Trip planners were all the rage a few years ago, with many a travel startup pitching session or innovation showcase seeing at least one newbie playing its hand.
But while the plethora of daily and flash deal startups appeared to dominate for a while, companies such as UtripÂ were still working behind the scenes to have a go at muscling in.
This is whatÂ Gilad Berenstein (CEO), Edan Shahar (COO) and Bill Ritchey (lead developer) have been plotting from their base in Seattle, US, and are launching this week, with some undisclosed angel funding in their pockets following its creation in April this year.
In simple terms, Utrip allows users to plan and get recommendations for “highly personalised travel adventures” to destinations around the world.
The initial phase is targeting travellers in North America looking to head overseas, around 12 million every year. Domestic trips will be in the next wave (another 50 million travellers annually).
Like others that have emerged with similar ideas in the past, revenue is not gained from its user base but from commissions from partners that its sends traffic or leads to.
Q&A with CEOÂ Gilad Berenstein:
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?
For many years travellers have used travel agencies and travel books in order to plan their trips.
The problem is these agencies are expensive and know very little about each travelerâ€™s specific interests, which leads to impersonal, cookie-cutter itineraries.
Travel guides become out-dated the moment they are printed and require hours to read through and find the destinations that actually interest the traveler. Utrip was created to solve these problems.
The Utrip platform was designed with the firm belief that there is no such thing as a one-trip-fits-all, and in order to truly take in a city and walk away with a memorable experience, travel planning must get personal.
Rather than offering up cookie cutter itineraries Utrip uses a proprietary optimization formula taking into account the userâ€™s demographic, dates of travel, budget, and most importantly personal interests, to craft a one-of-a kind itineraries that touch on each travelersâ€™ unique passion points and enhances the over travel experience.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Utrip makes it quick, easy, fun, and free to plan a highly personal travel adventure. In a matter of seconds Utrip does what would otherwise take a person or travel agent days to complete.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Utrip has partnered with travel experts all around the world to leverage their knowledge, following, and persona to help grow the Utrip brand.
Utrip is also working with many travel based organizations to help bring their planning practices into the 21st century.
By utilizing a European rep model as well as social media, Utrip plans to get in front of large audiences of traveling Americans in order to bring the benefits of modern technology to their travel experience.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Utrip has been approached by several large travel providers to discuss deep strategic partnerships.
A large travel provider can benefit greatly by combining their existing inventory with our cutting edge technology in order to bring their users a complete travel solution that is much more valuable than the sum of its parts.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
We are lucky that we have had many learning opportunities in the course of making Utrip a reality. Travel planning is complex and we do not believe in a one size fits all solutions.
For the past 14 months Utrip has been learning from real travelers about their needs, desires, and the shortcoming of current planning options.
Instead of rushing into the market, Utrip has taken the time to test our systems all along the way and to learn and improve with every iteration.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Currently, to plan a highly personal experience (which is what we all want at the end of the day!) travelers must pay an agent or spend lots and lots of time researching.
Additionally, static sources such as guidebooks which are utilized by many travel planners become outdated far too quickly.
Utrip was created to give the modern traveler the ability to create their own adventure without the time commitment currently required by traditional means.
In addition, we give our users tools currently unavailable in the travel planning public such as:
- Geographic optimization â€“ giving you the fastest turn by turn directions and public transportation tips to get you to your destination
- Budget optimization â€“ making sure you go to the Picasso Museum on Free Sunday if budget is an important consideration for you.
- Authentic experiences â€“ research shows that the most memorable experiences are those truly authentic ones that you stumble onto and donâ€™t read about in a book or see on a friendâ€™s Facebook page. Utrip works with users to identify truly authentic experiences throughout the entirety of their trip.
Online travel has come a long since the deluge of trip planning sites circa 2009-2010, with many falling by the wayside or simply left to run relatively automatically and bring in a few dollars or euros for their founders.
Utrip at appears to have watched and learned from some of the earlier efforts and come up with a decent interface and user experience, allowing consumers to toggle preferences when looking for ideas and getting back information.
Many similar functions from other players are included, such as the ability to store ideas for trips and share content around various social networks. It also has a decent Facebook integration, too.
But while it has some interesting ideas around partnering with sports teams and others, Utrip’s biggest challenge will always be getting traffic and users – and users that come back again and again.
It will be interesting to see whether those partnerships are enough to trigger enough word-of-mouth for the traction required to not only survive but expand. Focusing on one country, rather than trying to be all things to everyone, seems like a smart move.