Isango (activities, tours and getaways on line). Interview with Daniele Beccari, Vice President Europe
Isango provide a great place to shop Holiday tours, sightseeing, attractions, activities and best things to do in 50 countries across the world.
This ambitious young start-up launched in October 2006 with a "simply goal" : create the best online travel site for experience-led products.
Daniele Beccari, Vice President, Europe tell us more about Isango and exchange with us some very interesting views about Travel 2.0 and travel social community.
> Daniele, can you tell some information about you and your job as Vice President, Europe for Isango
In the short term I am doing everything needed to help the business get the momentum it deserves – from long-term strategy to QA, fund raising and business development.
Over time my role will be entirely dedicated to managing the business in Europe, starting with the localization and launch in at least a couple of European countries in about 1 year from now. Most likely, these will be France and Germany.
> Tourism is a people business and a destination experience with personal encounters. You sell lot of great product around the World but what are your main goals in Europe and France for Isango?
There is nothing better than discovering a new place thanks to a local expert who can share with you the secrets and insights of their culture. Our founders couldn't find a single source gathering relevant and professional products available for online booking, and decided to go for it.
The main comment from our friends, families and initial beta visitors has been "I wasn't aware this was possible!". We can now expose the full richness and diversity of each country – from the most popular tourist attractions to the most peculiar interests and tastes. You can imagine that France has a lot more to offer than the Eiffel Tower. Did you know you can have a personal shopping assistant taking you around flea markets in Paris? Or a French cuisine class with a Countess in Montmartre?
At the same time, travellers are getting more familiar with DIY (do-it-yourself) planning. People book a flight on an airline web site, accommodation on a hotel portal, and where do they go for experiences? Well, now, on Isango. That's precisely the gap we want to fill.
> Who will use your services ? Do you have a target audience ? Isango it's B to C or could be B to B with deal with Oline Travel Ageny and GDS?
Our main site Isango.com is targeted at B2C. Our traffic has grown partly from word of mouth and partly from PPC campaigns, but we have kept the click spend minimal while we were optimizing the site for usability and SEO. We will progressively expand our campaigns and our PPC spend in a very controlled way.
We also use Isango.com as a showcase for B2B partners. We provide private labels or XML APIs to different type of partners such as lifestyle portals, airlines, OTAs or destination related sites. Our product category is complementary to everything else in the travel space, and we serve it on a platter: all in one place and with a great user interface. Plus, they get a share of the revenues… It's really a no brainer.
The GDS and traditional agencies channel instead is a big open question mark. Past attempts in the US to enable agencies to book individual excursions have failed, probably because traditional agents are more incentivised to sell full packages instead of custom made experiences. However technologies and mindsets are evolving, so we keep en eye on what's happening. Amadeus and Worldspan have both announced some initiatives in this space.
>For suppliers, do you work only with Destination Management Company? If I am a Resort or Hotel with great package product, can I sell through Isango?
I think about products in France like : "cours de cuisine" with great chef de cuisine , Resort with golf package, special activities like painting, cooking, Wine training + hotel and other value added product.
Every country has a different market structure so we are used to deal with a variety of partners. These can be large or small DMCs, independent operators, or niche aggregators specializing on a particular activity such as cooking or photography.
We also have a few short-duration packages (3-5 nights) for activities that require a longer stay, for example safaris. We don't have a pure hotel offer because we focus on experiences, but many of our customers are now asking for recommended hotels close to the place where they will go. Stay tuned.
> You promote an affiliate service. What are you looking for affiliate profil?
As mentioned above, we have many different affiliate profiles. Airlines like our product offer because it is very inspirational and provides the core reason to take a flight to a mid or long haul destination (see great exemple with Ryanair Tours & Activities). We basically provide their visitors with reasons to fill planes. To a certain extent, the same goes for rental car companies and hotel sites.
Instead, lifestyle or community portals use our system to deliver very unique and targeted offers to their members hence maintaining the core community values while monetizing their traffic.
Our internal customization and design teams can design each partner private label with a completely different look, hence providing them with the required brand consistency.
>User-generated content is transforming the way users research, interact and decide on their travel plans. What latest trends have you seen in this arena? How do you deal with this trend at Isango?
Following the example of TripAdvisor, travel community and review sites are popping up like mushrooms every other day, not to mention the exponential growth of travel blogs available on virtually all blogging communities.
On one hand, it's great news for consumers – more relevant information, more up to date, less commercial material. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make the difference between good content and noise. Take TripAdvisor again – the reviews can say everything and its opposite, not to mention the overload of ads and sponsored links.
We decided to take a different start. Our initial focus has been to enable excursions and activities for online distribution. The raw product material produced by local suppliers is so… unstructured, to use a polite term, that our editor teams had to rewrite everything from scratch to make it relevant for online users and sellable online.
We will certainly allow our own customers to write reviews and propose itineraries, with the goal to provide more relevant information and help customers with their travel decision. We do not plan to build another online travel community just for the sake of it. We will certainly partner with many of them, as we can provide them with the other half of the supply chain.
>How will Travel 2.0 affect the way travelers interact with suppliers and of course your customers?
There are two key concepts under the label of "Travel 2.0" with one common outcome: "good news for travellers – good news for good suppliers".
First, interactive UI technology and faster bandwidth enable online shopping experiences as never before, with much more evocative content such as expandable text, photo slide shows, videos and maps mesh-ups. All of this will certainly help users make more informed decision and force suppliers to be more transparent (good news for good suppliers).
Second, almost real time user feedback and community network effects can affect a supplier's reputation and business dramatically, in both ways. Once again this will be good news for good suppliers. Travelers will force bad suppliers to close shop.
>Yahoo! is one of the first companies to realise the potential of social networking and they plan to remain a key player in this business. They believe social media is the next generation of the Internet,.
Yahoo Answers, which Yahoo developed internally, has surpassed 90 million unique users and 250 million answers worldwide in 21 countries.
What do you think about the travel tools like :
- Trip Planner
- Yahoo answers and their travel category (a great source or gold mine for advises and potential traffic)
Both of these Yahoo tools are innovative and forward-looking, however very different in scope and value.
Trip Planner comes together with a number of other planning systems such as Homeandabroad, Triphub, VCarious, Iloho just to name a few, although they all have their specific flavour or focus.
Yahoo's planner is probably the most comprehensive because it builds upon other Yahoo's content areas. The question is about monetization – as soon as these tools become too commercial, people will fly away from them. The challenge is to strike the right balance between targeted content and noise.
Yahoo Answers is an impressive system but it's much more generic and unspecific. Half of the answers are dubious replies such as "I agree with Jenny88". It's a good tool for mass monetizing on contextual sponsored links. We have decided to stay out of it, but we randomly take a look to monitor trends and questions relative to our content.
>Canadian Tourism Commission ( www.canada.travel) is working on a very exciting and innovative initiative with Real Travel (a travel social networking web site).
VisitSweden is in process to built a travel online community. Oregon stat in USA have also their travel community web site.
We see some great initiative in Germany or Austria market.
How Isango can deal with this new kind of travel community site? Can you deal with DMO who sells product?
"Communities" has been a buzzword for the last couple of years. The technology to support an online community is so simple and straightforward that the entry costs are now very low and it's great to see DMOs accessing it.
A different question is which communities will survive and multiply, by building a sustainable business model? Powering tourist board communities is a good way for Travel 2.0 start-ups to get some cash oxygen while trying to monetize traffic through ads, sponsorships, merchandising or subscriptions.
Isango can provide any community site with an affiliate revenue stream of products meeting the scope of the community members. However, if we take the specific case of DMOs, these are neutral, non-profit entities who in general are not allowed to sell online and only refer to their member services. For those who would be allowed to sell online, we of course provide a powerful proposition. In fact, Isango! offering was initially shaped in close partnership with some tourist boards who obviously loved the ideas as we were making their jobs easier…by providing inspiration for the destination.
> Any advise for people who want to use Isango?
The site navigation itself is simple and everyone can use it.
Maybe the most spectacular results can be found by using the keyword search, which is based on our own "human" tagging effort. Try to type anything you like – diamonds, penguins, star wars, racing, even sex… we have something related. Try it!
People have got many questions before embarking on travel experiences and we invite everyone to ask anything on every product page. We take all questions seriously and do our best to answer. The last good question we had was "How should we dress up for the Moulin Rouge show?".
We also have an efficient email support and English speakers can call our hotline.
>What are your taste for:
I am Italian, my wife is Japanese and we live in France with our 2-year old daughter, so most of our travelling in the past few years has been to see family and friends. As we always take the opportunity to see local attractions, we have recently enjoyed Stockholm, Stuttgart, Munich, Bern, Tokyo, Turin, Paris and Lyon.
For business, I have been a bit everywhere – Chile to Finland, US to Singapore.
Sydney is probably the most stunning mix of city and outdoor lifestyle I have seen, with the bay stretching inland and sailboats harboured right beneath the business district. It's as if we had London on the French Riviera. Fantastic.
When travelling with family we try to book serviced apartments or even small flats for short term stays, as it gives us more flexibility and independence. On business, I take anything conveniently located close to my meeting point to avoid loosing time in commuting.
I am passionate about anything Internet related… I have been an early user of "old things" like text based email, gopher, irc and MUDs, which have morphed into "new things" such as Thunderbird, Firefox, Skype or Second Life. But I am blown away every day by the creativity of the people using the net for business or socializing.
>You have the micro Thanks Daniele, one on the best interview I made so fare !
I guess some readers can contact Daniele ……
and make great business ;-)