TouristLink is a rapidly growing social travel network that aims to link travellers directly with small travel providers. Pamela Whitby talks to the founder about delivering the right deals at the right time and why personalisation really does matter.
We already have the likes of Trippy and Gogobot, among countless others, so do we really need another travel social network? For David Urmann, the founder of India-based TouristLink, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘no'. "You definitely don't need another social network unless you can offer something truly unique," he says.
So what exactly is unique about India-based TouristLink, which recently won the EyeforTravel Asia social media and mobile solution award? The basic idea, says Urmann, is to connect travellers with small travel providers, which include anything from from the small tour operator in Nairobi to a travel agent offering car rentals in Rajasthanor an individual tour guide in Barcelona. Increasingly travellers are looking for unique, individual, truly local experiences, which very often the standardised tour package fails to deliver. The demand is certainly there: research from PhoCusWright shows that travellers book an estimated $85bn worth of travel through small providers.
Of course there are many other sites out there offering similar services but Urmann believes that his company differentiates on a number of levels. For one, unlike many other social travel sites the one-year-old TouristLink is not trying to get individual travellers to engage with each other. "If travellers are going to be social, they already have Facebook," says Urmann. "To get travellers to engage on a social platform like this, you need to bring in a provider and a product that the traveller is looking for."
With 2,000 small travel providers now featured on the site, and 125,000 verified attractions, that is exactly what TouristLink can offer the traveller. Each provider has a detailed profile where they can add their property or service, upload photographs and legitimate deals that are personally verified by TouristLink. According to Urmann, the tour operators and travel providers are the most active and motivated members on the site, not the travellers themselves.
Free for both businesses and travellers, TouristLink is a fully-fledged social network; users can create their own customised lists, add their own pictures, put together their own tour guides and so on which can then be exported to other social networks like Facebook or Twitter or converted to a PDF file to email. A useful feature is the ability to search on a destination to find out who is around to help with anything from an airport pick up to a desert camel ride. "We link tourists directly with small, reputable travel operators," explains Urmann.
The good news is that he site is getting about 5,000 visitors a day which he puts down to his strong background in search engine optimisation and the quality of the content on the site. Aside from socially generated content, TouristLink has content arrangements with around 40 government tourism organisations. What is more, the site ranks highly for long tail keywords (long tail key words tend to be less popular terms but when targeted collectively can deliver significant traffic and improved sales).