A new travel start-up has burst onto the scene and Travolution sat down with its co-founders, Jeremy Jauncey, Saad Saeed and Sardar Bali, to find out exactly how it plans to tackle this industry-wide problem
Big Interview: How new start-up Layla promises to fix travel inspiration and discovery
Newly-launched travel recommendation app Layla only went live in November, but the AI-first company is already causing quite the stir thanks to its two well-known founders, its backing by investors that have been pivotal to the travel industry, and its consultation by an established industry player.
The visionaries behind Layla are its two co-founders, Jeremy Jauncey, co-founder of Beautiful Destinations and Saad Saeed, co-founder of Unicorn grocery delivery firm Flink.
Their belief is simple - how can they do inspiration and discovery better through redefining search, as traditional search is “not going to exist in the future”.
In their bid to achieve that, they’ve created Layla, a travel agent that “knows the entire world” and is also “kind of your best” to give you “really good recommendations” that you visualise as well.
The fact that “the industry has wanted to fix this problem for a really long time” made it an easy feat for them to recruit travel titans such Lastminute.com’s co-founder Brent Hoberman, Booking.com’s co-founder Andy Phillips and Skyscanner's co-founder Barry Smith, as investors, and sought-after consultant Alex Gisbert of XEA.
Jauncey said: “We presented the combined capabilities that we had and the vision that we saw and I think maybe we presented them in a way that they’d all hoped they might have seen earlier in their careers or even tried to crack themselves, so they really bought into the vision.”
“We definitely see Layla as this combination between adding value to the consumer by improving the search experience, giving amazing content and giving relevant results but actually also delivering massive value to the travel and tourism industry by unlocking all of these billions of transactions that happened in social media.
“You might see that beautiful waterfall video on Instagram and then go through however many different websites before you ultimately land on booking the transaction and that whole space is very convoluted, as it happens on lots of different platforms,” he said.
“And we want to be the guys that basically collapse the funnel and bring the two things together.”
Technology is at Layla’s core, whether it's in the app or the Instagram integration, but it took some figuring out what was essential to set it up for success.
Saeed said: “It’s definitely not easy trying to predict what would make sense in six months and what should build that somebody else is not going to build ten times better than you already.
“Video will play a big role, so what we basically invested in quite heavily were these computer vision models as well to try and figure out what kind of video is really attracting users.
“We started investing into how we can build on all of the content that Beautiful Destinations has been perfecting over the last decade, in terms of how we curated this content engine from all the creators where we are basically ingesting all of the videos, then labelling it, tagging it to the right locations, putting the right booking elements together with it.
He added: “It’s basically trying to build this whole 360 overview, so that if you wanted to go to an area in Italy, this is how the hotel will look, this is how the beach is going to look and trying to really visualise that trip for you.”
The technology in place wouldn’t be much without the data and they're working on “trying to have the best data out there”.
One video can have up to 20,000 data points and the team is working with partners to build out its recommendations so it can be optimised and not like other “generic” models.
"With the advent of Gen-AI and LLMs, it has never been easier to automate tasks and personalise experiences on digital products. However, generic outputs, and complex UX navigations lead to user dissatisfaction," said Sardar Bali, co-founder and director of product of Layla.
"Layla aims to serve multimodal, immersive travel solutions in a seamless yet controllable fashion," he said.
Tapping into Beautiful Destinations engagement, trending insights of which destinations are becoming popular and which destinations are being talked about provides Layla with a “competitive advantage” that Jauncey doesn’t think others in the space will be able to generate.
A huge amount of work was also invested in Layla’s personality models, with a specific drive to create Layla as a “relatable person”.
Expect a “fun experience” that “deeply” knows you, expect sass, humour and knowledge, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself “aspiring to be like”.
When asked what’s next for Layla, the next round of funding may come sooner than planned for the team as they’ve already had interest for a follow-on funding round off the back of this one.
“I think now that the product is out and people can see what’s possible, they’re really excited about funding our future growth”, said Jauncey.
The £3 million investment raised will be used for further product development and both feel there’s a lot they can build on.
From expanding into other messaging services and meta social apps, to new “exciting” proprietary technology, such as dynamic packages and engineering a creator economy with a platform so content creators can share in the economics for any bookings they drive off the back of it, the future looks promising for Layla.