the year we are going to introduce paid premium options for the personal travel guide. This will consist of offering users the possibility of receiving their personal city guide in professional printed quality at home.
In addition, 60 million tourists visit the Suggestme cities every year. On average 20% speaks or understands English - our target audience.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Before leaving for your city trip collect and arrange the most special highlights. Then print your personal city guide (including map) for free or save it as a PDF to use during your trip. Through the connections in social media, the popular, as well as the special things to do are available, which is perfect for first time visitors to the city who don’t know exactly where they should go.
For the experienced traveller there are clever category filters to discover the extended possibilities.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
When users take our maps on their travels they will be directly promoting Suggestme. To enhance this effect, our maps will also be available in hotels and travel shops.
Later in the year we will give users the possibility to have their own personal city guide sent to them at home for a small fee.
Finally, we also generate customers via Twitter. Every city on Suggestme has its ownTwitter account, through which we have reached more the 10,000 fans in the last few months.
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 original goal was to build Suggestme with hundreds of destinations. It has since been decided, however, to initially focus on London, Barcelona, Berlin, New York and Amsterdam.
We have discovered the benefits of working with a small team; in that we can guarantee the quality of the website. Thereby we have decided not to run the site 100% from the technical side of development, but with a mix of roles, including editing and marketing, that gives the site its personal flair.
Our team visits the cities, continuously discovers new hotspots and monitors social media to enable the user to make useful and current city guides
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
For us, the site is a success if travellers use the tool, that we generate fans who talk positively about us, or if we were to receive positive feedback about the fantastic trips people have had as a result of our suggestions. Within 3 years we would like to double the number of Suggestme cities. Quality is, however, our most important goal.
Our aim for the first year is to receive 350,000 individual visitors per month of which 9% create a personal city guide.
We hope that the world of static paper guides will evolve into the use of personally generated travel guides as a result of our site.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Discovering things to do in the big world city is nothing new. However, to take this information with you on your trip, taking into account that high tariffs exist for mobile internet abroad, is a problem.
We help you to organise things to do and to easily take this information with you through the possibility of being able to print your own personal travel guide.
The travel inspiration and planning space is crowded, both with current players and dead concepts. So its not an easy space to survive - or thrive - within.
Suggestme.com has a few things going for it: translating the social media mess into a digestible interface, a pleasant UX, and a clever marketing strategy that includes city-specific social accounts to build city-specific authority and community.
The digestible interface piece is vital - research can begin on Facebook, and then move to Twitter and on to Yelp, but cannot begin in a place that has social cues from across the Web.
The UX is crisp and clean, and provides an engaging way to explore a destination. We love the visitors per day/hour metric, as well as the maps and multimedia approach.
The marketing strategy of city-specific accounts, akin to Superfly's creation of online communities for airline elite flyers, is a smart way to accelerated growth.
The key hurdle the company faces is monetization. While the resources to support development are shared with other companies, at some point this concept will have to stand on its own. The margins on flight bookings are slim, and the hotel/hostel commission are only slightly better.
There needs to be some sort of pay-to-play here, that allows the user to pay for downloads to mobile. Or perhaps a pay-to-push product that allows nearby businesses to ping users that have favorited their locations - this is a tough sell, given not every traveler will have an always-on connection. However, it could be tied into the download - when a user downloads a guide, there's a special deal provided by one of the partner businesses or tour companies in the destination.
Suggestme has potential - especially because the company can launch with significant content from the start. There's no lag, and the utility is baked into the social aggregation, which immediately sets the company apart by being useful right away.