Today, the travel market is undergoing major transformation: large rental aggregators like Airbnb began to offer personalized travel services, and package tours are being replaced by individually targeted tours. The trend toward personalized travel is strong, and it’s growing exponentially with people hungry for travelling due to the pandemic restrictions, but expecting flexibility.
The story of creating our YouTravel.me platform began, as it often happens, with our own frustrating experience with travel services. When buying a tour to China, we trusted a tour operator and encountered many disappointments, ranging from a 5-hour flight delay to unpleasant talks with a tour guide. Upon our return, we tried to find something for individual travel arrangements. While doing so, we found out that the ideal trips are organized by travel experts, i.e. professional guides who are passionate about their craft and their country, but too small to promote or advertise their business. Then we decided to try creating a sort of marketplace for such services by investing $10,000 in the development of our website and advertising.
We did not immediately find the right software developer, but when the right CTO was found, the platform instantly began to grow and engage its first clients. We also did not immediately find the right person to promote the platform on social media. Generally speaking, marketing a platform like this is different from marketing travel per se. We had to tackle a lot of problems before we could set this up professionally. However, over time that issue was resolved as well.
How we work with travel experts
The primary idea is to gather in one place as many exciting tours from interesting and passionate guides as possible. The service is focused on small tour organizers, whose turnover does not exceed $1,500,000 a year. We understand that small organizers offer very interesting tours. They include gastronomic experiences, yoga, and special cultural programs. However, they often lack the resources to market and scale. The marketplace takes care of that part of their work.
We verify the experts who register on the platform. What matters to us is their work experience, financial sustainability and social media activity. On the platform, we only register professionals with proven experience and reputation.
The cost of commission that the guides pay to the platform is 15 percent of the cost of the tour. Currently, there are 3,966 guides registered on the platform offering 14,528 tours in 130 different countries.
What happens if tours are canceled
The pandemic highlighted the potential problems of this industry. I think all other tourism professionals would agree. When the suspension of flights was announced in early 2020, refund requests started coming in from the customers. We studied the practice of those who had already encountered similar problems and decided to work through all the requests. We offered customers either to reschedule their trip to other dates, or to receive special certificates, or to refund their money. We gave the guides back the commissions they had paid to the platform. We lost 75 percent of our revenue in one month, but the credibility of the platform increased tremendously. We will continue this policy because we want to work long-term.
How we’re diversifying
We’ve added an education component to our business. In March 2020, we launched BeGuide, a platform offering online lectures from travel experts who have been in business for 10+ years. We use a subscription model, charging just over $10 a year for access to all courses. The individual tour market is growing and we’re seeing more and more emerging experts, so our goal is to professionalize them. That way we can be confident in the top quality of what we’re offering. This educational project allowed us to recoup 35 percent of our lost revenue in just 2 months after launching it.
So far, we have 43 people on our team and our turnover in 2020 was $3 million, compared to $1 million in 2019. We know how to scale this business, and we’re ready to grow it in new markets.