Tourism Pitch Night: These startups are solving for the primary pain points in tourism

During the Travel Disruption Summit earlier this year, the Tourism track outlined some of today’s most pressing challenges for the industry: delivering personalization at scale, maintaining brand loyalty in a fiercely competitive marketplace, destination infrastructures buckling under massive tourism traffic, and the challenge of improving the traveler’s end-to-end journey.

In a preview of the Summit, GetYourGuide’s Shane Meyer was passionate about improving the traveler’s end-to-end journey, saying: 

I’m keen to gaze toward the future with the group and talk about our shared mission to build a seamless experience for the travelers of tomorrow.

Getting closer to that future is one of the primary goals of the Travel Pitch Night event series. Pitch Nights give the Voyager HQ community an opportunity to be inspired by some of the talented founders striving to improve travel, tourism and hospitality for both industry stakeholder and for travelers themselves. Each Pitch Night brings together travel founders, investors, executives, and others to network and discover new tech tackling pressing problems in the industry. 

The next iteration of Travel Pitch Night, on July 24th, focuses exclusively on the tourism sector. Tourism Pitch Night starts at 6:30pm at SAP Next-Gen in New York City, in the brand-new Hudson Yards complex. We’re excited to highlight startups in the tours and activities segment, an area that has become a bright spot for innovation.

Here’s a preview of the judges and startups who will be taking the stage next week - Register here to join! And we’d like to give a special thank you to our Global Sponsor Fareportal, our Preferred Sponsor XL Airways and our premium sponsor JTB.

The judges

Four accomplished industry leaders have agreed to share their insights with both our presenting startups and those in the audience: Greg Takehara, CEO of Tourism Cares, Eric Shepard, VP of Lonely Planet Ventures, David Paluy, CTO of Stride Travel, and Nisha Desai, CEO and Managing Director of Andav Capital LLC. With such breadth and depth of knowledge across tours and activities, there’s no doubt that the conversation will be lively, the feedback valuable, and the perspectives thoughtful.

In advance of Wednesday’s event, we did a lighting-round interview with the judges to set the scene for the startup presentations. Read on for their responses, followed by a quick breakdown of the Voyager HQ startups you’ll see presenting next week.

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What do you see as the next big technology trend for tourism? 

Eric Shepard: Artificial Reality. I think it will help bring users into the experience and increase conversion for tours.

David Paluy: One of the biggest trends continues to be personalization. People want to find the travel experience that was tailor-made for them; the trip planning process can utilize Machine Learning to simplify the process and make it more efficient.  

The other part of personalization is in service. I would expect that during my second visit to the Hotel, they will be able to recognize me and know my preferences -- regardless of which platform I used to book). Customers want personalized service and using technology we can achieve an amazing guest experience.

Greg Takehara: The technology trends for tourism will continue to have a focus on “one stop shopping”.  There is such a premium on time in today’s world for consumers and users. It is not as much a trend as a necessity that ease of use, simplicity and comprehensiveness are built into technology.

What would impress you to hear from a startup founder at the event? 

ES: I'd love to see something new that I haven't seen or heard about before. Either from a product or a unique inventory standpoint. 

Nisha Desai: I'd like to see more: a business model that aligns incentives so that investors, tourists, and -- critically -- local stakeholders are enriched e.g through local job creation and up-skilling, tax payments and respect of local laws, banking unbanked merchants, etc.  Consider Greece, where tourism was a source of economic strength after the Greek eurozone crisis, but where investors and foreign operators could have helped strengthen domestic institutions to diversify and stabilize the economy. In sum, do you operate to simply make money or are you also a steward of sustainable development in the local economy. 

DP: As a technology guy, you might expect me to say some cool new tech. But actually, I think for the travel industry what is really impressive is when a founder has a well-thought-out go-to-market strategy and tactical user acquisition plan. Founders often focus too much on the tech and product and assume it will sell itself. Secondarily, I’m impressed with real traction numbers that show the target audience really values their product.

GT: My experience and background dictates that a sound startup considers risk management and liability into its model (my insurance side).  Further, I would love to see commitment to the industry at large in terms of sustainability and social impact (my philanthropic/non-profit side).

What are some problems in Tourism as an industry you'd like to see products to address? 

ES: I'd like to see better brand loyalty in the tours space. I'd also like to see more differentiation and flexibility in tours. 

DP: Collecting reviews...specifically positive ones. Often, people spend time writing complaints, rather than describing their good experience. Reviews are very important for attracting new clients and collecting honest feedback from the full spectrum of customers is very challenging. 

GT: We face a sustainability issue these days that poses a daunting challenge to the travel products that fuel our livelihoods.  Issues of over-tourism, single use plastics, climate change, and environmental impact are entering the conscience of everyone in the supply chain – consumers, travel companies, destinations, and suppliers.

What makes an appealing startup for the in-destination sector?

ES: Their differentiation and uniqueness from an inventory perspective as well as some piece of emerging tech that adds value.

DP: For B2B startups, it’s essential to understand your customers -- the wide range of business owners and managers -- and ensure that the solution is incredibly simple, easy-to-use and solves a clear (and immediate) pain point.

ND: It's table stakes when a tourism start-up is able to provide a service and attractive price point for tourists. 

GT: Using one’s business as a force for good.  The travel industry is one of the few industries that can reach some of the most remote and marginalized communities in the world, and we have the opportunity to use it to drive economic, social and environmental impact.  By using our business to address the demand for more responsible and meaningful travel, we, in turn, can also create a positive impact on the destinations our industry relies on.

What advice do you have for startups considering (or already operating) in the space?

ES: Try to be different from everyone else and make sure you are solving a real problem. 

DP: Make sure that you have at least one person on your senior team who really knows the travel industry. Many would-be entrepreneurs start in the travel space because they are personally passionate about travel. But because of that passion, they may miss important market dynamics that someone familiar with the industry would spot quickly.

GT: I would encourage taking a look at the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  These goals are part of a 2030 agenda, a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.  The goals are a call to action, as part of a global partnership, which Tourism Cares is committed to. Not coincidentally, our industry is the only one directly or indirectly tied to all 17 goals.

What do you see as some of the top trends in tourism right now?

ES: Peer-to-peer experiences created by locals, as well as growth in specific tour types, such as sustainable tours, eco-friendly tours & food-centric tours.

DP: Digital detox travel, as well as both personalized travel and “Do-It-For-Me” bespoke travel planning.

GT: Until recently, travel and tourism were primarily reliant on marketing.  With information at the consumers’ fingertips, social media as an engagement tool, and with issues like over-tourism and environmental neglect at the forefront, travel companies are changing the words they have used for decades.  Marketing companies are becoming management or stewardship companies, because it is not just about numbers, it is about thoughtful and responsible planning to ensure meaningfulness and sustainability - all of which requires management.

THE startups

The startups presenting at each Travel Pitch Night are selected from a wide range of applicants. No two pitching startups focus on the exact same problem, but all are of a similar early stage to even the playing field.

On the 24th, startups will have five minutes to pitch, followed by five minutes of questions from judges and the audience. The audience can submit questions via their smartphones or tablets, which appear onscreen behind the presenter. Questions can be upvoted, and the judges can pull their questions from the audience submissions. 

Following the presentations, both audience and panelists evaluate each startup based on the following criteria: the company’s business model, quality of presentation, the product-market fit, as well as the startup’s fundability and potential to create sustainability or positive global impact. Read on to see who’s pitching:

Legaroo simplifies the process of researching and discovering reliable information about travel destinations. With a focus on legal issues, Legaroo’s Network of certified attorneys provides expert opinions on visiting countries and cities around the world. The global directory connects travelers to lawyers, wherever they are in the world. Additional features, such as a personal blog scratchpad, make Legaroo helpful for trip planning purposes as well.

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Pack Up + Go’s brand promise is simple, yet thrilling: “Be adventurous. Be spontaneous. Let us plan your 3-day getaway. The catch? Your destination is a surprise.” The spontaneity-first approach not only satisfies consumers desires for the unexpected, it also allows the Pack Up + Go to engage quality suppliers through opaque offers. Since suppliers aren't pricing individual components publicly, there's more wiggle room for discounts. 

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Sightsy offers best in class technology that allows travel and ticketing companies, hotels, venues, city and state tourism organizations, travel agencies, and event planners to interact and communicate with their audience throughout the visitor journey. The technology includes a POS system, a CRM/Data Warehouse, and a Group/Meeting planning tool. Sightsy’s responsive web platform also offers a direct to consumer web experience that enables travelers to find and book activities complete with mobile ticketing and vouchers.

Plain Sight is a Detroit-based mobile app that uses a novel way for people to find spaces to work: it filters based on the type of people they want to connect with. The objective is to help workers make meaningful connections between entrepreneurs, creators and startups. By offering an inside look into who’s working around nearby, workers-on-the-go can connect to other talented people, as well as potential new clients, or other like-minded people.

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TripLoop focuses on making group travel simpler, with fewer hiccups and stressors. The startup bundles all group travel needs into a mobile platform that allows group travel providers centralize communications and data collection, while also enhancing risk response strategies. And it all works with and without the internet. As.a single source for group agendas, group updates, and group tracking, travel managers can provide duty-of-care without sacrificing the functionality travelers want.

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Ready to join us for Tourism Pitch Night? Grab your ticket here -- and we’ll see you in New York City on July 24!