I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy. A large part of this trip was in Sicily and the last few days were with friends in Tuscany.
We had some unique experiences that made me think of some additional travel related startup ideas beyond the last two that I published earlier, Build Me This Travel Planning App, Please! and Build Me This Travelogue App, Please!
In a small town called Modica in South East Italy, we spent a night at an old palace, Palazzo Failla. Modica, Ragusa, Noto are three towns in South East Sicily that were destroyed in the 1693 earthquake but rebuilt as beautiful Baroque towns.
Julia and Giorgio run the 10-room hotel that is their grandmother's house. I love to see places with history not being destroyed by the march of time. Heritage hotels are one of the best preservation strategies for old properties. We try to stay in them when we can. This one is from the eighteen hundreds.
They also recommended a wonderful new restaurant called Accursio where the chef quit a 2-star Michelin restaurant to launch one uniquely his own. Accursio has no star (yet) but was a wonderful experience.
Throughout Italy, families are trying to save their old, unique properties by turning them into hotels and B&Bs. They are all listed in Tripadvisor and Hotels.com. However, I don't really know where to go if I specifically am looking for these kinds of properties to stay in during a trip.
What I would like, as a traveler, is a website or an app that really builds on these unique experiences of staying at unique Palazzos or Villas (or Havelis, as they call them in Rajasthan, another place in India that is full of these heritage properties).
Also, I believe, the owners of these properties are looking for interesting ways to market themselves, and often are not at all savvy in online marketing.
We know the owners of a beautiful 7-suite luxury villa in Tuscany with 2000 years of history, an Etruscan church on the property, and excellent cuisine, in the hills of Sienna, in a village called San Giovanni d'Asso. The owners and the managers are Belgian. Marketing isn't their forte. Their clientele is over 70% Belgian, their customer acquisition is largely word of mouth. Ten years back, I taught them how to use Trip Advisor, and they have not really advanced beyond that.
So, my assessment is that both property owners have the need to market, and discerning consumers are looking for precise resources to find unique places to stay.
Address the need, and you may have a winning value proposition.
The same need, by the way, exists in other styles of unique properties and experiences. Italy, for instance, is now full of agriturismos. We had a lovely lunch one day at one of those near the archeological site of Selinunte in Southern Sicily. We were driving to Agrigento after seeing Selinunte, and randomly saw the sign and stopped in.
After the lunch, I had the same feeling ... where can I find a consolidated view of all the agriturismos in Italy with reviews, ratings, photos, extensive descriptions of what they offer, and how the experience is differentiated and interesting.
From an implementation point of view, this can be done by small-scale entrepreneurs with unique insights and knowledge of a region. For example, someone could focus on Tuscany, someone else on Sicily, another on Provence.
Each site or app needs to become the authority on the region's offerings that go well beyond the regular travel guides that list run-off-the-mill experiences.
As for business model, the most sustainable business model would be to work with the property owners in a subscription fee model such that they pay to be listed, marketed, and reviewed and rated by the users.
Here's a straw man pricing model: $300/month to showcase a property with a meaningful degree of depth, charisma, and storytelling. Of course, this means, the entrepreneur(s) need to be great storytellers with a sophisticated understand of how to present an "experience" not just a TripAdvisor listing. And, the properties, for the sake of the travelers, need to be a curated set meeting certain standards of excellence.
With this pricing model, you would need 300 properties in your portfolio to get to $1M in annual revenue.
There could be additional booking commissions as well, as part of the business model.
Finally, my observation is that there are whole new segments of affluent consumers developing who are not necessarily savvy travelers. Sophisticated marketing to draw in some of these new segments from India, China, Silicon Valley, and developing their taste buds to consume such charismatic travel experiences could yield serious returns.
You can take any of these ideas and execute on them, morph them, mash them up with other ideas of your own. If you want help with building any of these businesses, we'll be happy to help.