According to an April, 2022, report by Arrivia, a U.S.-based travel rewards provider, almost one in three travellers turn to social media for trip inspiration. The numbers are even higher for younger travellers: 40 per cent of millennials and 60 per cent of Gen Zs say they’ve looked to social media for vacation ideas.
Many of these travel consumers rely on their favourite influencers and creators on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and so on for inspiration. However, it is not only a challenge for travellers to book or recreate trips they see on their feed, it is equally difficult for influencers with large social media followings to actually sell the travel they are showcasing on their platforms. Three tech startups have caught on to this challenge and are looking to solve it.
TrovaTrip, a Portland-based business that launched in December, 2017, offers more than 150 trip itineraries planned by vetted tour operators. Influencers select, promote and sell those trips and then travel with their followers. “Say you’re a yoga instructor, you’ve got a large social media following and you want to plan retreats,” says Lauren Schneider, the company’s co-founder and chief revenue officer. “But you don’t want to deal with the headache of booking your own accommodations and figuring out how to process payments. Instead, you use our platform.”
The company has more than 400 influencers using their product – a third of which are Canadian – as well as 15,000 travellers booked to date. In September, it announced raising US$15-million in Series A funding.
Then there’s Thatch, an app where influencers make their own multimedia travel guides – suggestions on where to eat, stay and so on – to sell in an online shop. They can also generate revenue by offering trip planning consultations or accepting tips from readers who enjoy their free content.
“Travel creators mostly make money in ways other than selling travel, like brand deals, advertising revenue and selling hoodies,” says West Askew, chief executive officer and co-founder of the San Francisco-based startup. “They just don’t have the tools they need to curate, merchandize and sell their travel knowledge in a modern format that their audience has come to expect.”
The company was founded in 2018, but the app and website in their current form have been live since February and the number of influencers using the product has grown 20 per cent month-over-month.
As for Austin, Tex.-based Luxury Travel Hackers, influencers will be able to design their own travel packages comparable to trips they’ve posted and shared before – complete with hotel bookings, flight reservations and so on – and then sell it online. Their followers can then book the trip as is or modify to their liking. “There is a massive gap between the ability to view content on social and actually find that trip online without spending 15-20 hours of individual research,” says Danny Lannon, CEO and chief marketing officer. “Additionally, creators don’t have a way to monetize their historic travel content and we’re providing the platform to be able to do that.”
The technology won’t be live for two months, but Luxury Travel Hackers has 300 influencers on its waitlist, including 25 per cent from Canada. Looking to the future, Lannon adds: “With newer platforms like TikTok and the rise of tools for creators, we’re only seeing this as something that will continue to grow over the next few years and beyond.”
Influencers weigh in on Thatch and TrovaTrip (and so far, it’s good news)
Jessica Rooks, @travelwithmeko, on Thatch
“When people travel to New York, they’re always asking what’s the best neighbourhood to stay in, so that’s one guide I made available for purchase. But I’ve made other ones for free, too. One thing I like about it is you can add little voice notes, external links and your own photos – so you can really personalize it when you’re writing.”
Jeffrey James Binney, @jeffreybinney, on TrovaTrip
“When I announced my first trip to Yellowstone, I was terrified nobody would be interested. How embarrassing to make a big hubbub about this trip only to have to cancel it because nobody booked. Luckily, it sold out in three hours. And it was an absolute success. My husband and I – and the attendees – had a blast.”
Jon Barr, Here Be Barr, on Thatch
“I was a little skeptical at first as I hear from plenty of brands. Once I started to use the app and built out a sample itinerary, I realized how helpful it is. It’s like the Shopify of travel guides. Drag and drop. The results were immediate. I had sales within the first hour and have racked up close to 30 in a week.”
Talaya George, @_asipoftee, on TrovaTrip
“I love hosting group hikes and camping trips, but also want to help people have the opportunity to travel outside the country as well. TrovaTrip does an amazing job with handling all logistics of the trip and allows for a more hands-off experience, which is what drew me to the company most.”