Over the past twelve months there seems to have been a substantial number of startups trying to solve a particular issue in the travel market. The problem that I am referring to is connecting travellers around the world – a social network of sorts, specific to those of us wanting to get out and experience the ‘real’ side of the country we are visiting.
Personally, I am yet to be convinced that this is an actual problem needing to be solved. In fact I would say that when it comes to using mobile applications overseas, the vast majority of activity would be happening at locations where there is wifi (usually when among other travellers) and the bulk of what is being accessed digitally would be the already ‘sticky’ apps we have in our lives like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well dating applications like Tinder.
Further to that, it is yet to be proven that you can actually scale a travel focused social media platform to the point where it creates a billion dollar market; many of those that have attempted to do so in the last year have either shutdown or are experiencing very little to no traction with their venture.
Over the last year there has been a number of Australian startups building these types of travel apps. Triplify, Backpackr, Bindle, Thubit, and timeBlend are a few that come to mind immediately. The travel industry is a tough nut to crack, and many of the startups in the space either die or constantly pivot to keep themselves alive. Buuna, for instance, was a travel application that connected like-minded travellers, but traction died down all too soon. Today, Buuna is a Sydney-based app development agency.
Trippy, a social travel startup launched by J.R. Johnson in 2011, also struggled with growth. Interestingly, Johnson had experienced success in the travel industry. He previously sold VirtualTourist to TripAdvisor in 2008. But in May this year, Trippy temporarily shut down its website so that it could undergo “evolutionary changes”. After a major pivot, Trippy became a Q&A website for travellers, raising an additional USD$3.5 million after its initial $1.75 million.
While I have started to become a skeptic of the ‘connect like-minded travellers’ angle in travel tech, the fact that so many people are building startups of such a similar nature clearly indicates that there is at least some sort of problem there that needs solving. Maybe we are just missing that secret ingredient that will help it achieve the virality that’s needed to make money.
Brisbane based duo Ryan Hanly and Mark Cantoni are the founders of the newest player in the travel tech scene with their new venture Outbound.
Outbound connects like-minded travellers when they arrive in a new destination and allows travellers to connect in future destinations so they can ask questions share tips and recommendations with people that are actually already there.
The application also allows you to filter what type of traveller you wish to connect with, whether that is fellow backpackers, solo travellers, adventure travellers, corporate travellers, RV/caravaners, or families. Users have the ability to filter their search even further by parameters including age, gender, nationality, current country or different destinations. From there you can connect with travellers individually or via a group message to ask for advice, tips, or recommendations and organise activities together.
Many of the features included in the application are features that have already been present in various other travel apps. Having said that, the one feature that piqued my interest was the WiFi Finder function. In fact, I would say this feature could be the major selling point, especially because the functionality of this feature works offline. Personally when travelling, especially around Asia, an app telling me where to find the free WiFi and Hotspots in the city is something that would hold great value to me.
As I stated earlier, the sticky social applications we use when travelling already exist, but the WiFi feature helps facilitate people being able to use what they are used to using. So perhaps, just maybe, this may encourage potential users to explore other aspects and features of the platform. If that turns out to be the case, we may finally see some real traction within this travel tech vertical.