Travel startup Vayable made its global debut today and revealed a couple of major announcements. What began as a way to explore San Francisco is now a worldwide phenomenon. Vayable offers 2,500 experiences in 600 cities across 6 continents, including elephant rides around Angkor Wat, cooking classes in Avignon, and wildlife walks through the Peruvian Amazon.
The company has also introduced a concierge service where users can request customized tours and assistance with trip planning. Furthermore, it now enables global payments in more than 35 currencies. As a result of these new features, Vayable has experienced rapid grown, and revenue is doubling month over month. The team also revealed that it is currently participating in Y Combinator.
The traction is partly attributable to execution. With an accessible user interface and an emphasis on visuals, the site is pleasant to peruse, and the vetted database of experiences is comprehensive enough to suit every inclination. However, the success also stems from addressing a significant pain point within the traveler community: the desire for meaningful experiences.
“People seek out authenticity of experience when traveling,” said founder Jamie Wong. “But that authenticity is not just about experiencing the local culture. It is also about the authenticity of your own experiences. You can immerse yourself in an environment the same way thousands of other people do, or you can enjoy something that is true to both yourself and the place.”
Vayable’s emphasis on connecting travelers with local people and facilitating specialized opportunities is what distinguishes it from traditional tour companies. While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, I interacted with countless backpackers who came to Asia with the hope of being exposed to something new but struggled to find unique experiences. Everyone references the same guidebooks, and “off-the-beaten-path” excursions have become as mainstream as bus tour trips.
Vayable was inspired by Wong’s own travel experiences. She was studying abroad in Madrid and decided to spend her spring break in Morocco instead of an expensive trip to Greece with her friends. She struck up an unlikely connection with a local store owner who overheard Wong and her travel partner debating whether to pay $1,000 for a camel trip in the Sahara Desert. For $250, he offered to drive them to the Atlas Mountains and connect them with his brother who would take them on a camel trek. They spent a week living as part of a nomadic caravan and afterwards had an incredible story to tell.
“It wasn’t just about doing the touristy thing but involved meeting a local family and giving them money to help sustain their culture and their livelihood in a very direct way,” said Wong. “I love the idea of going out and stepping into people’s stories and telling my own. Vayable is about giving people stories.”
The small but dedicated team at Vayable has pounded the pavement (literally and metaphorically) to find as many local tour guides as possible. Guides come from all walks of life and not only provide entertainment and expertise but, more importantly, a view beyond the bright facade of highly touristed spots.
“Experiences are really about a human connection,” said Wong. “They are not a commodity. It is not something you can find through a pre-packaged tour, a travel agent, or a guidebook.”
If you feel like going on a fishing trip with the King of Fiji, indulging in a lavish dinner with an Italian winemaker, or renting Alcatraz for a night, check out Vayable’s marketplace. Tours range in price and duration, but the memories will extend far beyond that.
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