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The personal touch: linking tourists directly to unique experiences
TouristLink is a rapidly growing social travel network that aims to link travellers directly with small travel providers. Pamela Whitby talks to the founder about delivering the right deals at the right time and why personalisation really does matter.
We already have the likes of Trippy and Gogobot, among countless others, so do we really need another travel social network? For David Urmann, the founder of India-based TouristLink, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘no’. “You definitely don’t need another social network unless you can offer something truly unique,” he says.
So what exactly is unique about India-based TouristLink, which recently won the EyeforTravel Asia social media and mobile solution award? The basic idea, says Urmann, is to connect travellers with small travel providers, which include anything from from the small tour operator in Nairobi to a travel agent offering car rentals in Rajasthan or an individual tour guide in Barcelona. Increasingly travellers are looking for unique, individual, truly local experiences, which very often the standardised tour package fails to deliver. The demand is certainly there: research from PhoCusWright shows that travellers book an estimated $85bn worth of travel through small providers.
Of course there are many other sites out there offering similar services but Urmann believes that his company differentiates on a number of levels. For one, unlike many other social travel sites the one-year-old TouristLink is not trying to get individual travellers to engage with each other. “If travellers are going to be social, they already have Facebook,” says Urmann. “To get travellers to engage on a social platform like this, you need to bring in a provider and a product that the traveller is looking for.”
With 2,000 small travel providers now featured on the site, and 125,000 verified attractions, that is exactly what TouristLink can offer the traveller. Each provider has a detailed profile where they can add their property or service, upload photographs and legitimate deals that are personally verified by TouristLink. According to Urmann, the tour operators and travel providers are the most active and motivated members on the site, not the travellers themselves.
Free for both businesses and travellers, TouristLink is a fully-fledged social network; users can create their own customised lists, add their own pictures, put together their own tour guides and so on which can then be exported to other social networks like Facebook or Twitter or converted to a PDF file to email. A useful feature is the ability to search on a destination to find out who is around to help with anything from an airport pick up to a desert camel ride. “We link tourists directly with small, reputable travel operators,” explains Urmann.
The good news is that he site is getting about 5,000 visitors a day which he puts down to his strong background in search engine optimisation and the quality of the content on the site. Aside from socially generated content, TouristLink has content arrangements with around 40 government tourism organisations. What is more, the site ranks highly for long tail keywords (long tail key words tend to be less popular terms but when targeted collectively can deliver significant traffic and improved sales).
TouristLink works on a commission basis for deals done and in June launched its marketing services arm to help small operators, which sometimes struggle with marketing their own services. “We will help them take the best pictures, write the best description of their business and then work with them to market very specific packages or deals to travellers,” says Urmann, who says TouristLink wil cherry pick the best providers to offer truly great deals. The marketing services side of the business launched in June and in that month it delivered revenues of $34,000. “It’s a small number but growing pretty fast,” he says.
When it comes to marketing, Urmann believes that the personalisation of the web is very much the future. “As travellers come to the site, we are actively gathering data to get a clear understanding of what the traveller might want to see or do on a trip,” he explains. The firm is currently working a ‘trip board’ where travellers will be able to post their travel requirements online. These will then be pushed out in an email to travel operators telling them that a traveller will be in their neck of the woods. That agent or guide can then make an offer based on a particular travellers trip plans. “What we’re aiming for is truly contextual targeting,” says Urmann.
According to Urmann, another way TouristLink differentiates from the competition is that it allows travel providers to work directly with the traveller to truly customise the trip they want. Going forward the aim is to hone in on the interaction points between travellers and travel providers to deliver the right offer at the right time and one that meets the very personal needs of every individual.