Krishna Teja, a computer science graduate from University of Toronto, went on a backpacking trip to Europe in 2011. While, the trip was quite enjoyable for him, the planning wasn’t much of a good experience. On average, it took him close to two hours every day for a month to plan his perfect trip. He cherishes his remarkable trip, he also shudders at the thought of coming up with a practical itinerary for future trips. Information overload on the internet, outdated, contradictory travel information and hardly any local perspectives on the destination made the planning process very time consuming and inefficient for him. Krishna decided to find a solution to this and Think Places was born.Find places, see places, experience places online and now Think Places? How do you do that?
When Think Places started, the product revolved around crowd-sourced itineraries. Travelers could search and create itineraries on their platform. Soon, they realized that users are looking for a more personalized experience and to quickly plan their travel with insights from a trusted source. They started experimenting with the idea of connecting their users to a well traveled expert to help plan their trip. Users liked it and Think Places became a platform for travellers to connect with an expert to plan a personalised and palatable trip by getting accurate information about places.
The process of connecting with experts is completely automated. Once the user chooses an expert, they are connected via a message centre. The message centre is the point of contact between the user and expert. Then they can chat and decide on a convenient time for a call. Any follow up questions will also be answered by the expert via the message centre. Once the call is scheduled, the expert virtually sits with the user on Skype and plans the travel in a way that closely involves the user and their interests. Once the itinerary is published, users are able to get a virtual tour of each of the places suggested by the expert. This is only possible where Google street view exists as they are using the street view API.
The travel experts are brought on board if they meet at least 3 out of these 4 requirements: their articles have been featured on popular publications like Forbes Travel, Nat Geo, Lonely planet, New York Times etc, they have written a guidebook or have covered the place professionally on several assignments, they have travelled extensively or lived in the place for at least 2 years and they maintain a popular blog with the latest information about places they advise on.What is special with Think Places?
They currently have around 40 experts who cover 61 countries. Think Places is a marketplace where the experts charge what they think is reasonable (within certain guidelines). On average, their experts charge about $30, which includes a consultation time of 20 minutes, a customized itinerary for up to 5 days and answering follow up questions if any from the travelers. Each expert has 3 pricing options depending on the duration of the trip and length of the call. Here is an example: http://thinkplaces.com/pricing/147. Their revenue model is straight forward, they take 15% commission on each transaction. So if an expert charges $30, they keep $4.5.
They are currently focusing on travelers from India and the US going on international trips. Their ideal travelers are families, couples and young professionals who don’t have time to plan their travel but are looking for an authentic experience. They have a lot of competition in form of travel agencies and online recommendation platforms like Trip Advisor. Krishna says, “There is nothing out there that directly puts you in touch with a travel expert at an affordable cost. Sometimes we are asked, ‘why a Think Places expert and not a travel agent?' The answer is simple. Unlike travel agents who spend most of their days in an office, these experts spend their time out there exploring the world and staying up-to-date on the latest in travel. They don't make any commission on the recommendations they make, so they will not push any hotel, route or product without firsthand experience.”
What lies ahead the curve?
Scaling this solution without compromising on quality would be a challenge. As their customer base increases, they also need to increase the list of experts and finding high quality experts is not going to be easy. Many ‘travel experts’ are not really experts at all, just long-term travelers with opinions. Think Places aims to simplify travel planning. Krishna says, “In the future, we want travelers to be able to instantly connect with experts in a click of a button. Imagine if you were thinking of a scuba diving trip to Thailand, and you can instantly talk to a person who has scuba dived all over Thailand. This will revolutionize the way people plan their trips.”
Currently, they have a promotion going on where they are offering a free 10 minute call with experts. If the user does not like the service, he gets a complete refund. Checkout Think Places and let us know the experience of thinking places with a travel expert.
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