Pinterest launched quietly into the world of social networking in 2010, but then made one hell of a thud a year or so later – with obvious ramifications for travel.
Brainchild of three founders, Loic Dupont (president), Stephane Pinatton (executive director) and Stefan Surzucki (CTO), TravelAvenue now has a total of 15 people based in Paris, France.
The company says it is an intermediary, in that wants to position itself as the middleman between discovery of products and booking, with a major focus on inspiration by way of images and allowing users to essentially bookmark ideas of where they want to go and what they want to do.
Backed initially by the bootstraps of its founders, TravelAvenue has recently taken a Euro 500,000 funding round from Financiere Boscary, a French investment fund, plus a further Euro 400,000 from public investment groupÂ OSEO.
It enters a growing but increasingly crowded space, going up against the likes of Trippy (“US-centric”) and, of course, Pinterest and the “Pinterest clones”.
Revenue comes by way of affiliate deals and lead-generation.
Q&A with president Loic Dupont:
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 always tried to help travelers plan their trip. Before we were focusing on being a good source of information, but we pivoted and now, with our new concept, we want to radically change the way they organize their research online.
Today, most people organize their trips on their own using the Internet. They spend several hours planning and browse thousands of pages to make sure they pick the right locations, hotels, restaurants, and things to do.
But travelers donâ€™t have adequate tools to manage all this information which makes trip planning online stressful and time consuming. They use for instance a word document or their browser favorites. But those solutions are not collaborative and donâ€™t let you easily share your discoveries with the people you are travelling with. On top of that all that research work gets lost for future travelers.
To solve those inefficiencies, we built three innovative features:
- The trip collections: itâ€™s a personal space on Travelavenue where you will store all your findings from TravelAvenue and around the web while preparing your trip
- The Travelavenue pin-it button: it enables you to bookmark the Internet pages you want to remember and also to link it to the relevant location to Travelavenueâ€™s broad catalog of addresses. For instance you can link a page about the Eiffel Tower to Travelavenueâ€™s Eiffel Tower page. Thanks to that, the trip collections can be nicely organized by city, categories and address.
- The collaborative travel guide: we use the curation work done by the community through the creation of trip collections to build a “best of the web” travel guide updated permanently by users adding and picking places. The capacity to organize and focus on external travel content differentiate us from more generalist curation sites like Pinterest and that makes us a real travel guide made of travelers best findings.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
People who spend a lot of time online organizing their trips should definitely create a trip collection. It will help them:
- Save time by easily keeping track of the best pages they found online
- Save even more time by checking out other travelers trip collections
- Discover addresses, identified by the community, they might not have found on their own
- Have a nice collection of places online they can show to their friends and co-travelers
We also are the only travel planning tool with a global vision, available in 17 languages.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Our approach is based on SEO (across several geographies and languages), SEM, email marketing and social marketing.
Also we are currently finalizing strategic partnerships with large sites (mainly OTAs). In exchange for traffic, we will provide OTAs and other large sites services to help them increase users knowledge and loyalty.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We have other options in the pipeline. Our initial tests with B2C (such as focusing on smaller markets) and B2B have both received encouraging results. However, for the time being, we have decided to focus our efforts on the current solution.
We are working at making trip planning experience more simple and fun through technology and collaboration. We want to create new habits and usages. Itâ€™s an ambitious challenge which takes real R&D efforts and creativity so continuously adapting our vision to improve our approach is part of our DNA.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
We started Travelavenue with our own money and a very entrepreneurial approach. We successfully focused very early on revenue generation (through selling leads to hotels directly) yet the user experience lagged behind other players, mainly due to the lack of capital investment.
Although, we managed to help over a million travelers from 17 countries plan their trips last year, in retrospect, we should have raised funds earlier.
We have recently raised a seed round of Euro 500,000 in France to help us improve the user experience and validate our approach. For our next investment, we will be seeking a round that will help to put us on even footing with our US counterparts ($1.7M Trippy: Series A, $10M Gogobot: Series B).
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There is large room for innovation in the online travel industry. We believe that we let travelers do too much work and we need to simplify the process by bringing them high quality content instead of making them spend hours to find it.
We believe our tool will change forever the way people plan their trip. Only the future will tell us if we were dreamers
Also, online trip planning today is mainly a solitary research process whereas in â€śreal lifeâ€ť the advice people trust the most are their family and friendâ€™s. Thatâ€™s why we want to make it more collaborative and social. In the age of social, â€śsocial planningâ€ť makes sense!
What did we all do before Pinterest came along? Well, consumers used things like friends and family for recommendations, social media for tips from the masses and, remember this, good old fashioned search engines when using the web find out about travel products.
This still happens, of course, but many agree that images and the opportunity to collate ideas around multimedia content into wish-lists of ideas is the way forward.
TravelAvenue, having recognised this quite a while before Pinterest apparently made the world gasp late last year, may be on to something.
But, as with any consumer-facing site, getting that user base is vitally important, especially when so many of these types of services are increasingly important only when volume dictates the value of content.
Striking a few deals with OTAs is a decent first step on the customer acquisition side, but whether SEO (given the increasing trend in Google towards its own Places and other products in SERPS) will be enough is another question entirely.
But with revenue comes the opportunity to attract more users, so eyes will be on whether those lead-generation models its founders talk about come to fruition and generate enough income to push the business on further.