A few words that come to mind when we talk about ancillary revenues: airlines and airports. But with plenty written about airline ancillaries services being offered up carriers, airports get less attention.
It’s a known fact that airports are complex beasts to manage – this can be attributed to a string of factors such as frequent gate changes, flight delays, lost luggage etc.
But how is easy is it to conceal these complex layers and make it look simple for a traveler?
Is there a portal that gives comprehensive information about an airport, terminals, various facilities like – car parking, restaurants, transportation etc?
TravelNerd claims to be the company that solves this problem. TravelNerd is the travel division of NerdWallet, a consumer-friendly financial decision engine looking to bring a “.org” honesty to financial product recommendations and advice.
The US-based company is run by less than ten full-time employees with key executives:¬†Tim Chen (founder/CEO, NerdWallet),¬†Jacob Gibson (founder/COO, NerdWallet),¬†Alicia Jao (VP of travel, NerdWallet; head of TravelNerd).
TravelNerd is self-funded startup. Apart from its website, TravelNerd also has an iOS app available in iTunes as free download.
“When I met the founders of NerdWallet (Jacob Gibson and Tim Chen), we discussed how NerdWallet could help consumers in all aspects of consumer spending.
“Travel is a relatively large expense for the average consumer. Moreover, travel products lack fee and pricing transparency, similar to financial products. As a result, we feel there is a huge opportunity to help consumers.”
Q&A with Alicia Jao:
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?
The TravelNerd airport app guides travelers through the entire chaotic air travel experience, from home to final destination. TravelNerd differentiates itself from other travel apps in the following ways:
- Provides details on transportation to and from the airport (taxis, shuttles, etc.)
- Airport directions to / from popular destinations in major metropolitan areas (i.e. New York, London, Los Angeles, etc.)
- Cost vs. time comparisons to help travelers decide amongst airport transportation options in major metropolitan areas
- Lists of airport shuttles and taxis, including phone numbers and website
- Customized terminal maps with gate numbers and airport service locations, such as lounges, baggage claim, elevators, nurseries, pet relief areas, etc.
- Airport services for special travel needs, including:
- Families (family bathrooms, nurseries, kid-friendly restaurants, etc.)
- Americans with Disabilities (ADA restrooms, pet relief areas for service animals, etc.)
- Business travelers (WiFi information, restaurants by terminal filtered for coffee, alcohol, cuisine, etc.)
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Travelers should use our app because it has the most comprehensive information to guide them during the entire airport experience. TravelNerd is a useful on-the-go guide that saves travelers time as well as an in-depth emergency resource when travel plans fall through.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
In addition to continually incorporating user feedback to improve our app, we will initially be focusing on grass roots marketing efforts to increase word-of-mouth.
How did your initial idea evolve?¬†Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
We initially thought of providing our airport guide as an online app. However, after user testing the initial concept and design, we realized that a mobile version would be more useful to travelers. As a result, we pivoted and began developing a mobile app alongside our online app.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
The mobile app landscape is becoming increasingly competitive. The challenges we foresee will likely be in discovery. Despite these challenges in the mobile landscape, we hope to continue developing better features, optimize our app for iPad, and develop our app for Android.
We also have online airline fee search and comparison that was our first travel tool. We anticipate continuing to refine and improve that tool over the next 3 years.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The travel industry is primarily focused on products that provide a clear path to revenue. Booking tools and travel content (with travel ads) are useful for consumers. However, there are many pain points in the travel process, outside of booking, that remain. Travelers spend a significant amount of time getting to/from the airport and at the airport. The airport is often a user-unfriendly environment, and TravelNerd aims to ease the pain of the airport experience.
TravelNerd is a much needed application for travelers. The true potential of this app can only be realized when TravelNerd does deep integration with various services like car parking, transportation, restaurant, shopping stores.
Currently, TravelNerd is at an early stage without generating revenue. It says the focus for now is on increasing usability and, in the long run, the revenue model would probably follow a media model.
As the user interface ¬†- we liked it. It is neat, unambiguous and information can be located easily within the categories.
Apart from media monetization, there are couple of other ways in which a portal like TravelNerd can generate revenue. One such is the referral traffic revenue.
TravelNerd has already placed links in their website for taxi rentals, restaurants, car parking area etc. But, right now there are no “referral codes” placed in the URL when the redirection happens, except for shuttle services where the company is tracking referral traffic through codes within the URLs.
TravelNerd can potentially grow into a TripAdvisor-for-airport business. Since TravelNerd is going to be a content-based business and given that airport and some parts of its general information doesn’t change often, its going to be interesting to see the various steps that TravelNerd takes to ensure the stickiness¬†of its app.
The company also has a comparison engine for travelers to compare airlines based on a number areas – check-in baggage, pet policy, in-flight entertainment and lounge access.
A natural extension to TravelNerd’s business is to offer booking services, similar to its competitor iFly.