With so much attention around experiential travel, living like a local, and avoiding the tourist hotspots, it is no wonder that lots of startups are looking at this space and trying to find a niche.
Tig’See, with headquarters in the Seattle area, is one of these companies.
In its own words:
"Unlike other personal concierge services, Tig’See doesn’t work with travel agents. There is no middleman. Travelers get to work directly with pre-screened and reputed boutique tour operators who are local to the region, or have travelled extensively within the region, and their expertise/personal touch enables travellers to get a personalized, authentic and niche vacation of their choice.
Additionally, with our tour operators, travellers can get to experience a destination such as cultural/gastronomic/safari experiences which otherwise would be impossible to pull it off just the lack of information, and the logistics involved."
UPDATE: 10 Sept - The term "boutique tour operator" has a different meaning in the UK and Europe than in other parts of the world. Our attempt to add clarity by using the term "guides" seems to have accidentally confused some readers. We regret any confusion we caused. We have updated the article to re-instate the original language.
Before the Q&A with founder and CEO Saro Gunaseelan here's a Vine video:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
My wife and I have done a few cruises, and we were simply fascinated by the idea of packaged travel, food and the entertainment that comes along with it. This led me to research if there are similar options for someone traveling via land/air as well. I found a few tour companies that offered ready-made tour packages.
Sadly, there were not enough options to choose from, and the ones I found was group tours which involved travelling with strangers (in a bus or large vehicle), and there was very little room for changing the itinerary. It didn’t sound like an experience that a couple or family with kids would opt for. The level of privacy, and the customization according to one’s own needs whether its budget, life style or time considerations was not adequately met.
And, so the idea of Tig’See was born, to address the need for personalized vacation experiences. After doing a bit of market research and looking at various competing options, it seemed like a great idea to tap into the destination and logistic expertise of boutique tour operators who work with you like a consultant, design your own personalized tour, and work out all the logistics including airport pick-up/drop-off, ground transportation, accommodation, guide services and even access to special attractions and events. The ease of planning, convenience and the destination expertise seemed like a great reason to partner with them.
We are happy to announce that since our launch, Tig’See now covers 30 destinations, 12 tour categories, and a growing network of pre-screened boutique tour operators, which currently stands at 20 operators representing different parts of the world.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
I am a versatile solo founder, and wear multiple hats. I am primarily responsible for the product vision, and business development. I work with a team of free-lancers on an on-demand basis for various strategic and tactical aspects including marketing, sales, product development, UI design, content development (blogs/travel articles) and social media marketing.
Currently self-funded, applying to various competitions and contests.
Estimation of market size?
Our services appeal to a vast majority of affluent middle class and baby-boomers. These folks have accumulated wealth over time, and ready to spend on authentic and immersive vacation experiences – an experience that offers something beyond the escapist and entertainment values. They like to do multi-generational travel or personalized family, and are looking to travel with experts who can personalize it to their taste.
Out of an estimated 140 MM millennials and baby-boomers (US alone), more than 90% (according to a Peak + Skift commissioned study) of the travellers want to travel like a local, and are looking to stay away from typical tourist traps.
The overall world-wide experiential travel market size (including adventure travel) is said to be closer to 1 trillion $. Add emerging countries (China, Brazil, and India) to the North American audience, we are looking at a pot that’s huge.
While there are other companies that offer personalized travel, we don’t see anyone with the same model as ours. We are making experiential travel affordable and accessible to the masses.
What sets apart is our unique approach to personalized travel by developing a market place platform with a network of pre-screened boutique tour operators that can meet and deliver travellers expectations.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We are a lead generation platform, and our revenue model is commission based.
In order for us to grow, scale and meet our revenue targets in this competitive space, our strategy is to take a long term view and invest in product and business development efforts focussed on building a community of travellers, so we can have a sticky relationship with them.
We want to position ourselves as the leading brand for travellers to reach out for their personalized vacation planning services, and traveling with our experts.
What problem does the business solve?
There are two problems we are solving:
- Problem A:
We see a gap in the market place when it comes to planning personalized, authentic and niche vacation experiences. Today’s travellers are smart, well-informed and very savvy about their needs. But when it comes to planning their vacation, it is usually time consuming, requires a lot of research, stressful. With the rising trend in experiential travel and concepts like “Travel like a local/Responsible travel” emerging, baby boomers and millennials are looking for more than just a visit to the mainstream destinations. We hope to solve this problem.
- Problem B:
Customer acquisition, retention and raising awareness for products/brands are huge challenges for boutique tour operators. Small businesses get side-lined by the big ad spenders – popular brands specializing in booking options (Expedia, Hotels.com, etc.), big-named tour operators with a global foot print.
By developing a marketplace solution, and curating a network of pre-screened boutique tour operators, we plan to help travellers discover and connect with highly reputed tour guides in their chosen destination, who it might be hard to find otherwise.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
Our initial approach was to develop a solution where tour operators can be easily found and discovered using a system of aggregated and ranked reviews. We came out with a solution that was a unique spin on a traditional review engine (such as TripAdvisor), where travellers could share their travel experience and make it go viral by posting it on their Facebook timeline. But this did not gain traction in the market place.
From there we evolved to our current solution, which enables travelers to discover and connect directly with tour operators for their vacation planning services.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Experiential travel is on the rise, and travellers are demanding to immerse themselves in the destinations. According to a survey conducted by Peak + Skift (page 9-10), more than 90% of the surveyed travellers (from US & UK) have said they would like to book local in a nod to experiential travel.
Today’s travellers are well-informed and want to experience destinations like a local. Travel channel shows, Travel bloggers, YouTube vlogs, social media, and online publications have made experiences and destinations accessible to anyone with access to Cable TV/Internet. The rise in experiential trend has forced even bigger tour operator companies to rethink how they brand, package and sell their existing tours.
With the changing attitude in consumer spending, an upcoming affluent middle class and baby boomers, we feel that the need for personalized travel is not adequately addressed in the market place. Unlike other personal concierge services, Tig’See doesn’t work with travel agents, there is no middleman.
They get to work directly with pre-screened and reputed boutique tour operators who are local to the region, or have travelled extensively within the region, and their expertise/personal touch enables travellers to get a personalized, authentic and niche vacation of their choice.
Additionally, with our tour operators, travellers can get to experience a destination such as cultural/gastronomic/safari experiences which otherwise would be impossible to pull it off just the lack of information, and the logistics involved.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We create vacation experiences, which is very different from an impulse ordering of a pizza or booking a guide from a smart phone in resort, on the spur of the moment. Our lead time is longer, and the only way to convert is by establishing our expertise, developing a relationship and educating the traveller along the way. We also see that if we do an excellent job, we have earned a life-time traveller and a set of positive introductions in the form of repeat business.
So, our strategy is built around establishing Tig’See as a source of travel experts, and being able to develop a sticky relationship with our travelers. Besides paid advertising, we are forming relationships with key travel influencers (travel bloggers - affiliation), complementing travel brands, and social media chats which is already starting to pay in terms of organic traffic and potential leads.
Where do you see the company in three years’ time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In the next few years, we want Tig’See to be a well-known and trusted brand offering personalized and experiential vacations affordable and accessible to the masses.
A big challenge I see is educating our travelers on the value of boutique tour operators, and why we are different and better from DIY options, and other global tour operator brands. Additionally, we are a market place platform – so we have the same kind of challenges that any similar platform faces in terms of balancing out the supply and demand ratio.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a start up like yours to help it out?
Since the dot com era and the smart phone explosion, technology has really made DIY travel simpler and affordable. With easy to use booking engines, and availability of information via user generated community sites, social networks, blogs, destinations are more accessible now more than ever. However, we still spend months if not weeks on planning a vacation. And, it only gets harder if we are looking for an off-beat destination.
Today’s travellers are willing to spend more on travel, and they save money for travel. They want to travel slowly, they want to travel with their own group of family/friends and take it all in at their own pace. They don’t want the bus tour, and transported like packages in a FedEx truck. They want personalization.
With consumers willing to spend money on intimate and immersive travel experiences, there is a big opportunity for Tig’See to offer expert vacation planning and travel services.
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?
Tig’See shares a lot of parallels with Etsy in that both the companies are trying to make boutique businesses accessible and easily discoverable to millions of buyers. Both the companies are working hard to develop a loyal community of shoppers for boutique business products, and promote boutique businesses who have challenges in creating awareness and trust for their products in the market place.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your start up?
Any popular brand that specializes in booking engines (Hotels.com, Expedia.com) that want to divest its portfolio, and get into personalized vacation space is an apt candidate.
Tig’See is a one of a kind marketplace platform that has enormous potential to change how people travel, and get their vacations personalized. I am very much excited at the possibility of customizing travel for busy professionals, families with kids, or baby-boomers looking for top-notch experiences. With our growing list of destinations, and tour operators, we are far away from planning an exit strategy.
Describe your start up in three words?
Personalize your vacation.
As noted, Tig’See differs from the typical personal concierge services in that it doesn’t work with travel agents. There is no middleman.
Many in the industry will be interested to see how this approach is received in the marketplace.