“Is he coming along? I haven’t received a confirmation from him yet. Should I book for him as well?” Usually we have lot of such conversations when trying to plan a trip for a group. Lot of conference calls, follow up calls, bank transfers, unconfirmed travellers, endless mail threads, vague itineraries and infinite suggestions make the process a nightmare for the organiser. One thing I have learned organising all those group trips back in college is that even after spending weeks to get everything right, there will be people within the group who won’t have the complete information about the trip.
But recently we came across a startup known as WeTravel. It is a simple platform that would let you handle all the hassles of a group trip with ease. After a simple sign up process, you can enter the details of the trip including the itinerary, number of people, sign up amount & total amount and then invite your friends to join. Using WeTravel, you don’t have to explain the whole itinerary to everyone or remind them to pay you in time. Not only that but it serves as a platform for travel enthusiast who are always looking for new people to travel with.
It was started by Johannes Koeppel, along with Garib whom he describes as a tech genius and Zaky who handles the Business Development. Garib Mehdiyev comes with a very strong technical background and has years of Dev-Ops and IT management experience. He founded his own IT company before joining hands with Johannes for WeTravel. Johannes is an avid traveller always seeking new adventures and has taken up many jobs in different countries only so that he can experience a new place. We got in touch with him to know more about WeTravel. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:
What was the idea behind WeTravel?
I was working in travel industry for a while but after that I was living abroad for a long time in Central Asia. I often used to organise group trips and I met many semi-professional or professional tour operators who would organise group trips not necessarily for agencies. While talking to other people who lead trips, I realised that we always face the same issues. First is that it is hard to find travellers and promote the trip properly and secondly there was the issue of logistics. Coordinating travellers is difficult. It often requires hundreds of emails asking for various details. Then there is the problem of collecting money from everyone. With large groups, you collect deposit and then you get the full amount. So you often have to go back to everyone asking for money.
This is where the idea of WeTravel came in, a platform for anyone who organises group tours. In the beginning it was just for tour professionals and semi professionals but as we developed, lot more people started using it as a public platform. We are trying to give people a tool that saves them lot of time and in case of international trips, money too. We want to turn it into a marketplace for unique experiences in the years to come.
With the option of Public Trips on the platform, how are you ensuring the reliability of hosts?
We always keep an eye on the new trips that go up on the website. We check the itinerary in detail to make sure that it makes sense in the first place. We connect with the host whenever required, meet with them, call them over skype, check the past trips that they have hosted and talk to at least two travellers picked randomly. Most of the people hosting public trips have some experience of hosting trips using other platforms like Facebook so it isn’t hard to find people from their former trips. So we ask them relevant questions about the experience and reliability and this way we test for quality.
Of course we also have all the standard checks in place like phone verification, ID verification, passport verification and social media verification. We also have review functions in place so with more trips being hosted on WeTravel, the credibility will go up even further.
Do you get requests from travel agencies to sell their packages on your platform?
The objective is to offer the best experience to our users. If it is a small specialised travel agency offering authentic and unique tours, we are happy to welcome them on our website, given that it has a face on the front and not a brand. However we had requests from large agencies to offer packages but they don’t fit in here at this point.
How do you handle cancellations in case of public trips?
In most cases it is left to the host as when they sign up, they have the option to add a cancellation policy and they have to pay a certain amount before they can get customers. For trips that don’t specify a cancellation policy, we have an industry standard cancellation policy.
What are your revenue options with WeTravel?
We have got multiple options for revenue here. Suppose you sign up for a trip to San Francisco for a group of 25 people from India, you may or may not have a travel agent in mind already to make your arrangements. When you sign up, we will contact you to offer different partners that have been recommended by other trip organisers on our platform. If you choose one of our partners, we get a share from them. Of course it is just a suggestion and the organisers can choose to not go for any DMC from our suggestions.
The other option that will go live soon is that we will automatically show you flights, insurance, group accommodation options using APIs from our partners. It would work on a pay per action structure. We don’t really plan to make it a booking platform but they are just in place to make the whole experience seamless so that people don’t have to jump around on different platforms. With these suggestions, we effectively offer the best options because at times, even the organisers aren’t very well aware of the destination and the prices for same services vary widely in different markets. With the best options available right away, at least they know what the right price is.
What are your expansion plans in terms of geography?
We already have a translation model in place for the platform. Right now with our payment providers, we can provide the service in US. When we move out, I think the first ones would be English speaking counties like England, Australia and maybe even India. Then we will move to China or Latin American market in second phase.
Johannes has spent large part of his life travelling to new places and looking for new adventures. He had some really interesting travel stories to tell and with WeTravel, his team is trying to help more people experience the same. You can visit their website here. You can also follow them on Facebook for some travel stories and more updates.