Group holiday tours can be exhausting: weeks spent in a bus with the same people, hurtling from destination to destination, stopping only to take a handful of pictures in front of famous landmarks and buy a few expensive souvenirs. Travellers these days are getting bored of having the same old experiences in tourist traps as everyone else, providing entrepreneurs with the perfect opportunity to jump in with new services to help facilitate unique experiences.
New York startup Embark.org has zeroed in on the adventure travel market, recently launching a peer-to-peer platform allowing both tour operators and individuals to create, host, and book adventure travel tours. Founded in 2011, the startup was originally an online community where adventure travellers could share their experiences.
John Wachunas, cofounder and COO, said that the business came together when a group of friends working in diverse industries – one is an airline pilot – decided to collaborate on something that represented their common interest: adventure.
“Our team strives to give the grassroots Embark.org community all the resources necessary to truly explore and experience the world: whether it’s through thousands of exciting activity summaries, in-depth personal blog articles, inspiring images and video, or the ability to host and book amazing adventures,” he said.
The global tour booking market is worth an estimated US$275 billion, growing at a rate of 3 percent annually.
The startup’s biggest competitor in the peer-to-peer travel space is Adventure.com, while Sydney-based startup AdventureHoney is also a similar offering (though the Australian startup focuses on smaller, local tour operators rather than individuals offering tours).
Though Wachunas acknowledges that it’s a crowded market, he said Embark.org’s competitive strategy is simple: keep the focus narrow, product quality high, and grow a community.
“By focusing our efforts on the travel niche we find the most rewarding, we’ve already been able to cultivate a grassroots community of passionate travelers who are sharing new, unique content daily. As we continue to grow and scale outward, we remain constantly engaged with this core in order to deliver features and services that cater exactly to what our community needs to stay inspired and explore the world,” he said.
Wachunas said the team will be focusing on building its ‘inventory’ of hosts and tours, and building trust between both sides of the marketplace by vetting hosts.
Having bootstrapped the development and launch of the platform, the startup has implemented a monetisation strategy, with Embark.org collecting a commission fee for every tour booking. The team will also be looking to put an advertising model in place.
Wachunas said that the Embark.org community has added around 2000 new members since the launch of the booking platform, and estimates that it will grow to 15,000 members by the end of the year.
“The now well-established P2P economy proves that travellers want a way to connect with local hosts who can deliver a more meaningful, well-rounded travel experience. As of yet, adventurers have been largely kept out of the loop, left to either dig through sites like TripAdvisor or get on a boat or bus with a group of travelers afraid to truly connect with foreign cultures,” Wachunas said.
“That’s exactly what we’ve changed, by providing our members with the ability to explore, create, book, and share incredibly unique, immersive local adventure tours with a community of passionate, like-minded travelers.”
The Embark.org team will be looking for investment over the coming year, as well as partnerships with companies like Airbnb.