eMarketer Interview with Sebastian Heinzel: Seeing Social Travel Sites Anew

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AN INTERVIEW WITH:
Sebastian Heinzel
Co-Founder, CEO, tripwolf
July 31, 2008
Sebastian Heinzel and Alexander Trieb founded tripwolf, a social travel guide that caters to 20- and 30-something “flashpackers” from Europe and the US. Based in Vienna, with offices in New York City and Budapest, the site combines information from professional travel writers with user-generated content, including media from Flickr, Wikipedia and YouTube.

As an alternative to lugging around the traditional travel book, tripwolf users drag and drop information into a printable PDF travel guide personalized according to their interests, locations and budget. The site has also created an iPhone application and plans to add online flight booking in the near future. tripwolf launched in July 2008 in English and German and plans to add a Spanish-language version in 2009. The goal is to enable young, independent travelers to both plan and share their experiences around the globe—all from a single online destination.

eMarketer: How do you differentiate tripwolf from other travel sites with social networking components?
Sebastian Heinzel: There is a statistic that 70% of people making travel decisions rely on recommendations
from friends and family, because they are trusted. You don’t have many holidays and traveling is expensive, so you don’t want to be disappointed. Other sites rely on anonymous reviews, which are not that helpful. On tripwolf, you can log in with your Facebook account and import your friends from your profile, so it’s easy to get your friends to join you.

The other thing that differentiates us is that we partnered with travel guide publishers and professional travel guide writers. Our investor, MairDuMont, is the largest European publisher of travel guides, so we really have all the information you find in books. Competitors, like TripAdvisor or other travel communities, only have user-generated content and bits and pieces. You don’t find the thorough information you’d find in travel guides or books. With our easy interface—with drag and drop functionality—you can take any piece of information from our site put it into a personalized travel guide. You don’t need a 200-page book anymore—just go to tripwolf, collect information on the 10 to 15 places you’d like to visit, and print out one document to take with you on your travels, all for free.

eMarketer: What is the balance of professional editorial to user-generated content on the site?
Mr. Heinzel: We have a kind of top-down approach. Articles about a country, like an introduction to Montenegro, are written by professionals, freelancers or trip gurus, so that’s a small circle of users. But as we go down, standard users can write pretty much anything else, like information about a bar.

Basically when you come to the site and first look at the country or city, you’ll find professional content. The deeper you dive, the more you will find user-generated content. It’s hard for me to put that in numbers, honestly, but I think the majority of the content will be user-generated in the long run.

eMarketer: What are trip gurus?
Mr. Heinzel: Trip gurus are local experts on a specific destination. The more travelers they help, the more trip guru points they get. The higher they are rated, the more likely they can become the top trip guru for that destination. I recently met a trip guru who had been posting information on Montenegro. It turned out that he is a travel writer who was the first person who had ever written a hiking guide to Montenegro. Our goal is to find one person of this type for every tourism destination, to build the circle of power users and freelance travel writers who become engaged in the tripwolf community and then have a mass of standard users. If we achieve that we could be more up-to-date than print travel guide books.

eMarketer: How does your experience with old and new media factor into your work now?
Mr. Heinzel: My background is traditional journalism. I had been an international correspondent for news
magazines for a long time when I saw that the Internet had the ability to revolutionize media. There was great hype about user-generated content, but it was always clear to me that the solution would be a combination of professionally written content and user-generated content. This is exactly what we’re doing at tripwolf. Also, being a journalist who loves writing and travel, it’s no coincidence that I ended up being part of a travel site that’s heavy in content and where users can write and express themselves.

eMarketer: How does the partnership with MairDuMont work?
Mr. Heinzel: MairDuMont is working to inform its users about tripwolf with banners and copy on its Website.
We’re doing things the other way around—we have content from MairDuMont and an engaged community of
travelers who give us their opinions, tell us when something is outdated and add new places. We repeat this
information back to MairDuMont, and they update their books. Most travel guides get updated once every few years, but with our users this update cycle gets shortened. Also, user photos and opinions could end up in the travel guides someday. We’re not actively doing that now, but we’d like to try it out.

eMarketer: Do you have any demographic information about users?
Mr. Heinzel: We’re aiming for young professionals who enjoy traveling and have a little bit of money. They still try to take the cheapest flight they can find, but want to experience a nice restaurant and boutique. These “flashpackers” are in their late 20s and early 30s, the average age is 30 or 31. We currently have more male users, perhaps because we started out with coverage in tech circles that were more male-dominated. I think that will shift over time, as other travel sites have a more female audience, but we’re aiming for a 50-50 split.

As far as geographic distribution, we now have 10,000 registered members spread all over the world. We
launched in German and English so the biggest groups are Germans, Austrians and Americans.

eMarketer:
How are you marketing tripwolf to attract more users?
Mr. Heinzel: So far we are working through the blogosphere. We’ve built a Facebook application, so whenever a user does something on tripwolf, it shows up in a newsfeed on Facebook. We haven’t really put any money into marketing. We’re just experimenting with search engine marketing and buying a few AdWords, trying to figure out the most cost-effective way to get traffic.

eMarketer:
What kinds of travel information do tripwolf users seek?
Mr. Heinzel: Users want to get a taste of a destination. They like searching from one city to the next, looking at photos, videos and not going in too deep. The most-searched-for cities are places like New York, Barcelona and Sydney.

eMarketer:
At what point in their travel planning do users visit tripwolf?
Mr. Heinzel: For travel Websites, there’s always the challenge of getting people to come to your site even when they’re not traveling. For every phase in the travel cycle, there is something users can do on tripwolf. They should check out the site to get an idea of where they might go next. For the actual planning of the trip, users will soon be able to book a trip and can build their own personal travel guides. They can log in and write about their experiences as they travel and later can upload pictures and video to share with friends.

eMarketer: Tell us about tripwolf’s iPhone application.
Mr. Heinzel: Users can go to the tripwolf database through the iPhone and access the same content that’s on the Website or their personal scrapbook of places they want to visit. Users who don’t want to pay roaming charges or can’t find a wireless Internet access point, can still use tripwolf as they travel.

eMarketer: American travelers are cutting back on travel due to the economy and exchange rates, how is tripwolf responding?
Mr. Heinzel: We’re already aimed at young, cost-conscious travelers with “How to Stretch Your Dollar,” a section for every destination in which users give each other tips.

eMarketer: What’s next for tripwolf?
Mr. Heinzel: We’ll be offering a Yellow Pages model to smaller players in the travel market. If you’re a small bed and breakfast in Scotland or Costa Rica, you can sponsor your own page on tripwolf for $10 to $20 dollars a month. We think this is a potentially big market, because some of our users are owners of small hotels who have expressed an interest in using tripwolf for marketing their businesses.

Download the original article here: emarketer_interview_tripwolf

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