Costa Rica-based startup TripFab launched today, providing direct booking services for global travelers. The experience is meant to give travelers everything they need to book a vacation, including discovery of hotels, activities and package trips, as well as the ability to finalize payments and make reservations directly with the tour companies and hotels it partners with. TripFab CEO and founder Michael La Rosa told BetaKit that the aim is to avoid the go-between nature of Expedia and other similar sites, and in turn to pass on the resulting savings to travelers.
“What we’re doing is taking all the middlemen out of travel, online and offline travel agents, so what that means is sites like Expedia and other companies when people book a hotel with them, they make 20 to 40 percent commission per transaction,” La Rosa said. “So basically you’re paying way more than you have to. What TripFab does is give you the ability to essentially be your own travel agent and discover, plan and book early in one place and directly from businesses.”
Since travelers are making direct connections with the merchants, with TripFab acting basically as a lightweight match-making service, La Rosa said that users can communicate much more efficiently with the hotels and service providers it uses. If you have any questions you can send them a message, just like email,” he explained. “They’re available on live chat so you can speak with them directly and talk to them there or if you’re in the states you put in the number, click call and our TripFab number will call your cell phone and directly connect you with this hotel for free, [from anywhere in the world].” La Rosa sees enabling better customer service as one of TripFab’s key differentiators.
TripFab also keeps track of all reservations and planning in one place, making it a convenient central itinerary to consult and make any necessary changes from. The site also offers itinerary packages for specific types of vacations, like a honeymoon, to help travelers avoid having to put in too much legwork if they’d rather sit back and enjoy experiences curated by the site.
La Rosa arrived at the idea for TripFab after finding that in planning his own vacation, he was bouncing around between multiple services. That led him to focus not only on doing travel discovery, but also on ecommerce, which he sees as a central part of TripFab’s appeal. But the ecommerce part wasn’t even originally part of the equation. ”Originally we were like GoGoBot,” he said. “We were going to be a social recommendations platform, and we built it by the way. Nine months ago we built that. And we realized that it didn’t solve any of our problems.”
As a result, La Rosa made “a huge pivot” early on to focus on the problem he found needed solving. “The more we learned about the industry and the more we learned about Expedia or any other travel company and the crazy commission that they make we realized that we needed to change it,” he explained.
TripFab’s revenue model still involves it charging a commission on bookings made through the site, but it charges only five percent to hotels and businesses (plus a fee for credit card processing), less than its major competition. Since it works mostly by providing a largely automated layer between businesses and travelers, it can likely afford lower margins than larger, more complicated services that are more involved in the booking administration process.
The startup has raised $1.1 million in funding so far, and currently only serves Costa Rica, but plans to expand to other international markets in Central and South America this year. With a model that could eliminate a lot of the problems with improper communication between booking agents and hotels, and a better value proposition for businesses, TripFab has the potential to make waves in the relatively crowded online travel booking market. Now, its success depends on being available where tourists want to use it, and gaining enough mindshare to start replacing the tools people are already used to using.