HipHost is a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace for customized tours hosted by locals.
Launched July 2012, the startup aims to connect travelers with hosts in cities worldwide.
Travelers can select from existing options or post a “tour request” to receive customized offers.
At launch, the site has nearly 1,000 hosts in more than 100 cities.
HipHost’sÂ revenue model is to add a small fee onto each booking, included in the total price a traveler pays for their tour.
The company is bootstrapped, and itsÂ five-person team is supported by contracted communications specialists.
Q&A with CEO Mario Ricciardelli:
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 idea for HipHost comes from traveling in Europe with my family. Visiting places where we have friends to show us around is very different than when we travel to a destination where we donâ€™t know any locals.
Hiring private tour guides is very expensive, and we don’t find big group tours to be enjoyable.
I often found myself asking, â€śWouldnâ€™t it be great if I could find a local to show us around?â€ť
And thatâ€™s what we set out to accomplish with HipHost: a simple and affordable way to connect travelers with a friend in every city.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Travelers can use HipHost to connect with savvy locals in destinations, and customize their own authentic, affordable, and fun experiences.
With HipHost, users donâ€™t have to break the bank by working with a private tour service.
Locals can also sign up as hosts to show people around some of their favorite places Â no professional experience necessary, and earn some extra money in the process.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Travelers currently have three options for exploring new places: follow the herd in a lame group tour, hire an expensive private guide, or take the time-consuming risk of planning a tour themselves.
My vision for HipHost is to create a simple way for travelers to connect with hosts who can provide authentic, affordable and fun local experiences.
Hosts are able to earn extra money for themselves by sharing their local knowledge and expertise.
With every tour covered by the HipFactor guarantee, travelers are assured of a high quality experience or their tour is free.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
A community marketplace canâ€™t exist without a community. In order for the HipHost community to grow, we need hosts signing up, listing tours and becoming qualified with positive reviews.
We need travelers searching through our listings and submitting requests for customized tours.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Breeding exotic animals seems like a viable option!
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Weâ€™ve made our fair share of mistakes in the past, but we donâ€™t look at them as failures.
We think of mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. The real goal is to get through these learning cycles as quickly and efficiently as possible.
HipHost.com is trialing a fixed price model (with commission) as well as an hourly model (with mark-up).
Much depends on how soon the company can figure out what formula generates the most value for users and generate the necessary transaction volume for the company to feel like a thriving service.
It seems likely that a company that already has targeted people disposed to trying local tours, such as Airbnb’s users of P2P rentals, will either partner with a company like HipHost or invent a P2P tour marketplace on its own.
The company says it will soon look to raise a round of funding to ramp up the number of hosts and tours on HipHost, as well as create more tools to help hosts better promote their offerings.
It’s difficult to estimate the market size.Â PhocuswrightÂ guesses that US travelers spend over $26 billion per year on tours and activities. So the global number would be presumably higher.
But how many travelers “need” to book tours specifically with locals in advance of departure? That’s an unknown.
While there are other companies focused on tours and activities, HipHost claims that it is the only community marketplace focused on providing individually tailored, customized tours and activities at an affordable cost, while simultaneously offering hosts a way to earn extra money.
In their favor, the companies’sÂ key personnel are founders of Â StudentCity, a successful company that is now a leading BritishÂ organiser of student travel.
It’s a promising sign that the founders can bring lessons learned from their previous venture and apply the lessons to a fresh vertical.