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Inspiring curious world explorers and taking a more open-ended approach to travel booking is startup iTravel, makers of a just-enhanced iPad application that aims to stimulate the imagination during the vacation-planning process.
Germany-based iTravel, first founded in 2004 but just 20 months into its newfound mobile take on leisure travel, is one of 15 companies showing off applications and competing for best in show in today’s Innovation Competition at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2012 conference in San Francisco, Calif.
“The main point of iTravel is to allow you to book trips in an inspirational way, based on the experiences you’re going to have there,” iTravel CEO Axel Schmiegelow told me in an interview. “We sell full-packaged tours that are completely customizable.”
Think of iTravel as a modern, mobile-friendly travel agent. The startup employs an approach counter to that of the traditional online travel booking experience. So instead of taking the consumer down a road that starts with a specific destination and date range, and ends in booking a hotel and flight or so forth, iTravel invites the more openminded planner to select a part of the world — be it Europe, South America, the South Seas, and so forth — and start exploring various vacation packages that have been crafted by the company and its travel partners.
The iTravel for iPad experience, still just weeks old, takes these packages and offers them up to mobile users in a finger-friendly manner (pictured below).
“The iPad app is designed so that you and your partner, sitting together at your coffee table, can flip through different trips and find the ones that suit you best,” said Schmiegelow.
The refreshed application being demoed today (the update has yet to go live in the App Store) also comes with Facebook-powered intelligence that finds the friends that have already traveled to the places you’re considering visiting. The iTravel application then invites users to message their friends, through Facebook, for advice.
As it stands, iTravel for iPad, even with the Facebook integration, is easy on the eyes but lacks enough content to make the experience truly compelling. Some of the packages — the Carribean island-hopping yacht tour, for instance — are quite inviting, but there simply doesn’t seem to be enough here to make this your go-to vacation-booking app just yet.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that iTravel has its largest customer bases in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The company can, thanks to several years building up inventory in those countries, offer its customers in those countries far more trip options. In Germany, for instance, iTravel offers 1,600 trips for 160 destinations. Just 185 of those trips have been ported over to U.S. and UK users.
The startup, currently with a home base in Germany, will soon move its headquarters to San Francisco, Calif. to better compete in the U.S. travel market. The company also recently opened up an office in London to attack the UK travel industry as well.
iTravel for iPad users should also expect the application to get better rapidly, as the company plans a “high frequency” of updates, Schmiegelow said. One major update will be the addition of “Experience” search, which will offer users a way to explore all available trip options around the activities they’re looking to enjoy.
iTravel has raised $3.8 million in funding and has 28 employees spread across several offices. The company has 30,000 customers, and currently has a revenue run-rate of $4 million annually in Germany.