Mumbai-based travel tech startup makes planning for holidays to Thailand and Indonesia as easy as chatting with a bot named ‘Sparrow.’
Planning a holiday is often a painstaking and time-consuming affair. From initial research and chats with friends and family to learn about their experiences to getting down to the nitty-gritties of trip planning like bookings and drawing up a checklist of must-do and must-see things, it can be a lot of work. Ithaka wants to take the sweat out of travel planning.
Founded by IIT-Bombay graduates Ameya Sahasrabudhe and Rahul Singh in 2015, Ithaka started off as a marketplace for travel experiences and local experience bookings, but the founders soon realised the massive problem of travel planning.
Ameya says, “While we were trying to market our bookings business, we figured that there was a huge demand in terms of real-time help for travellers in their journey. Hence, we ventured in with the 100 percent chat-based assistance model.”
Ithaka was originally launched as a Whatsapp number and later transformed itself as Android and iOS applications. The Mumbai-based startup only plans trips to Thailand and Indonesia at present, and helps travellers plan their entire trip from choosing destinations to booking flights and hotels to drawing up itineraries of local activities.
A user may download the application and chat with a bot named ‘Sparrow’. They have a hybrid human-bot model.
The startup earns revenue by collaborating with local companies, and operators and vendors selling activities and experiences, and charging a commission.
Claiming more than 30,000 app downloads so far, Ameya says the platform has helped plan trips for over 15,000 people. According to him, the startup logs sales worth Rs 15-20 lakh every month, and is growing at 33 percent month on month.
Initially bootstrapped, Ithaka raised Rs 2.15 crore from angel investors earlier this year.
How did it start?
Ameya and Rahul, after graduating, had taken up corporate roles in Schlumberger and Gulftalent Dubai, respectively. However, the travel bug took them on many backpacking trips.
Ameya says, “I backpacked across Southeast Asia for two and a half months — Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. During my trip, it dawned on me that this was all I really wanted to do — travel.”
Like Ameya, Rahul too was hooked to traveling. Over a few discussions, they realised they really wanted to be associated with travel and came up with the idea of Ithaka. They soon figured out the need to have a platform and launched an on-demand service to help people plan and execute their trips.
“We started with the chat-based model to understand the psyche of travellers. Once we started getting a hang of their apprehensions and talk points, we eventually automated the procedure, thereby cutting 70-80 percent of our chat time,” explains Ameya.
After Thailand and Indonesia, the founders plan to expand their service across Southeast Asia.
The chat app allows users to ask questions about a variety of things, including foreign exchange stands, ATMs, and places with wifi.
They currently have a team of 25 people working across chats, tech, product, marketing, and data.
The team at Ithaka also uses machine learning to build different user profiles. It helps the team to recommend plans directly to users without the need of an expert. Customisation of itineraries is possible at any point of time.
The market landscape
The online travel market is projected to be a $1.09 trillion industry by 2022, logging a CAGR of 11.1 percent. Much of this growth is expected to come from the Asia-Pacific region, with India and China being the most lucrative markets.
The growth is attributed to an increase in disposable income, rise in the middle-class segment, and greater penetration of Internet facilities.
There are quite a few players which have entered the travel space like Wandertrails, SavvyMob, ixigo, Repup, Travel Triangle, etc.
“We do not sell package tours. We help you plan an amazing trip for yourself, and are always one text away from anything you need in destination,” says Ameya.
As for their future plans, Ameya says, “We are focused on SE Asia right now because of its potential and horrendously unorganised travel sector. We want to be the method in this madness.”
The team also wants to invest more in machine learning and natural language processing to further automate processes.