The Five Travel Startups You Need To Know

20 Jan 2011 in Startups & Technology

Five Yearsphoto © 2009 Michael Ruiz | more info (via: Wylio)


A few days ago, I wrote about the problem of planning tourist trips and how I want to be able to choose pre-selected, step-by-step daily itineraries for cool things to do on every trip I take. I don’t want to have to sift through hundreds of recommended things to see, restaurants to eat at, etc. I used NYC as my example travel destination, and I will continue to use NYC as my example throughout this post.

Today, I will explore 5 companies in the ‘social travel space’ that I believe you need to know about. I will briefly describe each company, determine how they solve the problem I highlighted in my previous post, and list any information I can find on their financing rounds to date.

Let’s get started. Let me know which site you prefer using (and, why) in the comments!


One of the newest players in the ‘social travel space’ is Gogobot. Founded last June 2010 and launched in November, I like to think of it as the ‘sleeper startup’ in the space. Two days ago, Michael Arrington wrote that Gogobot is “extremely well designed” and “one of my favorite new startups of 2010″. Gogobot is “harnessing the power of the social web to revolutionize travel” by trying to create an experience where your trusted friends help answer your questions and make recommendations as you plan your trip.

A search for New York City shows a couple recent questions about the city, specific places in the city that were reviewed by friends of mine using Gogobot, and a ‘digestible’ list of just 6 user reviews about the city. You can browse the tabs “Things To Do”, “Hotels”, “Restaurants”, and more. The ‘things to do’ tab brings up a ton of choices, but lets you select a button that says ‘I Want To Go’ so you could build a daily agenda.

Gogobot’s CEO and Co-Founder Travis Katz left a thorough comment on my previous post, pointing out a complexity with the ‘daily itinerary’ solution that I’ve proposed:

The challenge is that every person is different, and that as a result the kind of things I like to do may be very different from yours, depending on all sorts of factors from age, interests, budget, whether I am single or married, with kids or without.

In December, Travis traveled to NYC for 3 days and used Gogobot to source recommendations from his friends on Twitter and Facebook for restaurants and bars to go to in the Meatpacking district. He got 47 responses, and you can see them here. However, new users like myself need more friends on the site before it will become as useful as it is for Travis.

The startup raised US $4 Million in its series A financing round. Participants included heavyweights like Google CEO Eric Schmidt‘s investment vehicle Innovation Endeavors; widely regarded angel investor and GM of Square, Keith Rabois; and MySpace Co-Founder and former CEO, Chris DeWolfe, among others (source: CrunchBase).


One rather large company in the space is TripAdvisor, which is a part travel guide, part travel research website that provides reviews and information to help you plan your trips more effectively. Launched in 2000 by Founder and CEO Stephen Kaufer, the coolest feature of TripAdvisor might be their inspiration page, which allows users to choose between different types of trips and regions before suggesting the best places to go. About a month ago they integrated with Facebook’s Instant Personalization to help surface your friends’ reviews based on your personal data. But, the site stops way short from recommending a step-by-step, daily agenda for your trip.

They have made US $12 Million of acquisitions since 2007 (source: CrunchBase).


Dopplr‘s Co-Founder and CEO Lisa Sounio launched the UK-based startup in 2007 as an “online service that lets frequent travelers share future travel plans with friends”. Beyond that, you can also “find unique tips for cities around the world” and “get travel advice from other smart travellers.” If you do a search for New York City, Dopplr breaks down your options into tabs titled “Overview”, “Eat”, “Stay”, “Explore”, and more. The problem? There are still pages and pages of endless options, making me feel somewhat paralyzed with an overabundance of choice.

Nokia acquired the company in 2009 for somewhere between US $15-22 Million (source: CrunchBase).


Bay area startup Offbeat Guides beta creates on-demand, customized travel guides for travelers willing to pay either $10 for a guide in PDF format or $25 for both a PDF and printed travel guide. Started by Dave Sifry (past founder of Technorati), Offbeat’s guides include things like updated weather forecasts, events that will be happening nearby during your visit, and more. Unfortunately, this service is not free and it is solving a different problem than the one I am focused on.

For the traveler who wants a recommended plan for each day, it falls short of offering detailed daily agendas to choose from. However, I imagine the guides could be quite useful for the traveler who wants a ‘playbook’ to help her/him audible their initial plan for the day on the fly.

The startup raised less than a million US dollars (the founder Dave Sifry told Michael Arrington “few hundred thousand dollars”) of seed funding back in the spring of 2008 (source: TechCrunch).


Last – but not necessarily least – is the Finland-based startup TripSay. Founded by Juha Huttunen and Leo Koivulehto, TripSay is a travel site that allows users to share their trips while encouraging them to connect with friends and “exchange insider tips”. TechCrunch’s Co-Editor Erick Schonfeld wrote that “TripSay combines social recommendations with a travel search engine that auto-suggests cities, pubs, hotels, and the like as you type them in.” But in my experience, it auto-suggests too many options. I did a search for New York City ‘recommendations on a map’ and found an endless news feed of tips, pictures, and random comments.

The site has some pretty neat features, but falls short of providing the daily agenda of activities that I am looking for. I want a short list of possible itineraries to choose from. Itineraries that are curated from a combination of my trusted friends and some sort of ‘personalized recommendation technology’.


BONUS (Startup To Watch):

Leave it to Twitter (specifically, my bro Nick Rovisa‘s recommendation) to help me discover one of the coolest startups in the space: Wanderfly. Co-Founded by Evan Schneyer (current CEO) and advised by the legend Jason Calacanis, Wanderfly has positioned itself as a “travel inspiration site” that aims to simplify its users’ trip planning experience by enabling you to set a budget and select your interests for the trip. It then uses a recommendation engine (YES, now we’re talking) that combines information from Foursquare, Yelp, Lonely Planet, and even Expedia to plan a trip completely, suggesting hotels, things to do, and more (see what it cooked up for me when I tested it).

Keep an eye on Wanderfly.


So, what do You think? Will one of these companies launch a feature or product that more fully solves the problem I have highlighted? Or, is there a startup I’ve missed that solves the problem better than all of the companies I profiled? Which of the above companies do you use, and why? If you sign up for any of the services, please let me know about your experience.

  • Peter Ehrlich

    Cool site I ran accross at one point, it arranges city tours from local peoples. Seems pretty successful in europe, i think! (been a while since i checked)

  • JohnExley

    Good looks bro! Thanks for adding. This could be a useful addition to the traveler who doesn’t know where to start when they’ve arrived to a city for the first time without much planning.

    Also, it might be neat if the “personal itinerary recommendation engine’ that I dream for would also pull data from localyte and suggest scheduling a tour as part of the agenda it automatically creates…you know?

    Thanks for jumping in here and adding that my man. Enjoy Cambodia and keep it moving. – X

  • Ariel Camus

    Hi John!

    I’m cofounder of Tourist Eye (, a web & mobile travel guide tailored for each person. I recommend you to try our trip planner and our recommendation engine. It’d be amazing to know what you think about our product.

  • JohnExley

    Hey @967abd6c72abeb086c004c2abe29f672:disqus, THANK YOU for leaving the comment mate. I really appreciate it, and also…impressive hustle man – can’t believe you sought out this post which I wrote in JANUARY. Wow! 

    So, I just checked out the website. It looks very promising mate…very similar to what I was describing. Let’s discuss this over email, mine is exleyja @ gmail .com. 

    Where have you built the product? It is on Android and iPhone, yes? Just signed up and played with the interface. Again, it seems promising. I like the feel of it. Quite simple, not overwhelming, and yet a strong product. Email me and let’s talk more man. Again, thanks for the comment – John X