TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based tour operator network for the Patagonian region of Chile and Argentina, Swoop Travel.
Who and are are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Swoop is a new website and free advisory service that helps people to find the best adventure travel holiday in Patagonia. There are currently three people running the business.
Prior to creating Swoop, CEO Luke Errington spent 4 years launching and building Reevoo, as chief operating officer.
He also spent 3 years with Active Hotels, where he developed one of the UK's early customer review programmes, and launched Activehotels.com and Priceline.co.uk.
Lexi Brown is our online social media strategist driving unique users to the site and Charlotte Brown (not related) is adventure travel planner, liaising with the smaller operators based out in Patagonia on behalf of our customers.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Aside from some family savings that my wife agreed to invest, we’ve not had any financial support!
We are self-funded and I've been doing freelance and consultancy work two days per week, and working on Swoop at the weekends to make up for the lost days.
Ultimately, we will seek investors in the long term but it’s not our primary goal.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Patagonia is still something of a hidden treasure when it comes to British travellers. And for those that do go, they tend to follow the same path trodden by others, without realising there is a whole range of adventure activities out there that might suit them better.
Swoop aims to identify the vast range of activities available across the region and match them to each traveller before connecting them with the relevant operator.
Depending on the activity, the operator might be a UK or global travel company but more often it tends to be a lesser known local operator or guide with specialist ground knowledge.
While the local guides may have the expertise, they often don’t have the ability to market themselves well in the UK. That is where Swoop comes in.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Swoop provides a free service for travellers planning a trip to Patagonia, connecting them with the best operator for their needs.
Our core platform is our website, but our offering is based on an in-depth understanding of over 100 adventure travel trips from over 28 partners on the ground in Chile and Argentina.
We invest as much time as is necessary for each and every client to ensure we them find exactly the right holiday for their needs. As we intend to grow based on brand loyalty, happy customers are more likely to recommend us.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
The peak season to travel to Patagonia is October through to March/April so our key customers will be people looking to travel this season.
We are anticipating that our main users will be active retirees, career breakers, or those who have replaced a number of annual trips with a longer 3 week holiday.
Additionally, we want anyone looking for an adventure to know about the site, where they can feel reassured and informed by the expertise, logistics and insight a local guide can provide.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Helping people experience adventure travel holidays is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, since I was at school, and after my first visit to Patagonia ten years ago, I knew I wanted to concentrate specifically on that region.
Travel statistics prove there is a market for the business. Each year an estimated 400K people leave the UK on an adventure travel holiday, and half of those are believed to travel in a group with a tour operator. The average price of an outbound adventure trip is well over £1,000.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Having worked previously as a strategy consultant and running venture-capital backed web start-ups, I'm familiar with the need to drive revenue and profitability.
Swoop charges operators a commission on completed bookings. We don't charge advertising fees or cost per click because we're confident in our ability to help someone find the right trip to Patagonia.
I’m not looking for an overnight success, I'm taking a 20 year view to this business. If I have 100 delighted customers, who each share their experiences of Swoop and Patagonia with their network then I know I'll have a profitable business in 2012.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Sole focus on Patagonia, website offers unique coverage and UX, customer reviews
- Unknown brand, will be six months before we have a cohort of happy customers, insight into Patagonia still growing – we don’t pretend to be experts, yet!
- Go from 100 trips to 300 trips, lots more customer review, UGC and, NOT: expand to other geographies (eg. Himalayas)
Who advised you your idea wasn’t going to work and why didn’t you listen to them?
- Another earthquake in Chile. Google will always be a threat
As the concept of a Patagonian tourist board doesn’t exist, many people have welcomed the idea of a cohesive information source that spans both Argentina and Chile.
We haven’t been warned off but people who know the area have advised us we are taking on a big task…
People have also said it will take a long time to build, but I relish the idea and look forward to achieving long term goals.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
As mentioned above, I'm taking a 20 year view to this business, and if I have 100 delighted customers, who each share their experiences of Swoop and Patagonia with their network then I know I'll have a profitable business in 2012.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.