Exciting news from today: I booked my vacation for this summer. I'm going to be spending a week in Texas for the first time, and I'm going hitting all the major cities: Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. I'll be seeing a lot of the major sights, including the Space Center, Minute Maid Park, the grassy knoll and the Alamo. I'm pretty excited.
Her's he bad news, though: I can't use travel planning service Utrip!
Utrip is a new kind of travel guide, which combines both artificial intelligence, as well as human experience, to create personalized, and off the beaten track, itineraries. Anyone that likes to travel knows that seeing the sights is always fun, but its the places you've never heard of that always wind up being the best.
The company has announced that it has raised $750,000 in a seed funding round led by Matthew Upchurch, chief executive officer of luxury travel network Virtuoso, and CB Alliance, a New York venture firm.
The company had previously raised $400,000 in seed funding from Costco CFO Richard Galanti; Jay Buxbaum, Senior Vice President, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; as well as friends and family. This latest round brings its total funding to $1.15 million.
The money will be used for hiring key personnel, Gilad Berenstein founder and chief executive officer of Utrip, told me in an interview, though he would not specify which specific areas the company would be hiring, only saying that there would be "announcements in the coming weeks and months."
The funding will also be going toward expansion. The company is currently in 27 cities, all of them in Europe, including Monaco, Valencia, Florence Vienna, Prague and Munich. While Utrip will continue to expand across Europe, its is now also looking to expand to other parts of the world, with cities in the United States on its radar.
"We want to better plan trips for travelers," said Berenstein. "We are always looking to improve predictive alogrythms, and to offer additional destinations."
Here is how Utrip works: A traveler goes onto the site and enters in their destinations and travel dates. Then they rank their preferences in up to sixteen categories, including history, food, nightlife and budget.
Utrip then takes that information and uses its AI algorithm to sort through millions of potential combinations of hotels, sites, activities and restaurants. It will create a day to day itinerary, complete with maps, that are specific to that traveler.
The company does not simply depend on its algorythm to find unique places to visit, though; it also sends between two and four "experts" thatrepresent different subject matters and interests, including a person with an expertise in food, art and history, to each city to scout out the best locations.
"Our core belief is the traveler is an individual. We think that social and reviews are really great tools in trip planning, but they incomplete ," said Berenstein. "That is why we combined human expertise on ground and AI intelligence."
For example, in Seattle, where the company is based, it would send out a "coffee expert" to represent the coffee culture in the city. Or in San Francisco, it would deploy someone to scout out the technology scene.
"We believe that travelers look for unique experiences on the ground, and we are going to continue to find more personal vacation to their dream destinations," he told me. "We believe there's no one right way to go see Rome. The right way is the way you want to experience it on this trip, at this date."
Giving people those personalized experiences, with recommendations for places they would never otherwise hear about, is what sets Utrip apart.
Founded in 2011, Utrip sees roughly 600 unique visitors a day, a 45% increase in daily traffic since leaving beta a few months ago.
In addition to the new funding, Utrip is also announcing that Upchurch, along with Matt Klein, who was Global Product Lead for Yahoo! Travel, and Felix Anthony, former Amazon vice president, have been named to Utrip’s Advisory Group. They are joining current members Oren Etzonini and David Conrad.
The addition of Upchurch is a "strong indication of where the industry is going and where the trends are," said Berenstein. Travel agency Virtuoso took a traditional approach to booking travel, he said, and now they "see the value of Utrip."