In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Gilad Berenstein, Founder and CEO of UTrip.com, the latest entrée on a substantial menu of travel sites. Utrip isn’t just a search engine. The service aims to deliver a super-personalized vacation experience to travelers using high tech smarts and a unique trip-planning process – for free. The website offers 13 different categories used to rate various trip elements’ importance to you. They include things like budget, shopping, culture, sports, nature, etc., but if that’s too much, you can pick one of their pre-set options for: “The Student,” “The First Timer,” “The Returning Traveler,” “The Luxury Traveler” and “Utrip Team Picks,” which pre-populates your trip itinerary with suggested attractions, restaurants, pubs, entertainment, lodging and more.
“After finishing grad-school I went on the classic Euro trip like so many others. And like most Americans I found the trip planning process to be complex, time consuming, and a bit stressful. When I arrived in Europe I had a blast, but continually fell into holes in my itinerary, things I did not account for, and misinformation…After months of searching the web, speaking with friends, and thinking about the perfect solution, I decided to start Utrip.”
— Gilad Berenstein, founder, UTrip.com
Travel Planning sites have been tried before. What is it about UTrip.com that will make this option work long-term?
Hundreds of millions of people travel to new destinations each year, yet they are forced to sift through way too many different sites and resources (22 on average) and still receive too much inaccurate and irrelevant information. At Utrip, we break through the clutter to help travelers not only reduce the stress and confusion, but turn the trip planning process from a stressful drag to an enjoyable experience. At Utrip, we believe that the planning process should be the exciting beginning of your travel adventure.
Mix that with our highly personal approach to travel planning (using the latest technologies) and you get a breakthrough never seen before in the digital travel space: trip planning as an enjoyable personal adventure!
What are some of the unique challenges Utrip has to maneuver in delivering highly personalized travel itineraries?
Information overload. Anyone who has tried planning a trip in the digital age knows there is no shortage of information on the web. Today’s challenge is not finding information, but rather sifting through thousands of pages to identify information that is relevant, accurate, and dependable.
At Utrip, we combine cutting-edge technology, partnerships with the best content creators, and a global network of local experts to sift through millions of data points to deliver only the most personal, authentic, and accurate information to our users.
Utrip does not serve up all 4,600 pizza places in Rome. Instead, we send Utrippers to only the most authentic, unique, enjoyable places recommended by locals and travel experts alike.
Why is it that your focus has been solely on European travel destinations?
The needs of our users always come first! When starting Utrip, we studied the global travel markets and saw that more Americans travel to Europe than any other foreign place on earth. And it’s not only that—these trips were longer and more complex, and the information was often the most fragmented and difficult to consume. So it was clear that Europe is where the need was greatest.
Soon we will begin to offer domestic destinations here in the U.S. including New York, DC, Seattle, and many more.
We talked with Martin Lumbye, partner of Momondo.com, some time ago. They specialize in hip Euro travel and their unique travel by color/mood option is similar in some respects to UTrip. Do you see Momondo as a competitor?
Not at all. Momondo is a great content provider and possible partner for Utrip. Utrip was created to bridge the massively fragmented travel market and to add a highly personal touch to traveler’s plans. Our platform was built deliberately to bring in the best inventory, content, and advice from top-notch providers around the web.
One day soon you may see us personalizing some of Momondo’s top content and weaving it into travelers’ plans. (I’ll let you in on a small secret – in just days we’ll announce several new partnerships with large content providers you all know and love).
What do you think Utrip does really well – what do your users come back for?
An enjoyable planning experience that is stress free and personal. The “one size fits all” itineraries of yesteryear are no more. Consumers seek ever more personal and customized solutions to their daily needs; this desire is multiplied when it comes to travel.
Utrip’s system is always learning, so you’ll receive a personalized travel plan every time you visit. Beyond itineraries, our platform offers the best-in-class user experience, which makes travel planning and discovery a fun and enjoyable experience.
You recently announced a feature called “Featured Trips” that allows experts in various fields around the world to plan a traveler’s vacation. How does it work and how have your users reacted to the new option?
Utrip has amassed a global network of local experts who are leaders in their various fields. From food critics to historians, artists to photographers, our experts bring a unique and highly curated touch to experiential travel. Until now, our experts were our own little internal secret, helping us identify the most unique, authentic, and hidden gems in each of our destinations. But finally, through Featured Trips, our experts can directly interact with users.
A Featured Trip is a starting point, a highly curated template, for an unforgettable journey. Featured Trips allow our users to benefit from the intersection of the best of human expertise with the best of artificial intelligence. A user can select the ‘Best of French Gastronomy’ Trip, a highly curated French food experience, and bring it to life by allowing our algorithms to shape it to account for that user’s passion for sports, their low budget, or their vegetarian lifestyle.
Together, our experts and technology deliver unmatched travel plans personalized for any traveler.
What’s next for UTrip – what new amenities and destinations can we expect in 2013?
As I mentioned before, you will not have to wait long to see many more exciting things out of Utrip. This spring, we will be announcing partnerships with several large and well-respected travel content providers. This summer, our first domestic destinations will hit the web. Soon after that, Utrip’s phone app will revolutionize the on-the-ground travel experience by putting the latest in travel technology right in your hand.
After that…the world!