Emirati startup Tripzzle is launching itself at the crowded online travel search market and cofounder Ghaith Akkad believes its extra personalization will help them make it big.
"It’s a travel-recommendation engine that finds the best hotels that match your interests, especially if you’re looking for a travel destination and still haven’t decided,” Akkad said to Wamda.
The idea is to add an interest section to the usual search, be it for romance, a beach holiday, or sports.
Tripzzle’s concept was inspired by a personal need. Akkad has lived in the UAE for the past five years after leaving his native Syria, and last year was faced with an unusual conundrum: a quick way to scope out a potential holiday destination and find a suitable place to stay.
"We did not know where to go for vacation last year, especially because the situation in Syria makes it difficult for us to visit. The travel-booking engines we searched often assumed that users already know their destination, which wasn’t practical. We needed a quick and intelligent answer about new places we haven’t visited, but we couldn’t find one,” he said.
Tripzzle was launched in August 2014 by a team of five web developers, designers and digital marketers.
Because of fierce competition in the travel sector, the Tripzzle team is focusing on creating a unique marketing strategy to make sure they stand out.
"There are plenty of competitors, especially giants like Tripadvisor, Booking.com and Expedia, but we have a different approach. Rather than ask our users where they want to go, we ask them what they want to do (and when),” he said. “There are no platforms like this that generate a list of hotels and destinations according to the users’ preferences.”
The startup uses an in-house algorithm that doesn’t “take for granted the fact that users know their destination,” to classify over 160,000 hotels into a choice of about 100.
So far, Tripzzle has been marketed by word-of-mouth via sites such as YCombinator News and Reddit, and social media networks including Twitter. Coverage on other websites such as Lifehack have helped the startup attract a flow of users.
"After launching Tripzzle we received around 1,000 visitors in the first month," Akkad said. "Now we usually receive around 9,000 to 11,000 visitors monthly, an average of 30% repeated visits mostly from travel agencies who are looking for new suggestions based on our algorithm."
He added that the company is focusing on organic growth with close to zero advertising expenditures.
Tripzzle’s main challenge has been money. Akkad says although the project is reasonably simple it still needs a lot of capital. The team built and marketed the product from scratch thanks to their combined skills.
"It was a challenging-yet-fun journey. We almost gave up on the idea halfway through the development process because of all the typical complications and rocky beginnings of an early venture,” he said. “We needed to create several databases for countries, hotels, weather news, interests, average room price and others… This process had to be made easy, direct and very fast.
Making algorithms make money
He says the process of collecting and linking the information, structuring the database and improving the algorithm code took “hours”.
Akkad says that the site makes money every time a user books a hotel, which is why it’s important to have an algorithm that matches hotels with users.
He adds that they are, “basically targeting travelers who are looking for inspiration.
“It’s considered an easy yet costly target. Competition plays a big role here, considering that our marketing campaigns are limited."
Social networks, especially Twitter, are playing an important role in reaching out to people brainstorming travel destinations and hotel recommendations.
“More than 20% of our visitors come from Twitter. We’ve started working on a Facebook strategy to benefit from API Graph and Facebook friends, which would get us more personal recommendations."
Akkad says entrepreneurship DNA is in his blood, “but the UAE made it come true.”