Most travel-related businesses, especially destination marketers, understand that maps and images are two of the significant ways consumers learn about a location.
But New Zealand-based Beek, launched in late-2009 and headed by Ben Knill (CEO) and four other execs (Dan Taylor, Dieter Fourie, Ed Letifov and Mark Tantrum), reckons its technology platform is perfect for tourism boards and other in-destination service providers.
Why? Because in New Zealand alone, tourism operators spend around $1.5 billion a year on web marketing (it’s about 0.03% of the global marketplace) but very few pump this money into interactive, 3D destination guides.
TLabs takes a look…
With some NZ government grants and existing revenues to help, Beek has created a platform which allows a destination or service to provide key information AND a 3D tour of a product.
Tourism operators (hotels, restaurants, bars, attractions etc) invest in the digital assets of Beek which they can use for other, consumer-facing purposes, providing revenue to the company by way of a membership fee to use them in the platform, giving them access to the content administration, reporting and guide network system.
Similar services are available – from individual providers of video and images to Google StreetView – but Beek claims its platform is focused on a destination experience rather than helping people look around a place they have already selected.
Q&A with CEO Ben Knill:
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?
The problem is around communicating a visitor experience effectively in a collaborative approach to encourage more visits, longer stays and reduce uncertainty.
When people think they might want to go somewhere, there are many issues that can put them off and operators tend to focus on their own offering or price. Neither of which give a visitor a keen sense of what the destination is going to be like.
The market has seen destination and experience brochures that link operators together with an experience (i.e. cycle trail, wine tours etc) but these have traditional expenses and limitations associated with print media.
There is also many virtual tours and videos that tell a good story and are better distributed, but these are often limited in how they represent different aspects of a visitor experience.
Weâ€™re linking the experience of virtual tours, the story telling of video and the collaborative approach to destination marketing to create a dynamic and immersive online tool that operators use to attract visitors on their various websites and channels.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
We help people get to know places by experiencing operators and exploring destinations. People find Beek on many websites they already use, and use Beek to get a keener sense of the visitor experience to find the information they need to make a decision and plan a trip.
Operators need to communicate the unique value they offer online to avoid being commoditised into a pure price comparison which takes no account of the experience they offer a visitor.
They need to collaborate in telling a destination story that helps visitors understand why itâ€™s worth going and planning a longer trip.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We target, email and phone our customers. We run destination focused campaigns with local tourism partners to get key influencers onboard, before taking it out to the rest of the market with a network effect approach.
We give our systems, techniques and processes to local partners who market, sell and deliver Beek in their destinations. They earn the setup costs, we keep our membership fees.
Our customers use the product on all the websites they use for promotion, we build guides for local community members to tell their stories and use on their websites, and we put guides where ever we can to find a receptive audience.
Weâ€™re in the process of publishing guides as apps, so for example, youâ€™ll be able to find the Craft Beer Guide to Wellington on the appstore, that lets you explore Wellington with a focus on fine craft beers.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Weâ€™ve built a unique platform for exploring spaces and collaborating on destination focuses. The technology could be licenced to real estate if all other options fail!
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Getting investment too early, and coming to rely on capital when a more sensible approach is to get the thing out there and working, and raise capital to grow fast. Anything that is experimenting and validating should be done with your own time, not an investors money.
Also being too vague, and not putting together a carefully targeted story that makes it easy for people to get why your doing what you do. People are a lot more forgiving of an under developed product if they understand easily why theyâ€™re being asked to use it.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The online tourism marketing space is attempting to productise and commoditise tourism experiences to simplify and scale sales by attracting audiences through price.
Destination marketing organisations have limited resources and need to target the mass market with a visitor experience product that theyâ€™re local operators want to supply. Some local operators supply visitors with different experiences which automatically breaks the destination product vision.
The tourism experience is unique to each individual visitor, and impossible to build into a standardised product. Satisfy the increasing aware, discerning and independent traveler who doesnâ€™t want to waste time and money on average experiences is the challenge.
Combining the resources of operators and organisations, storytelling of communites, experiences of other visitors and communicating dynamic and engaging experiences to a global audience is the solution.
It is arguably a careless destination marketer than does not seize on the opportunities available via the internet through images and video to both enhance their own websites and provide a great understanding of a location to users.
How Beek somehow manages to fit in with this increased push towards towards multimedia at scale, especially through 3D tours and guides, will perhaps have to be through a combination of clever marketing at trade events at a global level as well as maintaining the progress it is making doing through word-of-mouth and usual sales methods.
Perhaps the most obvious threat to its strategy is, as the company admits when listing its competitors, how other service providers such as Google StreetView evolve.
With Google Places clearly becoming a significant part of the search giant’s strategy around providing better information (including maps and images, as well as 3D guides) to consumers, Beek’s challenge could be convincing customers to adopt its own system rather than modifying and then licensing Google’s.