Adventure travelers are a unique cohort, with some more inclined to plan on the fly (and thus not pre-purchase any activities) and others seeking peak experiences that require pre-planning and organization. A new startup aims to bridge those two cohorts by providing an easy platform to book adrenaline-tinged activities with adventure-loving locals without sacrificing intensity or quality of action.
Called Advlo, which stands for "adventure local," the startup connects locals to travelers seeking these experiences by providing an online home for showcasing the activities, with profiles and digital booking making it easier for travelers to see and book what they want.
While the startup offers the sharing economy style of connecting travelers to individuals who offer tourism products, Advlo is also a place for small businesses to also connect with adventure-seeking travelers. By creating a community around adventure, the idea is that all kinds of adventures - from hiking to surfing to kayaking - can be booked instantly on-site without sacrificing the quality of the adventure.
The startup has created a Vine here, and shared more about the service and perspective below.
Tell us how you founded the company, why / what made you decide to jump in & create the business.
In 2013, while Jon Maser was traveling the world by ship, he found himself in a small beach town on the Southern Coast of Vietnam thinking of someway he could go kiteboarding for less than the few hundred dollars the tour operators in town were asking for. Although there we’re shops to go with, he couldn’t afford their prices and the guides leading the trips weren’t locals. Facing similar situations, Jon realized that meeting and adventuring with locals always yielded the best experiences and lasting connections. When Jon came back from his trip, he dedicated all of his time to making a platform where travelers could connect with local hosts around the world, and pay them directly for their adventure skills.
When Jon found me through his search for developers, I had the same mentality click. Throughout all of my backpacking and filming around the globe, my best experiences came from meeting a local and paying them to take me on adventure activities. We wanted to open up what we considered to be our best life experiences to the rest of the world, so we jumped in headfirst and have been building the Adventure Local platform ever since.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Adventure Local has three core team members:
Jon Maser: CEO & co-founder - Jon is our north star. His optimism and drive is really what will set us apart. He has committed that past year of his life to assemble our team and manage our marketing strategy, adventure host outreach, investor relations, and business analytics.
Shayan Dhanani: Full Stack Developer & co-founder: Also an avid traveler, Shay met Jon in New York, and after hearing Jon’s pitch, decided to take time off finishing his Masters in Computer Science to pursue this dream. A former GUI developer for Boeing, Shay brings a strong background in systems architecture, and long-term vision for the technology of our platform.
Christopher Knight: Full Stack Developer & co-founder: I had come back from a lengthy trip to Indonesia and got into web development. After a year working with a web development agency in Manhattan, I had a moment of clarity when Jon & Shay approached me as I wanted to use my newfound powers of the web for good. My skills in Ruby on Rails and my extensive experience in the adventure travel market have been a great combination to tackle our idea.
What are your funding arrangements?
Initially Jon put down his own money to get the ball rolling. During his quest to get Advlo off the ground he pitched and won $5,000 from the New York State Business Plan Competition. Throughout our first few months we launched a self-starter Crowdfunding campaign and raised an additional $7,500. We are spending the fall to ramp up our market share, user base, and bookable adventures. Currently we are discussing deals with a few angel investors to fund us through the next year.
What is your estimation of market size?
The Adventure Travel Trade Association valued the Adventure Travel Market at $263 billion in 2013, illustrating a substantial growth since being valued at $89 billion in 2009 (representing a 65% annual growth).
[Here's an infographic outlining the industry's size]
We believe we can tap into this enormous growing market by focusing on our specific locations and testing which activities resonate best with our target market. Existing P2P experience ventures have released platforms to the public without narrowing down into a specific location or activity, which we see as a major flaw. Although very scalable, the process and platform must be tested and proven in a smaller setting first.
What other companies or services do you see as your primary competition?
There are a few companies in the space who are currently successful in their respective niche. Vayable is the most well known, catering to city walking tours, private museum guides, and culinary experiences.
Although we are not alone in the market, we are the only peer to peer platform that is 100% focused on adventure travel. We allow anyone to upload adventure ideas, but we are very deliberate in choosing to approve adventures that contribute to the adventure travel market.
What is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our revenue model relies on us creating successful bookings for our hosts. Our strategy is to feature unique adventure trips that are difficult to find & book online. Our revenue is generated from the 15% income off of bookings.
What problem does the business solve?
Advlo’s goal is to level the playing field for the adventure travel industry. Every international travel destination there are locals who offer the best adventure activities, but are overshadowed by larger tour operators who most times funded by ( * large U.S. or European companies) While these operations supply jobs to local communities, profits are extracted from the region.
We want to help people offer their local adventures and employ themselves. tThis proves for a lower cost to the traveler, and higher profits for the guides themselves.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
The original business model involved running a single operation in Nepal by purchasing a small number of motorcycles and working with expert local guides to take travelers through their beautiful country. Jon wanted to find a way to help connect the right people while he was in his final days of college. The peer-to-peer model you see today is a result of working with and building our business alongside countless guides and adventure travel experts and iterating on their feedback. We firmly believe in building our solution around the user’s needs.
Why should people or companies use the business?
People should use Advlo to connect with locals who can offer them what existing tours often lack - cultural engagement. As a traveler I want access to unique adventures, where I can also feel good about supporting my host & their community directly.
As a local business who already offers off-the-beaten-path adventures, but do not have the technical capacity or budget to implement a booking system, Advlo can handle international transactions and payouts to your business.
70% of travelers book their adventure activities online, making online visibility essential to compete in the digital age of travel. Adventures are free to upload, so local hosts have no risk to join our community of adventure travelers.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We are trying to plug into networks that we ourselves use as adventure travelers. We are doing outreach to a few broad channels:
Social Networking: Maximizing on visibility from existing social networks, we make sharing & marketing your own adventure very simple. Hosts have an incentive to promote their own adventures, and this is a free and circular strategy for user acquisition.
Existing Networks: Sources that already collect information from travelers such as travel blogs, Couchsurfing, hostel databases, Craigslist, TripAdvisor, Help / work Exchange websites, and volunteer boards all provide us with leads that we follow up with. We are getting as scrappy as we can with our marketing techniques :)
Advlo Ambassadors: As we just launched we are going for as much self-curated content as we can. However, we know the real value is connecting with ‘sandals on the ground’ who are adventure travelers in our target locations. We are working with a select few around the world, ironing out the best way to incentivise the travelers who come across the most authentic & unique adventures so they can onboard these hosts on site.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
I hope that we never lose sight of the real mission the three of us had at the very beginning;
To empower the amazing individuals who took us on life-changing adventures, through a platform they deserve.
Travel has been such an important part in all of our lives, and to know that we have helped people culturally connect & also contribute to local communities that are so often destroyed by tourism would be an incredible feeling.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
I think people as a whole are moving away from the draw of an all inclusive itinerary. Sitting at home on your couch, researching & planning a trip, it is so easy to book your flight, hotel, and tours all in one place. However this convenience often contributes to a lack of authenticity in your travels.
For those people in our world who have the luxury to explore the planet - we want to make sure there is a mutual benefit for those people in the communities they visit.
The growth of tourism around the globe is rarely a picturesque story for the destination’s community. The quality of life for most residents in a resort town is subsistence at best.
Our startup wants to enable locals to employ themselves and culturally connect with travelers through adventures.
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
We strive to be like Lyft in a sense. They are disrupting the market by prescribing to an ideal they stand by, which is that people are not afraid of strangers. If someone can offer a better experience than a cab, at a cheaper price, it’s not farfetched to get into a strangers car.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup, and why?
Realistically, a company that already has the user base such but that is trying to break into the booking market such as Lonely Planet would be the ideal acquiring company. The value for another business would be the massive database of undiscovered adventures around the globe, which is valuable information for those who are influential in the travel industry.
Describe your startup in three words?
Adventure with Locals
The promise of instant bookings is one that the startup must keep pursuing. While real-time inventory is an enormous challenge, given the distributed nature of local tours, this is a valuable challenge to overcome. Many of these tour operators are smaller and want to spend more time on providing the passion that drives the tours rather than marketing. So continuing to promote the startup's system to facilitate real-time inventory for these disparate operators is vital - whether manually calling each week to update systems or some other means, keeping this inventory live and accurate will be important.
Of course, when a traveler is booking a tour that is over $1,000 there is value in the communication that occurs prior to booking. The traveler must be comfortable with the operator and so the initial "request for more information" provides the chance to educate and win over that traveler.
As far as lead generation goes, the 15% fee the startup charges is entirely reasonable. For larger package offerings, tour operators are often spending 15-20% of the tour's value simply on lead generation, marketing and conversion. This marketing platform specifically targeted to the adventure travel demographic will likely provide a boost in conversions, and judging from the inventory already available, the startup has plenty of interest from adventure tour guides and operators.
One to watch, especially as the industry self-selects itself into every sub-niche imaginable. Similar to the way successful travel agents have specialties, these sorts of online digital platforms for travel bookings will see the most success by picking a demographic and serving them better than anyone else.