Lee Hayhurst spoke to a co-founder of Travelade, the firm trying to blend human recommendations with tech to provide travellers with authentic, crowdsourced travel guides
Icelandic curated content start-up Travelade has set itself the ambition of making finding and booking travel experiences as easy as listening to music on Spotify.
The firm was set up in 2017 by founders Adri Kristinsson and Hlodver Thor Arnason and is headquartered in the capital Reykjavik with a US office in Palo Alta, California.
In December 2017 it closed a pre-seed funding round for $1.8 million led by Crowberry Capital, a Nordic venture fund, and angel investors.
The firm hopes to complete a further round of funding in the next couple of months for a further $3 million.
Its vision is to provide a crowdsourcing platform for influencers and hosts who use sites like Airbnb to create user generated content, and turn inspiration into bookings.
This content is curated into Wanderguides, a photo-rich interface that users can filter to match their specific preferences and interests.
Kristinsson, Travelade co-founder and chief executive, said: “Our mission is to make it as easy to find activities for your next holiday as it is to listen to music on Spotify.
“Flights and hotels are already easy to find, compare, and book online, but discovering authentic local experiences tailored to your personal taste and needs, is much harder.
“We are seeing a world where we are all essentially overloaded with information. There is a lot of information online. But it’s not about that. It’s about curation, getting recommendations from someone you trust.
“What we are trying to do is build a place where this offline behaviour can happen online and make it super fun. There is this massive economy of offline recommendations and sharing.
“We believe the key to unlocking next generation travel technology companies is this layer where we combine this real human curation with underlying technology and machine learning.”
Kristinsson used to live in San Francisco, where he attended Stanford University and worked as a product lead at LinkedIn, and he was asked a lot his native Iceland and so he started curating long lists of recommendations to help his friends.
He describes Travelade as a Pinterest-style drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy for contributors to set up a profile and start sharing their recommendations and expertise.
Behind the scenes, Travelade has built technology so that the experiences, activities and restaurants its contributors recommend can be booked.
Currently Travelade has 4,000 experiences in 35 countries but expects to see that grow to 50,000 next year as 300 new Wanderguides are being added to the platform each week.
The site claims to be attracting between 40,000 and 50,000 users a month. They are primarily 25-35-year-olds and 65% are female.
However, Kristinsson said the aim is not just to offer volume but to provide users with some quality assurance, so each experience goes through manual verification process.
“Since we launched this tool to create the guides we have seen really strong organic growth as people have heard about it,” said Kristinsson.
Generating content at such scale means quality control is a challenge but Kristinsson says Travelade has developed its own set of in-house metrics to ensure content meets a threshold.
The other way is through feedback from users which Travelade collects and ensures it is looking at the signals from people consuming the content and reporting back to the creators.
Kristinsson added that because its Wanderguide creators are Airbnb hosts or Instagram influencers there is already a high level of trust and conversion is high.
Travelade sees itself as being complementary to sites like Instagram and TripAdvisor by offering a range of full comprehensive travel guides for destinations.
And although Airbnb is moving into the experiences sector, hosts cross-promote accommodation on multiple platforms and Travelade believes it can offer a specialist alternative for experiences.
“Travellers trust what they read in the guides a lot more than if they just found out the information themselves online. They know it’s not fake. Conversion is around three times higher because of that trust factor,” said Kristinsson.
Travelade team after a boat ride on a glacier
Travelade will use Artificial Intelligence not only to make sure that the most relevant content is surfaced to user, but also to suggest to its contributors what they should be writing about that will attract the most readers.
The Wanderguides are available primarily in English, but users can decide which language they write in and creators can earn 7% commission on every booking the content generates on the website.
The Travelade website is mobile optimised but the firm has not developed a mobile app and the majority of bookings are made between two and four weeks before arrival.
Kristinsson said most users already have flights and accommodation booked before they land on the site and Travelade has no immediate plans to add a booking engine.
“We never want to say never but we are an early stage company focussing on doing one thing really well. If we see a time then that adds value it’s something we would consider.”
Kristinsson added: “I strongly believe the travel space is hugely fragmented and the key to unlocking this space, especially in thing to do and see, is through user-generated content that is aggregated in a smart way.
“Travelade is more of a people first website where you can find things to do and see, book them through people you already know or follow or trust and you can start building up this social network ecommerce platform in the travel space.
“We are fundamentally about people. It’s not all about AI although we use it to assist. It’s a combination of human curation and technology that is key.
“There is going to be a lot of indirect competitors in this space, most of them are trying to market directly to the consumer, which is extremely hard in travel.
“We want to become a platform for people who are helping people to travel, to curate and share their guides. We are not trying to curate ourselves or trying to market ourselves to the travellers.”