TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based Touristlink, a web and mobile service giving travellers the chance to search and book travel experiences from agents and locals.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Touristlink provides a totally new way for travellers to find and book services online, especially those they have a hard time finding elsewhere on the web.
Members can use our simple form to request whatever they want whether it is a "Taxi Pickup from an Airport" or a "Guided trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro".
Once a request is made it goes out to our network of travel agents and guides who can then make offers from which the member is free to choose one if he likes. This functionality is seamlessly built into a content rich social platform where travellers can interact with each other and with local businesses.
Touristlink is developed by GoTripIndia, a web development firm founded by David Urmann in 2005 which now employs over 70 IT professionals.
Prior to launching Touristlink we launched several other successful travel sites including: Travelaffiliatepro, an affiliate program for travel website owners, and Hotelkhoj, an online hotel booking portal developed exclusively for the Indian market which lists over 2,000 hotels.
- David Urmann is the Founder and CEO. His global perspective and scientific background have helped him launch successful business ventures in both the travel and outsourcing industries. He is an avid traveler having visited over 40 countries and is the author of a travel guide book on his home state of Utah.
- Jayesh Badge is the Cofounder and COO. He has 9+ years of experience in advertising agencies & IT. He oversees the Indian operations of the company.
- Deepak Gupta is the lead programmer at Touristlink engaged in the development of client side, server side scripts. He specializes in the LAMP & Open Source Software.
- Ganesh Chavan is the manager of customer support & public relations, Ganesh has 6+ years of experience with leading names in industry like IBM and GE for Banking solutions.
Our entire team can be seen here
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
We are bootstrapping the launch from our existing revenues. We are looking forward to a point where it makes sense for us to bring on additional funding.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Our conversations with travellers and feedback from customers showed us a clear need for a service that would connect travellers to local service providers.
Many of our existing customers have mentioned how hard it is to find local service providers online for things like trip packages, tour guides and arranging ground transport.
This feedback from customers was reinforced for me by lots of personal experiences. For instance, last year I planned a weeklong tour in Rajasthan with my wife and mother but didn’t really want to book an overpriced tour with a travel agency which I didn’t have any experience with and who wanted me to wire half the money before I arrived.
As it happened we ended up finding a great guide but it was just by chance. Another example occurred on a trip I took to China where I remember looking for a translator / city guide and I ended up finding someone on Craigslist but I wasn’t sure who I was really dealing with and it would have made me feel better if I could have seen reviews from other customers to help me know I was making the right choice.
Touristlink solves this travelling dilemma by letting local providers sign up and then offer their services in response to requests by our members.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Touristlink looks to target the travel activities market by providing a service that lets travellers request the exact services they need and then receive multiple offers from travel providers.
Most transactions in this $80 billion marketplace are still occurring offline and 90% of providers state that they face product display and cost issues with existing distribution channels which are significant barriers to increasing sales.
Touristlink intends to solve these problems and become the primary website for these transactions by providing a marketplace which is seamlessly built into a content rich social platform where travellers can interact with each other and with local businesses.
One thing keeping us excited is our mobile application which we will be launching in the New Year.
The mobile app is very simply the request that allows travellers to request services no matter where they are. We are essentially giving our members a very simple application which will put them directly in contact with our entire network of travel providers.
We think that making this service accessible to be people on the go and actually travelling will be an important key to our success.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We are focusing on marketing locally and we currently have marketing teams in several popular tourist locations in India who are directly introducing our service to both local travellers and foreigners.
The initial response is encouraging and we hope that as we improve conversions we will be able to scale this operation to more locations.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Touristlink is a direct result of conversations and feedback from our customers which showed us the need for this type of service.
We have been in the online travel business for four years and are responsible for the successful of development of several websites.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Once a traveller selects an offer from a travel provider he pays 10% of the total price which we keep as our commission and the rest is paid on delivery.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Touristlink aims to target a giant market in which no dominant competitor exists and most of the transactions are still occurring offline. The opportunity lies in bringing these transactions online.
They occur offline as many of the providers in the segment are small businesses doing less than a million a year in revenue and even if they have websites they often lack the ability to manage transactions or availability.
That such a large market exists with no dominant leader signifies to us the need for a fundamentally different solution.
All of our competitors are trying to force a traditional online booking system on to small businesses with highly variable products - a booking engine in which products are defined by a set of standard variables and availability is managed independently for each.
Having dealt first hand with over 2,000 hotel owners in India, we do not think this is the right approach and instead believe the request-offer model that we are offering will be much more suited to this market where the products are highly variable and where getting providers to correctly upload products and then continuously update availability is difficult at best.
Even if we are not asking providers to take on the complicated task of uploading products we must still face the fact that many of the providers have limited experience marketing services on the web.
This means many of them need to be individually worked with and essentially trained on how to use our system. This implies a relatively high workload per provider but being located in Nagpur one of the least expensive cities in India might give us an edge over competitors trying to do the same on a large scale elsewhere.
If one quickly browses through Touristlink it is clear that it is much more than a transactional platform it is for the visitor primarily a social network and destination guide. Every Touristlink member is different and this is reflected in his online profile.
We believe that the travel providers who will be most successful on the site will be able to take advantage of this and customize offers based on the members profiles.
A key part of the Touristlink strategy is making the site a place where travellers can build relationships with providers and ask questions and get advice even if the end result is not a sale.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
Sometimes it feels like everyone is a critic and I think the best thing you can do with the criticism is not to take it personally but to try to learn from it.
We have built enough websites to know that it is a constant testing and refinement process as you interact with visitors.
The key thing to success is just to move forward everyday and try to make the product better. We were invited to attend Seedcamp, an early stage mentoring and investment program, this past November in Barcelona and we received some great advice.
I thought we had a pretty defined business concept going into this program but in-depth discussions with our mentors definitely pointed us in some new directions and certainly made us focus on what our key concepts are.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
If we are engaging our users and getting them to come back and use our service then we will be successful.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.