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yaffesTraveling is about having new experiences and seeing the world from a unique perspective, but the travel industry has grown to the point where it feels like all roads have been traveled.

Enter AnyRoad.

AnyRoad is a travel startup that connects travelers with tour opportunities from local guides. The site features a selection of curated tours that offer a more authentic alternative to guidebooks and organized group excursions. Many of the tours center around niche interests, like food and drink or the great outdoors, and provide independent tour guides with a platform to reach a wider audience.

The company was founded by brothers Jonathan and Daniel Yaffe who said they are trying to do for the travel industry what Etsy did for crafts.

“This is the future of tourism,” Jonathan said during an interview. “We are enabling local tour guides to give the tours they want to give. They are already doing this, but many do not have the resources or distribution to set up their business and make money online.We are not trying to disrupt the industry, we are trying to modernize it and by doing so, democratize the space.”

The Yaffes found the inspiration for AnyRoad while on a trip to China. They were visiting the Great Wall and found themselves mired in a horde of other tourists, with a KFC in plain sight. Not wanting to see the Wall under these conditions, the Yaffes set off to find a different view point. They befriended a local named Mr. Chu who spoke no English, but took the brothers to his rural village where they could see an unobstructed view, free from the scent of fried chicken. They say Mr. Chu was really the first AnyRoad guide, and set out to build a system where people with expertise and knowledge could effectively market themselves to travelers.

Like the Great Wall, the travel sector is a crowded and fragmented space with a lot of players jockeying for growth. There are the big guys like Expedia, TripAdvisor and Viator, as well as startups like Vayable, Peek, and GetYourGuide, not to mention the likes of TripIt and Schemer which are all dedicated to helping you find stuff to do. AnyRoad fits in that middle space between formal, organized, mass-market tours, and peer-to-peer interactions, and is committed to working with local professionals, rather than international tour companies or amateurs.

One of the major problems travel startups face is building up the critical mass of tour guides and travelers on both sides of the marketplace. AnyRoad is overcoming this obstacle by forming large scale partnerships and approaching the problem from the “top-down.”

“The world would be a better place if the tourism industry supported local tour guides and local communities and governments agree with us,” Jonathan said. “We want to be the glue in-between governments, guides, agencies and travelers. We are setting up huge partnerships with governments, guide associations, and ministries of tourism to support these communities and economies.”

The business is three-pronged. There is the consumer facing marketplace where AnyRoad charges a 5.5% booking fee to tourists. Then there is the enterprise side, where guides can use AnyRoad’s CRM and CMS to build up a personal web page, connect with the right audience, and manage their communications and bookings. The service is free and AnyRoad only charges a commission if it brings in business for the guides, for example by connecting attendees at a large convention. Any tours the guides book on their own are fee-free. According to Daniel, this is “pretty revolutionary” because it puts revenue directly in the hands of the guides and enables them to operate independently without dealing with commission structures.

AnyRoad launched in beta last month in six cities- San Francisco, New York, London, Rio, Israel, and Tokyo. The company is currently in discussions with the governments of Turkey and Greece to make the platform available in those markets and localize the tourism industry, so the destination country reaps the benefits instead of international tourism companies. The Yaffes further emphasize their commitment to responsible traveling by donating to a nonprofit of the guides’ choosing.

While connecting travelers with chances to sample wine on Israeli vineyards, surf in Rio, and explore traditional Japanese architecture is a valuable service in itself, the greater opportunity is in empowering local tour guides to run and sustain a business online.

AnyRoad is based in San Francisco, California.

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