TRVL evolves from digital magazine app to peer-to-peer travel booking platform
An interview with Jochem Wijnands, co-founder of TRVL and the Prss platform (which was acquired by Apple), and his plans top create a new travel booking platform based on content and reader expertise
The last time TNM formally spoke to the team at TRVL, the founders were getting ready to unveil their own digital publishing platform to other publishers. Prss was their own solution, developed after Woodwing, the original platform used to create the TRVL digital magazine app, became a reseller of the Adobe platform and began concentrating on enterprise solutions. But when I contacted the team in order to have Prss included in the Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms eBook, I was told to pull the listing. I soon found out why. Word soon leaked that Prss had been acquired by Apple, used in some ways to create the Apple News app and the Apple News Format.
Off to Cupertino, then, went founders Jochem Wijnands and Michel Elings, as well as the team that created Prss. Left behind, presumably, were the members of the team that continued to publish TRVL.
One year later, Jochem Wijnands was back in Amsterdam, and today is still not able to talk much about Apple and the “acquisition” as he is still under the NDA (“I think I will be under it until I’m 110 years old”). But Wijnands said that, after Apple News, launched things were not the same. “After launch you’re just an employee.”
But now what? The TRVL app was still publishing content, but the Newsstand, which helped propel the app, was now gone – and with Apple owning Prss, the app had not been updated since October 2013. As a result, users have been complaining that the app now crashes (not a surprise, as Apple has introduced three different versions of iOS since then).
So, there needs to be a new vision for TRVL and that is what Wijnands wanted to talk about.
TRVL founder Jochem Wijnands at TNW Conference
Upon returning to Amsterdam Wijnands thought about whether he should transform TRVL into a media company, just create scale. The digital magazine, after all, has a large audience. He felt that after his experience with creating TRVL, then working for Apple, he should be the one to come up with a successful publishing solution.
“A lot of the business models are pretty much dead, like paid content, unless you create a niche newsletter. But for most publications, straight content is just not going to do it, it’s not going to work,” Wijnands said.
So, instead, Wijnands started looking at his existing digital publication differently.
“I started looking at TRVL, assuming all these people are active travelers, and if inspiration is their first step, then what is their next step?” Wijnands said.
Wijnands rejected the idea of directly getting involved with bookings, and instead saw TRVL as the ideal research tool for travelers – “Got a week in the spring, where am I going to go?”
“The Internet is great, everything you want is there. I can’t imagine anything not being there,” Wijnands said. “But it is also where the problem lies. There is so much that it is hard to know where to start.”
“It takes too much time, too much choice.”
That is the origin of the new TRVL, which can be seen on the company’s website, and eventually in a new app.
Now a peer-to-peer travel booking platform, TRVL is designed to take advantage of the leads that come in from readers/users, and their local expertise. Now the content, which TRVL continues to create, will be all about providing more research material for travelers.
“We are still publishing, but we are not publishing for the broader audience, where you don’t know who you are going to reach. We are very specifically writing content to make TRVL agents more comfortable when they do their bookings. We are writing content about the neighborhoods,” Wijnands said.
“The content experience will always be part who we are.”
Wijnands uses Uber as a comparison for the new business model.
“Uber didn’t invent the taxi business, but what they thought of was how to make it better. I didn’t realize there was a problem (with the taxi business) until I saw Uber,” Wijnands said.
“If you open the Uber app and there are no cars, you won’t be able to experience it, so you do need Uber drivers very, very badly.”
“We thought we need the TRVL agents very, very badly just as Uber needs its drivers,” Wijnands said. “If I sign up as a TRVL agent today – probably my friends, my family, my neighbors, the people I play tennis with – those will be my first clients. I’m going to help them. And the good thing is, because they are my friends, I will go the extra mile.”
So, TRVL isn’t a collection of travel agents, but contributors (my description) with local knowledge, who can help readers/users plan and book their travel.
The model works this way: create an itinerary, helping with hotel selection, flights, entertainment, and send it to a friend or other TRVL user. If they book the trip, the agent gets paid, up to 10 percent. These itineraries become part of the agent’s profile and can be reused, modified for others. Meanwhile, the traveler has their own profile, which TRVL can use to help the traveler during their trip.
“Think about it: if you book a trip with TRVL, and you have the app, your whole itinerary, all your flights, all your tickets and vouchers, everything is in there. Your profile is in there, and then we can then help you prepare for your trip,” Wijnands said.
TRVL can give the traveler weather alerts so they can pack an umbrella if it might rain, tell them if their flight is late and inform the hotel of the delay.
Wijnands sees the new TRVL platform as more consistent with the sharing economy, more peer-to-peer. If it works, those individuals who utilize the platform can begin profiting from it, just as Uber drivers take advantage of the platform created by Uber, just as Airbnb has transformed the rental business and helped owners make supplemental income.
TRVL, the new platform, is still in beta, but the plan is to unveil it in November. To management the new venture, a management team with travel experience has been brought on.
“Our CFO is Jan Verboord, he is from Travelbird,” Wijnands wrote TNM in an email after our talk.
“Our COO is Arthur Hoffman, he worked in travel over 17 years. He started Expedia in Australia and several other countries and was president of Ean, the Expedia affiliate network. His last job was CEO of Sanoma digital.”
“Our CPO is Alex Keynes, he worked at Fairfax Australia and then joined WPK, a successful digital only publisher in Amsterdam.”
Wijnands says the team is “an interesting mix of travel and publishing and the same can be said for me.”
“It feels like we are still a publisher, we’re still writing, we’re creating content, and we’re just applying all the knowledge,” Wijnands said when we talked.
I asked Wijnands at the end of our talk if he had contacted TNM because his goal with the new TRVL is strictly to create a new business and transform travel, or if, like Prss, he is interested other reaching other publishers with the idea.
He paused, then said that TRVL is reinventing itself and other publishers could think along the same lines.
“It would be really helpful to see if other publishers could start solving problems for their readers and turn that into a business model. Because that is the Holy Grail.”
Indeed, that is what got many publishers, especially B2B publishers, very interested in the Internet back in the ’90s.
What if, rather than just reproducing their print products online, they became more deeply involved in the businesses, directly, and became a better facilitator of sales.
Unfortunately, few publishers continued down this road and just settled on reproducing their content in digital form online. A few later moved into events, which is one way to get deeper into the industries they were involved with.
Wijnands, who became familiar to TNM readers through the creation of his digital-only tablet magazine, is now moving in a new direction. It all started in the Newsstand, where it goes from here should be interesting to discover.
Note: TNM’s first interview with the founders of TRVL can be found inside Talking Digital, available in print through Amazon. But in the iBooks Store version, the chapter featuring Jochem Wijnands and Michel Elings also includes the promotional video produced by the team when promoting their digital magazine.