Wheel the World
U.S.-based Wheel the World was set up to make more travel destinations accessible and serve as a marketplace for disabled travelers to find accommodation and tours.
As part of its bid to open up travel in more destinations, the company carries out accessibility assessments and scores of travel partners and suppliers.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup:
Wheel the World is an online travel marketplace, where people with disabilities can find and book accessible hotels and tours the easiest way possible.
We are mapping the accessibility information of tour operators and hotels to provide it to our community of people with disabilities so they can travel without limits.
BUSINESS: Booking.com and Expedia and others are multi-million dollar companies, with a great business model (online travel marketplaces), but they missed one thing--accessibility.
We believe the only way to allow millions of travels with disabilities to travel is through this model.
We are building an online marketplace allowing travelers with disabilities to both (1) find and (2) book accessible travel products. Once they book the travel, travelers with disabilities are connected with local partners: accommodation and tour providers.
In Wheel the World’s first 1.5 years, 900 travelers have booked trips in 22 different destinations.
Many times accessibility information for travel destinations is inaccurate, but Wheel the World verifies the info so travelers requiring accessibility can make informed decisions. This provides a new source of revenue for travel suppliers, making them stand out from the crowd--a business benefit.
In a nutshell, the more accessible destinations there are on the Wheel the World platform, the more travelers they can attend. This is a great business because Wheel the World is using the most successful infrastructure of the travel industry, getting accurate information from partners with accessible tours, and passing it along to the consumer.
Technology: Wheel the World intends to use all of the available technologies to make barriers disappear for travelers with disabilities, becoming the most disability-centered company in the world from beginning to end.
For travel partners, Wheel the World does an accessibility assessment, and travel partners who complete the assessment receive a score. The information collected by the assessment provides detailed info to consumers, who can evaluate the tours and accommodations for themselves.
Secondly, the online website (travel marketplace) allows a simple booking through the website, plus the human element of customer support during and throughout the experience.
San Francisco, California
What inspired you to create this company?
(Álvaro Silberstein) I was inspired by my personal desire, as someone with a severe disability, to travel the world and go places as anyone else, and realizing that there was not a reliable source of information to find accessible travel services.
I realized that there were many people in the world who wanted to travel like me who struggled to find the information to find and book accessible accommodations, appropriate transportation and things to do at the destination.
I was also motivated by the discovery that we could allow people with disabilities to go places beyond what they thought possible such as Patagonia or Machu Picchu, and expand this everywhere.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- Strengths: Expertise in disabilities and accessibility. (Our team is conformed by people with disabilities!), global brand, and first to market.
- Weaknesses: We are a small, but mighty team learning more and more about the travel industry.
- Opportunities: No one is leading this market yet. WTW has an incredible opportunity to lead the digital exposure with all the content we have generated (check our Youtube, and social media accounts). This is a growing market (expenditure in travel by people with disabilities grows 17% every year).
- Threats: Big travel Player taking action and focusing on traveler with disability needs.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
People with disabilities want to travel, they want to go to the places everyone else wants to see, but can’t do it with equal conditions. Three pain points:
- Difficult to find info online
- Lack of specialized companies focused on travelers with disabilities, also lack of customer service
- Lack of accurate information on true accessibility of a destination. (Providing accurate accessibility information is Wheel the World’s primary focus.)
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
Wheel the World is building a one-stop shop/global solution for accessible travel. We are building the largest database of accessible travel products that we will continue to grow. We are raising money with investors to grow the supply to accommodate more travelers.
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In building any online marketplace, the focus is more on building inventory than on promotion. (Think about the Amazon marketplace or Airbnb.) As we grow the supply/inventory of travel packages, tours, and accommodations, the travelers will come.
When people search for accessible travel on search engines, Wheel the World wants to be the first and most comprehensive result.
Technology has an important role in our growth too - we actively seek out technologies to enable travel.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
Wheel the World started out of a personal need. Co-founder Álvaro Silberstein was in a terrible car accident at age 18, leaving him with quadriplegia.
A few years later, his friend and co-founder Camilo Navarro hiked Torres del Paine in Patagonia and was determined that Álvaro experience it with him. The two raised money for a hiking wheelchair to be left at the site for other disabled travelers to enjoy.
Their journey was chronicled in the Adventure in Motion 2018 winning film Adventure is for All.
It is no secret that travel rejuvenates, which is one of the reasons that everyone wants to travel.
For the Wheel the World founders, experiencing the possibility of accessible travel and also seeing others experience it after them at Torres del Paine inspired the vision for Wheel the World.
Álvaro and Camilo knew from personal experience the challenges of finding accurate travel accessibility information online, and statistics show that one in three people worldwide either has a disability or is related to someone who does.
People with disabilities want to visit the same destinations as people without disabilities, so not only is there is a genuine need, but the size of the potential (and existing!) market for serving disabled travelers is enormous.
How and when will you make money?
For every transaction made on the Wheel the World platform, there is a commission included for Wheel the World, and the rest of the payment goes directly to the travel company.
Wheel the World is essentially the intermediary (or an online travel agent).
We are currently making money; more supply (accessible tours accommodations) and more travelers leads to greater profitability for us. All marketplaces have this situation - Uber, Amazon, Airbnb - all need supply first in order to drive demand.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?
To run a successful marketplace, you have to have a good understanding of retail. The founding team has a vast experience in consulting as well as retail, and studies in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Álvaro Silberstein has a career focused on strategy and design with companies such as Reglut and Matrix Consulting, and Camilo Navarro in retail/ecommerce with companies such as BolenaShoes and PortalFit.
The founders have also been friends since they were five years old, and from knowing each other that well have confidence that they are prepared to take this business to the next level.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
At the beginning, no one believed that we could run a business on making people with disabilities travel. Too many obstacles, not enough people with disabilities. Not true at all.
There are one billion people in the world with disabilities, and two billion are connected to a family member with a disability. All of us will face disability at some point as we age.
Overcoming those misconceptions has been the hardest challenge, and now people are opening their eyes.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of the lucky ones?
Our business metrics are directly connected to our impact metrics. Every time we make revenue, it means that someone with a disability is exploring the world without limits, and a local partner is making revenue as well, while making the travel space more democratic.
Also, as a result of Wheel the World’s marketplace, there is an entirely new accessible infrastructure that has been created.
Why will we be lucky?
Because what we are doing is something that people need. We’re not building an appealing tech product that people don’t need but might use...this product is required by society.
Many people are underrepresented and underserved. It’s an impact in making the world more accessible and inclusive.
At the end of the day, is impact really measured in being a billion-dollar company, or in having a real impact on people’s lives? We’ve seen tears when people travel in ways they never thought would be possible. That is how we feel that we can change the world.
What question might we have missed......?
How is Wheel the World helping to change the perceptions around disability?
We feel that we can break a mental perception in society as we focus on people with and without disabilities traveling together.
In society, many times people with disabilities are seen as isolated, in pain, or pitied, and they are sidelined--excluded from activities. As we demonstrate groups of people with and without disabilities enjoying the same activities together, we challenge that perception.
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