Dr. David Urmann is an entrepreneur whose global perspective and scientific background have helped him launch successful business ventures in both the travel and outsourcing industries. He has a passion for travel and his favorite destinations are the canyons of southern Utah, the Himalayas and the beaches of the Philippines. He started developing websites in 1998 and after graduate school decided to kickstart his business by moving it to India. During the past 5 years David along with his business partner, Jayesh Bagde, have was have grown the business from a staff of just 3 people to 75+. Prior to launching Touristlink they were exclusively focused on travel and launched several successful websites such as Hotelkhoj.com and Visitusa.com
Touristlink.com looks to target the travel activities market by providing a service that lets travelers request the exact services they need and then receive multiple offers from travel providers. Touristlink intends to become the primary website for these transactions by providing a marketplace which is seamlessly built into a content rich social platform where travelers can interact with each other and with local businesses.
MO: Did you have a personal experience that inspired you to create Touristlink.com?
David: I have had a number of personal experiences which inspired this idea of connecting travelers with local travel businesses. Last year I went on a trek to Everest base camp and since I only had a few days for planning I arrived in Nepal without having any arrangements for porters or a guide. I wish that I could have reviewed at least some of the available guides on the internet see what others had to say about them and gotten a sense of their personality before arriving in Nepal.
Another example is a recent business trip I made to Yi Wu. I arrived in Shanghai but had made no arrangements for transport so I ended up paying a private Taxi which was provided by my hotel but I am not sure if I got a good rate and it would have been nice to be able to get quotes from more than one provider. Personal conversations I have had with other travelers and our existing customers have just reinforced what I observed from my personal experiences as a common theme from these conversations has been how hard it is to find local service providers online for things like trip packages, tour guides and arranging ground transport. We are able to solve this at Touristlink by letting local providers sign up and then offer their services in response to requests by our members.
MO: My main guides that I tend to use while traveling are the Lonely Planet books and website. What are the advantages of Touristlink.com going to be over a more established and trusted sites like LP or TripAdvisor?
David: It is probably safe to say that Lonely Planet has the best all around content right now on the web and that Tripadvisor does a great job but is limited to hotel reviews. Given that, I think Lonely Planet and all the other major travel websites do a poor job of making use of the available technology and that the basic display of travel content on the web hasn’t changed much since the 1990’s. We hope to change that with Touristlink by letting our members vote on and rank attractions on the website. This will enable us to present our content in a more dynamic way and allow all of our visitors to see the content that is most popular with our members. I am really excited by this since as our membership base increase we will be to add a lot of value to search results by letting visitors sort results both by interest and demographic. Enabling Touristlink to help you find which beach surfers prefer in Bali or which spots are most popular with birdwatchers in India or even which restaurants women prefer in Paris.
MO: How much has Touristlink.com evolved and been shaped by customer feedback?
David: Feedback is very important and we are always looking to see where the bottlenecks are and how we can improve the entire process for all of our members and visitors. Listening to actual feedback is important but something that is just as important is being sensitive to subtle changes in visitor behavior and making adjustments that will improve those metrics. For instance, on the signup we found visitor didn’t like to fill out the information on our forms but that they will click on pictures. So we can take the data from the pictures they click on and then translate it to a more meaningful term for our business. If you develop something and your users do not understand then you need to adjust and reevaluate even if it means giving up the entire concept.
MO: Are there any destinations that you’re seeing increase in popularity? Are there any trends in travel that you’re excited about?
David: We are seeing a lot of startups in the industry trying to give you travel recommendations based on your network of friends. Ultimately I believe this is a model that does not work very well. If your travelling outside of your country odds are that none or only a very few of your friends have actually gone to the place you want to visit and even if they have this model assumes you share the same tastes. When it comes to travelling we believe that the best recommendations are not going to come from friends but from groups of people with similar interests to you. Here is an example, if your going to Bali and you’re a surfer and the only person you know who has visited is an elderly aunt then your network of friends isn’t going to be of much use compared to seeing what fellow surfers actually think.
MO: Is there any one feature on your site that you’re most proud of or getting great feedback on?
David: Most positive comments revolve around our design and its simplicity. For instance, a number of positive comments on how easy our list feature is to use and how versatile it is. We have also received a lot of positive comments from our business members who are very excited about the platform and using it as a means to market their services and build relationships with customers.
MO: What can we expected from Touristlink.com in the future?
David: We are launching a mobile version of our offer – request service in January which is soon to be followed by an application for the Android. This application essentially gives our members a very simple means to directly get in contact with our entire network of travel providers. We think that making this service accessible to be people on the go and actually travelling will be an important key to our success. Were really focused on developing the social side of the site and getting users to interact so we have a number of things we are working on in that arena as well such as involving members in groups and more clearly directing them by means of gamification on what they should do once they login.