Built on the premise of connecting the not so budget conscious traveller with specialist travel companies, Travelspinner collects your travel request via a simple online form before submitting it to three relevant specialists.
Usual details such as number in party, destination, length of stay, age range, budget, accommodation type are requested as well as any other pertinent information.
The idea is the specialists then respond by email or phone with 'ideas to inspire you'.
The concept comes via travel writers James Henderson and Edward Reeves who are offering up their knowledge of specialist travel companies (200 at launch) via the automated system.
So far Travelspinner is self-funded and free to consumers as well as the specialist travel companies that might get business from it. While longer term there are plans to charge the companies a fee when they reply to leads, the current focus is on building a trusted brand.
"It’s a different concept from most things on the net at the moment, in that we’re not bombarding people with words like ‘stunning’ (banned from Travelspinner) and ‘über-luxury’ and pictures of attractive yet curiously sexless eurofolk on beaches, so it is almost impossible to tell what sort of response we’ll get.
"We think we’re attractive to anyone who isn’t looking for the cheapest deal, but instead values personal service and expertise."
Q&A with co-founder Edward Reeves:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We started off thinking of a big social networking platform, with profiles and log-ins and user-generated content and so on.
Then for whatever reason we decided that people would probably prefer a super-minimalist site that just did something incredibly useful, and so went off-piste. We figured there are already more than enough words of varying quality on the internet, so we didn’t see much value in adding to them (beyond the requirements of SEO).
We don’t want to have a sales team to stand on chairs ringing bells after making a sale. So we became obsessed with the mantra of ‘Less Is More’ and junked everything but the core service. So Travelspinner is really ‘intelligent email’. No log-in, no profiles, no user-generated reviews.
The advantage is that we have very low overheads; the disadvantage is that some people don’t ‘get it’ - they actually like spending hours on the net late at night, looking but never quite sure if they are finding what they want. We’re not for them.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
For the travel companies, this should be easy. We are offering matched, qualified leads from travellers with serious intent. And the fact that a company is on our database has value for them too as no company can pay to be there - they’re on Travelspinner because we rate them highly and no other reason.
For users - rather than rely on Google, why not tap into our black book of the best specialist tour operators and travel companies? As well as peace of mind, Travelspinner saves time, too - ‘oodles’ of it, Mail Online said in their ⅘ review!
And there’s no log-in or registration, so you won’t have to remember yet another password.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We assumed that being travel writers would be an advantage in getting press, as we know lots of travel editors, and it has been - to some degree. We were tested by Mail Online early on, who made us ‘Travel Website of the Week’ with an overall score of ⅘ (and 5/5 for ‘Usefulness’ and ‘Easy to Use’) six weeks after we went live.
Going forward we intend to target different sectors. For instance, we have absolutely excellent safari companies on Travelspinner, so we want to hit people who are potentially interested in safari.
Ditto honeymoons - Ed used to work on Condé Nast Brides’ ‘Honeymoon Guide’ - he frequently found himself going on honeymoon by himself- and James knows the Caribbean inside out. James has done lots of adventure writing, too, and enters stupid endurance events like the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge, so we’ll look at adventure and activity too. It makes sense to play to our strengths.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We’ll set up a travel recruitment agency! Reading the replies from different team members at different tour operators has been instructive to say the least. There are some real stars out there.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
We first tried to build Travelspinner with a techy friend who had a full-time job, and that was a mistake as he simply didn’t have time. We nearly broke him.
We then went to an agency, TheTin who actually stripped a lot of cost and complexity out of what we were doing, which was great. So probably, don’t try to do everything on a shoestring - it’s false economy. And keep things as simple as possible - just because you can add a snazzy feature doesn’t mean you should.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Noise and trust. There’s so much noise out there. So many reviews, so many photos. There are countless beautiful sites packed with great content, but they’re all trying to make money by inspiring you to book. It’s all sales.
No wonder half of all couples fall out over the booking process - or so Ebookersr tells us. And trust... A holiday is a huge emotional, and usually financial, investment. Find the right company and you’ll have a radically better experience. We have created something simple and efficient, which cuts through the fluff and connects travellers to the best companies to arrange whatever it is they want to do.
"Does what it says on the tin in terms of a clean, easy-of-use website and Tnooz is waiting to see what response it gets to its travel request.
The idea is good in principle and has worked well offline with a number of successful personal travel advisor organisations out there but others going down the online route have found it hard to scale. US-based Virtuoso is perhaps one exception with claims of annual travel sales of $9.6bn.
The recent press and founders' contacts will help begin building the brand but after that some clever marketing techniques will be required to bring consumers in. Search engine optimisation is also going to be key as almost everyone out there these days claims to be a specialist in travel.
On the plus side keeping it free will encourage consumers to give it a go and if the responses are good, repeat business should follow and the word of mouth effect will kick in."
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.