NewsTrip.me helps travellers personalize trips with input from local travel agentsThis article was originally published onBy Karthick Prabu | August 30, 2013 In the past two years, the travel industry has seen many startups providing a platform for travellers to connect with locals at a destination. Step forward Germany-based startup, Trip.me, that connects travellers with local travel agencies at a destination. Trip.me is a platform where travellers can search for holiday packages, read through the detailed itinerary, and express their interest in a package by providing basic traveller details. Before expressing interest in a package, travellers can also specify their trip requirements, in essence creating a personalized trip request by modifying the pre-defined itinerary. Every holiday package has a local travel agent assigned. Travellers will also be able to read through the agent's profile before asking for a travel quote. Once a local travel agent receives the trip request, he/she responds within two business days to the traveller with a payment link and booking details. Travellers pay 20% of the booking cost for the trip to be confirmed/booked by the local travel agent and the remaining 80% a month before the trip start date. Trip.me takes a commission on every booking. Local travel agents are charged only when a sale happens. The company has 12 employees and below are key personnels and founders: Andre Kiwitz - CEOStefan Richter - Head of ITYngrid Arnold - Head of MarketingMatthias Woppmann - Head of Finance & LegalKiwitz tells Tnooz why he started the company: "Working for a decade in the tourism industry made me become aware that in the tailor-made-tours sector most of the work was done by the local agencies. Nevertheless, the 'middleman', or the outbound tour operator and/or the travel agency, were the ones who ended up making the biggest profit. "Then I developed a concept that addressed this issue, searched and found an excellent team, with whom I founded the company in January 2013."Share this quote All four founders have invested a total of EUR 400,000 in the company. Trip.me says it has ambitious plans and it is currently looking for a Series A financing round. Trip.me estimates the tailor-made-tours market to be in the size of about EUR 90 billion. Q&A with Kiwitz below. Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?Trip.me connects travellers directly with local agencies, so they can organize their personalized trips directly with the provider. By doing so, we are reducing the delay in communication for travellers and we are also decreasing the operational cost for the agency. Why should people or companies use your start-up? A traveller will use our platform, because, Travellers can directly communicate with their trip provider.Travellers save about 30% in costs compared to purchasing their personalized tours from travel agencies and/or outbound tour operators.Travellers can easily customize their trips, they get exactly the itinerary that matches their needs and desires. We don't push them to purchase prefabricated itineraries.We do the hard work of researching local tour providers, to guarantee that they are the best-of-the-best agencies in the world for our customers to plan their trips with.Travellers don't need to make wire transfers to local agencies around the world, but instead can pay by credit card without any hidden costs. And, a local travel agent will use our platform, because, We enable them to sell directly to the traveller, which then enables them to have a higher profit margin than what they would make with other traditional tour operators, OTAs.Local agencies are not able to compete with the marketing of global tour operators, while trip.me can compete with them. By partnering with us, we allow local agencies to focus on what they do the best, organizing memorable trips, while we make sure our customers find them.Local agencies have no risk of signing up. Once they pass our extensive quality check, we enable them to publish trips on our platform. Cost to an agency is applicable only when a sale happens.Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users? We have several strategies in place. We are a big fan of inbound marketing (rather than interruption marketing). We have a team of experienced specialists in SEO, they ensure good rankings and traffic from organic search results. The strategy was designed in partnership with Gillian Muessig, co founder of moz.com, who is also making sure that the strategy is successfully implemented. In the short-term, we are also investing in paid search results, but just selectively for destinations where we have an exceptional offer. We have a social media strategy that will ensure that we are present on social media platforms where our target groups are in order to generate traffic to our website. Our first customer (who travelled to Guatemala) visited our office last week. We call him "King Achim", because trip.me clients are treated like Kings, and they thank us by spreading the word. Competition? We compete in the German and English speaking markets. Competition in the German speaking market includes traditional outbound operators offering tailor made tours, but also newly founded sites like nezasa.com, which launched after us. In the English speaking market we compete with players like tourdust.com, and traditional outbound operators offering tailor made tours. How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails? We are right on track with our original idea and business plan. We have other product ideas in the pipeline that will fit well with our first product, the tailor-made tours. To make sure we succeed in the execution of our business plan, we spend a lot of time talking to potential as well as actual customers to adapt our services and functionality to understand and meet their needs. Focus is important for us, so rather than working on the next big thing, we are executing our core business model with focus and excitement. Once we succeed in this, we will take the next big step. Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome? This is our vision: “trip.me is a traveler’s favourite resource to plan and book personalized itineraries”. That is what we are focusing on, short-, mid- and long-term. We hope to have overcome the challenge of getting attention from travellers to visit our website and try our services. If we achieve this, we will have to ensure that our worldwide local agency partners will be able to deliver the same quality of service to thousands (instead of dozens) of customers. We hope to have overcome the challenge of creating a user experience that will delight travellers in the process of creating their tailor made trips. And finally, we hope to have overcome the technical challenge to scale our platform so that it can perform well during high traffic. What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out? The tourism industry has evolved well in the last few years. Often the focus of new startups seems to be the community character, the trip planning process for the client, or a "me-too" model. An exception is for example airbnb.com, the platform that enables clients to book stays directly with the provider, which before was a hard thing to achieve. We believe—and find astonishing—that for this huge market of tailor-made-tours a platform that brings clients in direct contact with providers still hasn't been developed. The feedback from our initial set of customers assures us that the USP of our business model is easily understandable, and it differs from currently existing solutions for the clients. Tnooz view: Trip.me cannot be seen as a platform that just lists holiday packages from various travel agents across the world. All holiday packages in Trip.me are from a verified/authenticated travel agent, this is the main difference between Trip.me and other websites that list holiday packages. Trip.me runs a thorough inspection/interview procedure with local travel agents before bringing them on-board. The approval process goes to the extent of rejecting a travel agent if its primary objective is to make money. Trip.me expects travel agents to provide a quality service and a memorable experience to travellers. The company highlights its stringent approval mechanism as one of its USP. While this sounds nice theoretically, in practice the approval process is still subjective. Allowing a traveller to submit his/her customized travel requirement (on top of a pre-defined itinerary) to a travel agent is a very useful feature. How many times have you seen a multi-day holiday itinerary and wished there were a few modifications allowed on certain dates? The company also provides a 24/7 emergency contact number (of local travel agent) to travellers during their trip. This is yet another practical service. Structuring of various content sections in the package detail page is neat. Key information about a package can be easily identified with the site's twitter-style blurbs, and the 'Main travel focus' widget that highlights the type of package using a bar chart. Package types include, nature & scenery, activity & sports, relaxing & wellness, culture & cities. With travellers becoming tech savvy and the expectation of 'everything bookable online' increasing, Trip.me's process of delayed confirmation might be a challenge.Share this quote NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.