Mobile

With 2.5M downloads, Guidepal travel app spreads Swedish startup invasion

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There was a time when the hottest Swedish import to hit American shores was the disco troupe ABBA. Today there’s a growing crop of Nordic startups hoping to make their impression felt.

Travel startup Guidepal hopes to follow in the footsteps of Swedish internet heavyweights Spotify and Skype with its mobile city guides for iPhone and Android. The young company has already announced some pretty impressive stats, with more than 2.5 million downloads since launching in June 2010.

Guidepal, which is free to download,  features travel information and advice for 31 cities globally. The guides are written by local experts, or “guidepals,” who can give travelers an authentic, homegrown view of their surroundings. Guidepal also works offline, so you don’t need to be connected to the Web to successfully navigate your environment, or rack up big data charges while  getting your bearings.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of the mobile guide is the ability to update restaurant listings and recommendations on the fly. Guidepals live in the communities they cover, so they can relay information instantly.

“We want to have a niche travel guide with great content, says Guidepal CEO Peter Schierenbeck.  “Our edge should be about picking the right places right now.”

Guidepal hopes to take on established players in the travel category such as Condé Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet by being nimble and capitalizing on people’s growing preference for consuming travel information on their mobile devices. With its GPS functionality, Guidepal easily allows people to see where they are in a city at any time.

“If we keep delivering a great guide in the right way, people will choose us,” Schierenbeck says. Top Guidepal cities are obvious tourist destinations, such as New York and London, and the company is seeing strong growth in Asia.

The mobile-local-travel space is a crowded one, however. Just last week, MapQuest launched its  mqVibe feature, which is meant to deliver on the promise of local recommendations with data on more than 50,000 neighborhoods in 27,000 cities worldwide, based on 1o years of data collection. mqVibe  can be accessed in the browser, and will be available as an iPhone app soon. Another potential competitor is Vayable, a 500 Startups company that taps locals to provide unique travel experiences not found in the big guidebooks.

Schierenbeck recognizes there is lots of competition in the travel space, but he’s not worried. “The competition is getting bigger and bigger all the time,” he says. The goal is to be the obvious choice for travelers some day, and with more and more vacationers taking smart phones with them, the opportunity is still wide open.

“You never know,” he says “You just keep on going and hope you end up on the right side.”

Guidepal has received $3 million in early stage funding from a group of angels and private investors in the Monaco, Sweden and the United States.

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