Many an online travel 'what if? was considered before Wuhu was born and like many startups it's based on the premise that there must be a better way.
- What if it were approached from the traveller's point of view - loves, hates and desire when travelling
- What if it were destination rather than origin oriented
- What if I didn't have to start from scratch every time I logged in
- What if it could save a trip plan for later completion
- What if there was a site that had no inventory to push
The startup's team is currently 16, including a five-strong board, and key members include boss Terry Gilliam, chief operating officer James Vaile, tech boss Ajith Pillai, marketing boss Jim Russell and general counsel Paul Remus.
Wuhu is funded by 20 shareholders who are, for the most part, travel executives or investment professionals and it's going after a slice of the Expedia/Travelocity/Priceline pie.
Revenue is initially expected via agency commission followed by membership fees and, Wuhu tells us, a new version of 'placement' advertising.
Q&A with Terry Gilliam:
How is the way you are solving this problem more effective than previous attempts the market has seen before?
Unlike the competition, Wuhu remembers you and what you like and dislike when you travel, presenting you with relevant choices on top; lets you plan and book a trip in less than 10 minutes and get exactly what you want; saves your trips and pins them for easy rebooking and planning; is social when you want it to be; combines the best of technology and traditional agency by including direct links to Travel Leaders/Sunward professionals for the “oh sh*#” moments and bespoke journey planning; uses HTML5 for rapid deployment on any platform; scales high margin/low fixed-cost model globally and rapidly.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Wuhu takes out the pain of planning and booking travel and puts back some of the magic. Also we believe our policy of not selling our own inventory will put us quickly up the trust tree with Wuhu travelers. They will be getting best price for what they want rather than best price for what somebody has to sell.
Through our partnership with agency professionals, Wuhu stays with travelers once they are underway. The user interface is quiet and clean, doesn’t push things at travelers – all pull, based on what they like when they travel.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Spending a ton of money with the guidance of our marketing and advertising partner, McKinney (a charter investor). Also, in the lab we are developing 'Wuhu Around the World', which will show off our agency partner’s skill at crafting outrageously exclusive limited edition itineraries. Then there is a status program to create social currency. Oh, and we think that if Wuhu were a car, it would be a Tesla—performs a similar function to other cars, but it is simply beautiful, beautifully simple and under the hood, it is revolutionary–so there is a Tesla in the picture, too.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there any changes/pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
The biggest change was to the business model, specifically the decision to work with professional travel agents for fulfillment and support. This means we can really support Wuhu travelers when they are on the move. With OTA's, once you cross your threshold you're on your own. It also means that travelers don't have to guess whether or not we are pushing our own blocks of seats, cars, rooms, etc. We don't and won't own inventory.
Otherwise, there were more refinements than changes. For example, Wuhu pins all of your trips to your Wuhu World which is a map on your landing page, and it archives all of your itineraries to make it easy to rebook or to use a past trip as a template--those kinds of refinements.
We don’t expect to fail, and Wuhu would make an ideal privately branded option for certain large membership organizations.
Where do you see yourself in three years time? What specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
We are positioning Wuhu as a disrupter of the space. We expect to be a major global force that has redefined travel to suit travelers rather than suppliers or resellers.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
It’s upside down and backwards; comes at the market from the supplier and intermediary point of view rather than from a traveler point of view. We think by paying attention to what travelers love, hate and desire and to individual behavior, as well as to big data, Wuhu will make travel easy and personal again.
The worry is that this is just another 'online travel is broken and we can fix it' site although when you play around with the site (currently in beta), it is fast and fairly slick.
That said, with inventory currently based on travel originating in the US and Canada, it was hard to go very far in terms of Wuhu's potential and to tell whether it can deliver on its promises.
Wuhu has much going for it, its experienced online travel and investment team, its concept of pull rather than push and its functionality in terms of enabling users to save uncompleted trips as well as previous trips which can be revised to create a new trip.
It's based around what it calls direct match technology which builds a trip around the destination a user has searched for, be it an art gallery, museum or business destination.
Wuhu aims to provide a selection of relevant results (three flights, four cars and six hotels) along with Wuhu's explanation of why they're the best for the user. It also allows users to draw on the wisdom of friends by showing them who has been there.
One other thing Wuhu is offering is travel agency support via partnerships to bring back some of the human element, a problem that many existing OTA's have been trying to get around for a while.
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.