Reflecting the waves of tourist buses clogging city roads, Australia’s international tourism numbers are continuously increasing – roughly 4.3 million international visitors ventured down under for the purpose of travel in the year to February.
In response to this large market, the startup landscape has seen a plethora of ‘social travel’ solutions emerge; from Travello to HerePin, Triplify, Backpackr, Bindle, Thubit and timeBlend, many local startups have launched looking to become the next big thing in the travel world.
An international startup launching in Australia today is KimKim, looking to shift the experience of booking travel. Through an online platform, KimKim connects customers looking to book a trip with a travel specialist either based, or well versed in, the country a customer wants to travel to.
Over an online chat, the travel agent will work beside the customer to put the trip together, with the ability to share links, pictures, itineraries and other documents over the chat for the customer to access.
Once a traveller is on their trip, they’re able to use KimKim to contact the travel professional if any issues arise or to ask additional questions, with the response time decreased due to the likelihood of the travel agent residing in the same country the traveller is staying in.
As the startup’s founder, Joost Schreve put it, travellers are able to “troubleshoot in real time”.
“We’re reinventing that travel agent model in a more distributed way,” he said.
A veteran of the travel industry, Schreve previously founded a travel startup called ‘EveryTrail’, acquired by global travel platform TripAdvisor in 2011. The entrepreneur then moved on to working within TripAdvisor, an experience he said provided him a lot of valuable insight into the travel industry, especially considering the company’s massive 390 million average monthly unique user base.
Seeing what both did and didn’t work in the travel space, five years into the TripAdvisor gig Schreve decided it was time to move on and launch his own startup again, based around bringing the travel specialist role into the digital age.
“When you try to plan and book a great trip, it’s a very complex process. You can either do it completely yourself, which a lot of people do when they’re a bit younger and they’ve got the time…at some point [however], you get tired of trying to wing it and want someone to help organise it. There aren’t really any digital solutions for that, other than going to traditional travel agent,” explained Schreve.
Launching roughly a year ago under the name ‘HiveTravel’, the startup soon adopted the more memorable (and admittedly a little odd) name, KimKim, inspired from an interaction between a customer and travel agent on the platform both named ‘Kim’.
Development was supported by funding from Silicon Valley angel investors, with the KimKim team moving to raise US$1.5 million (AU$2 million), and combine it with Schreve’s own contributions.
Using connections in the travel industry, Schreve onboarded two travel specialists from Iceland and Nepal onto the platform, locations picked thanks to their “smaller market” size and more streamlined travel options, which made it easier for the startup to handle the early testing stages.
Building out a network of specialists across Myanmar, Peru, Colombia, Jordan and now Sydney, Schreve said each travel expert has been vetted and interviewed by the KimKim, to ensure they’re up to scratch.
He added that most of the agents come to the platform as existing industry veterans in the travel industry with their own established booking business, and they use KimKim to acquire new clients and expand their offering from bricks and mortar stores to online. Leveraging the platform comes at a fee, of course, with 15 percent of the profit a travel specialist makes going to the startup.
Once on board, each travel specialist is monitored by KimKim to ensure they’re working beside the customer. The startup will also act as a middleman when connecting customers to specialists, a decision which is based on asking the customer a few basic questions while having them write a short description about the trip they’re imagining.
“We discovered the best way to get a customised trip is to get a few descriptions for them. It doesn’t have to be very long, just a few sentences from them. That’s then sent to our team to review the request, then connect them over chat to a specialist,” said Schreve.
Entering the chat room, customers are able to add in their travel buddies to share in the discussion, while the travel agent is also able to tag in their coworkers if need be.
Booking a trip from this point often requires some time of back and forth between the customer and travel expert, a process that Schreve explained is to make sure the agent has the time to put the best trip possible together to fit the customer’s needs.
“There’s usually a few version of the trip plan, so it can be roughly 20 days for a plan to be completed sorted. This doesn’t mean they’re chatting the full time, of course, but rather it’s a back and forth conversation…that can occur at any time. They may log off, and come back later,” said Schreve.
Following the launch in Australia, KimKim will soon be looking to raise funding again, as Schreve said the business is looking to build out its product, global travel specialist network and team numbers to deal with KimKim’s growing user base.
Image: Joost Schreve (left). Source: Supplied.
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