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Every week at Skift we track the ups and downs of various travel startups and over the past five years, we’ve seen a lot of them, trust us.
Some of these are well on their way to becoming successes in their respective specialties. Others, not so much.
But having covered enough of these travel startups to know what works — and what doesn’t — we wanted to turn the tables and ask ourselves: What travel startup would some of our editors launch if they could?
These answers from some of Skift’s editorial team might surprise you, and we’d love to hear your feedback. Oh, and fair warning: If, indeed, one of you does go ahead and try to launch one of these ideas, we hope you’ll at least consider the editor who presented the idea as a co-founder.
A Millennial-Friendly Cruise Line
Why do millennials dislike cruising? Let’s be real: The idea of being trapped on a giant boat-shaped shopping mall with thousands of random people, including children and retirees, just isn’t appealing. Millennials want adventure and community when they travel, and it’s hard to experience either on a megaship.
So, let’s build a small, boutique cruise line aimed squarely for younger vacationers in the 18 to 36 age range. Buy a smallish, cheap ship from somewhere in China, and build a brand aesthetic around the vessel, positioning the cruise as steampunk adventure.
Sail short cruises out of major U.S. cities, no more than a long weekend in length. Have real boutique shopping on board, along with hipster food that changes along with current trends. Top-flight mixologists, fitness classes, gluten-free everything. Hostel-style accommodations with shared sleeping spaces for the more cost-sensitive cruisers, so they spend more time on deck drinking or gambling, with boutique-hotel inspired suites for those willing to spend more.
Oh, and absolutely no bingo on the Lido deck. — Andrew Sheivachman, Senior Writer
An Airport Information App
Everyone knows going through the airport is a joyless hassle — long security lines, crowded food courts, cookie-cutter stores. And leaving the airport is another headache: Policies differ from place to place on where or even whether ride-sharing is allowed, and public transportation options range from decent to abysmal, depending on the locale. All of these things can be researched in advance, but for frequent travelers who regularly end up in new airports, that would take precious time.
What could help, even a little? A service that delivers good real-time airport intelligence: The app would show TSA wait time, PreCheck hours of operation, a guide to restaurants and retail (with an emphasis on the good ones with local flair), what the ride-sharing policies are, where those services operate, what public transit is available, where pet relief areas are, what other passenger amenities exist. As a bonus, it would also highlight unique features at an airport, such as the T. Rex model in Pittsburgh, public art in Los Angeles or Miami, or brewery in Munich.
This might have similarities with GateGuru — which was not on this reporter’s radar — but we’d tweak some areas of interest (especially PreCheck availability, ride-sharing, and public transit) and emphasize curation over crowd-sourcing.
Maybe that kind of information would make travelers eager to get to the airport extra early for once. — Hannah Sampson, News Editor
A Platonic Tinder for Meeting Attendees and Thought Leaders
There is a rise of public and private organizations, social entrepreneurs, and urban citizen innovators who are trying to shift how people design and use cities more effectively, and who also want to promote their ideas to a global audience.
My startup is an online matchmaking platform that connects conference attendees with the people and enterprises in any given destination that are focused on advancing community development, diversity and inclusion, and innovative urban UX [user experience].
The end goal is a global network of travelers who discover and share successful ways to improve urban livability. — Greg Oates, SkiftX Editor
Easy Luggage Storage Solutions
Baggage has weighed down the daytripper, layover explorer, and traveler-with-hours-between-checkout-and-flight for too long.
There are luggage storage solutions all over the globe, but not nearly enough of them — and few easy ways to find all the options, whether friendly hotels that will hold luggage for a few hours or centrally located storage facilities.
In addition to more services, what travelers need is a guide with user ratings to all of the available storage spots that can provide locations, costs, times, and other details. — Hannah Sampson, News Editor
A Platform for Voluntourism Opportunities
I’d love to see someone provide useful intel on voluntourism. There are many companies that run tours, activities, and hotels designed to strengthen a disadvantaged community, and that’s a powerful marketing hook, but it can be difficult to trace where the traveler’s money actually goes.
Is the voluntourism company really empowering the local community? Is it upholding a neo-colonial framework whereby a foreign company benefits at the expense of the local community? What does it accomplish besides allowing the volunteers to feel altruistic?
I’m envisioning a platform that functions like brettapproved.com, which rates the accessibility level of hotels and other venues for travelers with disabilities. — Sarah Enelow, Assistant Editor
An OpenTable for Vacation Baby Sitters
The desire to travel and enjoy grown-up activities doesn’t vanish after adults start families. But parents can only ask an extended family member to look after their children so many times. That means that there are occasional trips when parents visit an unfamiliar destination and struggle to find a qualified sitter to watch their kids.
To fill that market need, someone should create an “OpenTable for vacation sitters.” There may be a modestly profitable business in creating a mobile app that plays matchmaker between parents posting jobs and qualified, vetted sitters who are either available at destinations or who can travel with parents.
To be sure, data on demand is limited. Sittercity, an app offering child care in the U.S. market, estimates that about only one out of every 10 queries are for sitters outside the parents’ home state, on average.
That said, there might be more demand if companies did a better job of marketing the “vacation sitters” concept.
Ordering sitters on an app is not a fresh idea, of course. UrbanSitter is a marketplace platform that helps parents connect with qualified sitters. It has raised $22 million to date from investors. But it is limited to offering its services in the U.S. Sittercity is a competitor that has raised more than $46 million in financing, but it is similarly focused on U.S. cities. Meanwhile, Sitter.com, NannyPoppinz, and Sensible Sitters are among the several other U.S. players. Overseas countries have regional players, like Kiidu in Bangkok.
Despite the existence of all of these platforms, I still see an opportunity in a sitter service. What’s missing is a service specifically for vacation sitters that effectively and explicitly marketed to travelers.
If the idea is so good, why hasn’t it happened yet? I chalk it up to a “cultural” thing. I suspect that the male-dominated, youth-focused tech culture of startup communities isn’t that interested in the needs of young families.
By that logic, it seems more likely that a major travel company will jump into the fray than a startup. A company like Expedia might be able to promote the service whenever a customer books a family trip, such as when the customer enters the ages of passengers who are flying on a plane or requests car seats for a rental car. Given that customer insight, online travel agencies would have the edge over startups in targeted marketing.
At the same time, though, major online companies can be slow to innovate. So, change may have to come from the outside.
A startup may launch, as it often does, to serve the highest end of the market, with an online “pop-up nanny” service that provides a skilled caretaker who can travel with the couple during the trip. Already some luxury hotels have experimented with this, such as the Four Seasons Austin, which offers to arrange sitters for guests.
With luck, sitters as a service (SaaS) will someday prove as popular as software as a service businesses are with venture capitalists. — Sean O’Neill, Travel Technology Editor
An Easy-to-Access Passenger’s Bill of Rights
Especially after United’s recent public relations nightmare, I might look into something that helps consumers understand the ins and outs of the passenger bill of rights on airlines, helps them easily find a solution, and easily shows them what their options are if something goes wrong. Basically, something that explains things in laymen’s terms. There are probably already apps and sites that do this in part, but they don’t have the traction just yet. — Dan Peltier, Tourism Reporter
A Third-Party Quality Assurance Provider for Vacation Rentals
When you check into a hotel, you often rely on a “star rating,” or ratings from organizations like AAA or Forbes to give you an idea of what kind of experience to expect (in addition to scouring TripAdvisor).
But when it comes to booking a stay on vacation or short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, all you have to rely on, at this point, are crowdsourced reviews from other guests who may or may not be swayed by their desires to, in turn, receive good reviews from their respective hosts.
But what if there were a single organization that could inspect and “rate” vacation rental listings according to a standardized rubric of universal hospitality amenities or features? And more importantly, one whose ratings you could actually trust to be impartial and fair?
This company wouldn’t be a vacation rental management company providing services, per se, but it would simply check the quality of the millions of listings that exist on vacation rental platforms around the world. And potentially help platforms weed out fake listings. The ratings it gives for those listings can help ensure the overall quality of the guest experience, giving guests even more reason (or perhaps, less) to trust a particular listing.
Given the ease of posting fake listings on platforms, or the few home-sharing horror stories we’ve all heard in the news, having this sort of rating system would definitely give guests more peace of mind when booking their vacation rentals. Not only that, it can give hosts more incentive to deliver better hospitality experiences, too. — Deanna Ting, Hospitality Editor