How Michael Wurst is reinventing travel
Michael Wurst is keen on redefining the travel industry. Mister Trip is an online platform that helps travelers find locals in their chosen destination country, to design individual trips according to their wishes. As the service connects the parties directly, travel agencies and tourism providers are bypassed – the trips become less expensive. Will Mister Trip be able to create an equivalent to what Airbnb has done with overnight stays? We met up with Michael Wurst for an interview in Mannheim.
Michael, on www.mistertrip.de we instantly discovered on some unconventional destinations such as Armenia and Usbekistan. What is your game plan?
Well, countries that are not yet as touristically exploited are experiencing a strong upsurge, as they are not yet as overrun. Many travelers want a one of a kind experience — precisely what they will find in these destinations. However there weren’t many providers for travel to these regions. In the past months we were able to secure outstanding on-site travel agencies as partners, and can now offer customized dream vacations to countries such as Armenia, Georgia or Usbekistan. It was quite a challenge to find the right partners and to implement the appropriate processes, such as finding the fastest and safest way to transfer funds. But it has been worth it, as our customers are very happy!
How do you go about finding native travel experts that can supply insider tips?
My colleague Christina Büttner and I acquire local travel agencies mostly through the ITB in Berlin, which is one of the main travel fairs in the world. There we can personally meet the experts from all the destinations. These people work for established travel agencies and have expert knowledge at their disposal, as they either grew up in the region or have lived there for years. We have an extensive process of certification to determine the quality of the agencies. Only 10 to 15 percent of them make it onto our online platform. We work exclusively with partners that offer premium quality experiences!
On your website each travel agency is presented by a personal profile text. How important is trust in your model?
We want anyone to be able to get to now our partners directly on our online platform and to choose the one that feels the most fitting to design their dream journey. The profiles on our site give our partners the opportunity to give a personal insight into what they love about travel and to present their very own tips and specialties.
So I’m booking a partner rather than a trip?
In the end it’s all about your personal dream journey. At the same time many travelers very selectively choose an expert they feel comfortable with, to design their trip. Because of this we try to offer more than one partner per destination, so that our customers can choose their who will later put together their customized offer and make their travel dream come true.
And this is a completely new service and a business model?
The value chain in the travel industry has not changed much over the last decades. There have always been travel agencies that sell German tour operators trips, which are then run by local tour agencies in the destination countries. With the process of digitization several value creation stages went online. Expedia is now the travel agency of choice. The large number of value creation stages and intermediaries remains though, which makes traveling more expensive for consumers and also makes it difficult to travel individually.
And your customers absolutely want individual experiences?
Exactly. Many travelers want more than a package tour from a catalogue. And when they can’t find what they’re looking for with the traditional travel agents, they start doing their own research and putting their own trips together. This will usually require spending a lot of time searching and also bring many uncertainties and risks. I may book a safari in Uganda or a round trip through Tadschikistan, transfer a few thousand euros and in the end hope that someone will be waiting to pick me up at the airport.
Is your model comparable to the Airbnb idea?
Airbnb created a platform that brings together supply and demand, thus substantially shortening the value chain. The big difference to Mister Trip is the fact that the people behind the listings on Airbnb are private persons, while we will connect users with professionals. We very deliberately decided to deal only with selected businesses that we have personally examined and certified, to guarantee a high standard of quality and safety. The fundamental idea is similar though: To simplify the process and bring people together. We offer inspiration, new travel ideas and experts that will put together an offer for your trip that is free of charge and without obligation. Compared to booking directly in a destination country we also offer the advantage that our local experts achieve significantly better prices and conditions. In many cases it is actually less expensive to have our experts put together a trip, than to book something in a destination country oneself.
And I also have someone locally who really knows the most interesting destinations …
Correct. Our experts know more that any Lonely Planet. They are locals and can really offer you great insider tips!
So you are in competition with the established travel agencies?
Yes and no. It really depends on the target groups. Many younger people have never visited a travel agency. If you ask a group of students if anyone has been to a travel agency over the last years, you wont see many hands. Older folks still visit the agencies, but many are not satisfied with the range on offer. The focus is mostly on inflexible all-inclusive tours and the sales staff is selling them to destinations all over the world, which is tricky. If you’re lucky your agent may have been to your destination of choice and can offer some insights. Though considering the multitude of destinations offered in these travel agencies this constitutes more the exception than the rule. As personnel costs in most destination countries are lower than in Germany, our experts can invest a lot more time in advisory services and the preparation of your trip. As we have eliminated stages in the value chain, we have freed up a substantial portion of the margin, which allows us to pass on more to the local agencies in the destination countries, while at the same time our customers can profit from reasonable direct prices.
Is Mister trip bringing more fairness to the travel business?
Sustainability is an important issue for us as well as many of our customers. We want more of the money to make its way to the local providers. At the same time we support social projects in our destination countries. For example, last year we donated backpacks to students of a children’s home in India in collaboration with dobetter e.V., a charity from Mannheim. I wouldn’t want to call us a social startup, as we are clearly growth-oriented — but we are always interested in giving something back. We take pride in the fact that Mister Trip can do both.
How did the idea of Mister Trip come about?
I studied business administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. During my studies i spent two semesters abroad, in Sydney and Singapore. During that period I travelled a lot and caught myself the travel bug. I just love exploring new countries and learning about other cultures! After uni I found a job at the T-Online International AG and spent almost ten years there, working in corporate development and innovations. Most recently I was on the board responsible for innovation and spent a lot of time connecting with start-ups and other innovative businesses. One evening I was talking to my co-founder Christina Büttner about the travel business. She herself had worked in tourism and I brought my internet expertise to the table. In the course of the conversation it became more and more clear: the value chain in tourism is outdated and by using modern technology we could begin a new phase in travel. That was the start of Mister Trip.
So it was more about starting a business than about the idea itself?
I’m a big fan of the startup mindset: being fast and agile … just going for it! After ten years in corporate it was time leave the big ship and switch to a race boat. I left Telekom in 2014 and we began developing Mister Trip in 2015. Of course we had previously spent a good amount of time checking the projects viability, sitting down with potential agencies and partners to see where the demands were.
The way you value personal contact with agencies must make scaling your business more difficult?
Quite the opposite … as an online platform we can easily scale our business. The processes online can be fully automated, as the consultation of the travelers happens through the experts in the destination countries. If we can increase the number of enquiries, the local agencies can employ more staff, which has been happening already. At the same time we can always set up additional agencies on our platform. We receive inquires from agencies every day, that wish to become part of Mister Trip. By now we have reviewed over 500 agencies, but have only accepted those that can offer consultancy in German for our customers. This is a necessity for our German-speaking clientele, though many of the English-speaking agencies were top notch! And once we were to go international we will definitely get back to them.
So after mistertrip.de comes mistertrip.com?
We are focusing on becoming known in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the moment. This is our goal for 2017. At the same time we are working on an English version of our platform, which will go live in 2018. Let us surprise you!
Interview: Paul Heesch
Photos: Ricardo Wiesinger