Bringing new technology to bear on the tourist industry, Cork start-up company Travelbuddy is launching a new website and mobile app which allows users to book over 450 activities, tours and attractions around Ireland.
Founder and CEO, Peter Conway, says this is the first app which aggregates tourist sites in Ireland and offers everything from tickets to watching whales off the Cork coast to ones for the Titanic Experience in Belfast.
Aiming to launch another app for the UK market next year, he says Travelbuddy has created a unique feature not offered on mobile apps by tourist activity aggregators in other countries.
“When tourists use this app, they will get a message on their mobile, offering a ticket to visit an attraction in the area they are in, or a ticket for an activity they have indicated they are interested in. This does not require a roaming network, and tickets can be purchased without Wi-fi, unless live availability needs to be checked,’’ reveals Mr Conway.
A marketing graduate with 24 years experience in the travel industry, Mr Conway previously set up a company selling Caribbean tours to Irish customers and also set up a website to promote tourism in Cork
The idea for Travelbuddy came to him while working in the US for a travel company selling holidays to Ireland. He noticed that tour operators, after initially selling travel packages to customers, found it difficult to re-engage with them to sell additional holiday products.
He decided that the advent of smartphones meant the market was ripe for an app which addressed this problem. “The tours and activities area is one of the biggest growth areas in international tourism and is estimated to be worth €35bn in Europe,’’ he says, noting that at present, 60% of sales in this market still took place offline.
“To find attractions, tours and activities, people use Google searches which can lead to information overload. They look at guide books and they look at flyers when they get there. Tourists are on holidays with mobiles looking for things to do — with this app they can find them.”
Mr Conway began researching the market in 2011, and in 2012, he secured an investor and enrolled in the New Frontiers entrepreneur development programme at the Rubicon Centre in Cork.
Using his own money, he also raised funds from family, friends, Ballyhoura Rural Development, South Cork Enterprise Board, Cork County Council and also got Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland in 2013
Securing a premises at Cork Airport Business Park, Mr Conway found a company in Limerick to start working on the app and one in Cork to develop the Travelbuddy website. One of the hardest tasks was getting the content, since it involved contacting hundreds of tourist sites around the country which was slow and time consuming.
After two and half years of research, Travel Buddy launched a beta website late last year and a beta version of its mobile app at the start of this year. It initially had 200 events but now has 450, and Mr Conway has plans to add restaurants later this year.
As the company is at an early stage, and hasn’t yet established itself in the market, it is planning to develop sales by offering a white-label version of its site to tour operators and hotels. “Hotels and tour operators can improve their customer offering and generate additional revenue,” he says.
Travelbuddy has this year secured High-Potential Start-up Funding from Enterprise Ireland. To date it has raised €150,000 and Mr Conway is making plans to raise €2m next year. The next step will be the launch of an app for London next year.
Mr Conway is also negotiating the setting up of a Travelbuddy franchise in Antigua in the Caribbean next year.