October 28, 2021


Just Do Travel

STARTUP STAGE: TourOpp offers both distribution and communication services for tour and activity operators

9 min read


TourOpp launched in 2018 as an online travel agency for the tours and activities sector and now lists operators in more than 120 destinations around the world.

In 2019, the founders created TourOpp Go!, a communication system for operators that runs on WhatsApp and through text and automates responses to customers’ inquiries. 

What is your 30-second pitch to investors?

TourOpp GO! is an automated messaging system and smart
chatbot for tour and activity operators that runs on WhatsApp and SMS. We
connect to the operators’ reservation systems to retrieve new booking
information and act as “concierge” for the operators’ clients, thus
reducing the time these companies spend on customer service while bringing new
bookings, reviews and referrals to their business.





Describe both the business and technology aspects
of your startup.

TourOpp has two lines of business: TourOpp.com, which launched in 2018 is the first OTA to introduce
revenue management in the tours and activities industry. By allowing tour
operators to use dynamic pricing, you can now find more than 1,500 tours
in 120 destinations around the world with significant discounts compared to
other – more popular – sites.

In 2019, and
after working with hundreds of suppliers around the world, the team realized
that there was another difficulty that tour and activity operators had that
neither the OTAs or the reservation technology companies were solving: reducing
the amount of time tour and activity operators spend on communication and
customer service with their clients.

To solve this, we
developed TourOpp GO!, a communication tool that runs on WhatsApp and SMS and
connects to the operators’ reservation system to automate a few things on that
customer communication end. For example, our system can automate the responses
to about 74% of customers questions. It can also recommend to the operators’
customers other tours available in-destination or places where they can eat,
all the way to requesting reviews from the customer at the end of the tour or
asking for contactless payment tips for the tour guide – all within customers’
preferred messaging apps.

Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses,
Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.

  • Strengths: The
    biggest strength we have is on our founding team. Every startup will say this,
    but we really stand for this as our team was founded by tour operators with
    more than 50 years of combined experience in this industry. We really know what
    are the main difficulties that tour and activity operators face, and we have
    the technological background to solve this. Plus, our team has been working
    together for the past five years and built three other companies that are
    already generating more than $2.8 million in revenue every year.
  • Weaknesses: Although our company is based in the U.S.,
    most of the team is originally from Latin America and that puts as in
    disadvantage to other companies in the U.S. and Europe with large amounts of
    funding behind them. We’ve had to bootstrap for the past four years and
    personally invest most of our assets into this company.
  • Opportunities: There
    are hundreds of opportunities in the tours and activities space, but you have
    to know the industry to see them and how to take advantage of them. We are in
    the communication space, and there’s still a lot of work to do there as most
    operators spend at least half of their time on a regular day doing things like
    responding to customers’ questions, asking them for reviews and solving their
    requests (like changes of dates or cancellations). For the bigger operators,
    this usually means spending thousands of dollars per month on “customer reps.” 
  • Threats: The most obvious one is the pandemic crisis,
    which no one knows how long it’s going to last. Some people have called us
    crazy to be investing on a travel startup these days, but we see this situation
    as a double-edged sword. The lower volume of travelers has forced many
    operators to think about ways to automate their business more, which has
    benefited us as that’s where we provide value. On the other side, if it lasts
    too long (two more years?), our clients will close down, and then, so will we.

What are the travel pain points you are trying to
alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?

Let’s start from
the customer’s journey of booking and going to a tour: Studies show that most travelers
will choose to wait to book their in-destination activities – most bookings
happen around 72 hours before their trip. So, unlike flights and hotels, most
people will do this in a hurry, some people might even do this while they are
at the airport, on their airport transfer or when they get to their hotel.

As a consequence, you will find that most travelers don’t even
read the description of the tour they have booked that carefully. So, if the
information is not easily available, around 48 hours before the tour they will
start asking questions like “Where am I meeting this tour?” “How
long will it last?” “Are meals included?” and many others. If
answers aren’t provided immediately, customers start to panic and their
experience starts to degrade.

Tours and activities are just more complex and diverse
products than hotels or flights, so the OTAs look to the other side when it
comes to customer service. Who has to respond to these questions? The
operators. This example is just one of the many pain points we’ve found that
both customers and operators have in this time lapse between the time when a
tour or an activity is booked until it happens. Others include the lack of good
pictures that tour and activity operators have, the amount of time spent asking
for reviews, the challenge operators face when trying to do any cross-selling
or upselling and the list goes on.

So you’ve got the product, now how will you get
lots of customers?

We are currently
building a sales team (most of the sales have historically been handled by
ourselves personally up until now) and a few interesting marketing strategies
to reach out to as many operators as possible. However, as said before, TourOpp
GO! is an independent line of business from the OTA, so there’s obviously a
synergy here. We know many operators as many of them are our suppliers, so now
they are also our suppliers as well. Others aren’t our suppliers but have
become our clients on TourOpp GO! as we’ve kept a relationship with them
after meeting them in trade shows or conferences like Arival, WTM or ITB. 

In the past four months
we’ve also received many referrals as TourOpp GO! has already shown useful to
operators who’ve had to reduce their staff after the COVID crisis and are
looking for ways to automate some of their manual processes. 

We’ve also gotten
a lot of attention from operators who, after seeing the reduction in passenger
volume, are looking for other ways to monetize and increase the revenue they
get per booking. Finally, some operators have decided to start using tools to
communicate some of the health and safety protocols they have implemented and
to provide contactless payment options to customers when it comes to tipping or
booking additional products. This referral process is the type of marketing we
like the most because it means we’re doing something that provides value.

Tell us what process you’ve gone through to
establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable

As an OTA we saw
customers’ behavior after booking. We used to process 5,000 bookings per year,
which is still a low number for an OTA, but big enough to see how many
questions customers had and how operators handled these. We also realized that
operators lacked good pictures to upload on OTAs, their own website or social
media, despite of the fact that customers were doing taking pictures every day.
Finally, we also realized that if we didn’t ask for a customer review, the
operator wouldn’t do it because they would have to do it manually. 

These are
difficulties that all tour and activity operators face daily, and Arival
estimates that there are close to one million operators around the world, with
at least 300,000 of those already selling online (according to Tripadvisor’s

How and when will you make money?

TourOpp GO! works
on a monthly subscription basis where operators pay according to the number of
messages they want to send per month (which will depend a lot on the number of
bookings they get as well). We also have a free plan for small, new and
recovering operators where they can send automatic booking confirmations and
reminders and choose to send review requests and tour suggestions on a
pay-per-booking model. We have close to 100 clients right now, but we
expect to be working with at least 500 by the end of the year. 

What are the backgrounds and previous achievements
of the founding team?

TourOpp is a
company that was founded by two tour operators and two “techies.”
Jossueth and Paulo Irigoyen are owners of the Gray Line license for Ecuador and
Colombia, and they have been running a family company that is now 35 years old.
This is the largest operator of day tours in Ecuador and the biggest supplier
to OTAs in this country. When they saw the need to bring dynamic pricing to the
industry, they called Daniel Pino.

In 2016, Daniel had
left his job at Southwest Airlines to replicate the “City Pass” model
in Latin America. He founded another business, which he partially sold to work
on TourOpp.

After raising
some angel investment, the OTA was launched in 2018 offering more than 1,500 tours
in 120 destinations around the world. It were selected that year as one of
Latin America’s Top 40 startups and then in 2019 it was accepted by LATAM’s
most important accelerator, Start-Up Chile, for their Seed Program. In 2019, a
new CTO joined the team who has more than 10 years of experience developing
communication software. 

What’s been the most difficult part of founding
the business so far?

Although this is
changing rapidly, the tours and activities segment within the broader travel
industry has historically been one of the slowest adopters of technology. After
working with suppliers for the past four years, it is only now that we see res-tech
companies really penetrating the market and API connections really becoming a
standard for OTAs. And yet, there are still hundreds of thousands of operators
that don’t even know this technology exists.

Our product depends on how developed this technology is and
how fast tour operators accept it. 

Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough
time making an impact – so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?

It’s true and
even more so now, being a startup in the travel industry is more challenging
than venturing into more well-funded industries like fintech or health tech.
However, we truly love and know this industry and that really makes us unique
as most startups in this space really go into it without talking to the real
actors first.

We also think
that in the travel industry things can change very fast. New players, new
technology and new rules can change the panorama from one day to another, so
you have to be quick to adapt. We believe going from on OTA to a communication
software shows how fast and aggressively we’ve been able to adapt.

A year from now, what state do you think your
startup will be in?

The next year
will be about growth. We’re hoping to build a very solid team and a good base
of customers in the next 12 months in order to build more features and get
connected to even more booking systems. If we achieve that, we will be ready
for true expansion in 2022.

What is your end-game? (Going public,
acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)

I think most startups have an exit strategy in mind and
that’s okay. However, we’re here for the long run. We can’t rule out an
acquisition in the future, but we really like this space and we want to really
make a difference in the businesses and lives of tour and activity operators,
while also improving the travelers’ booking experience through great technology
and software.

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