TravelLocal – Revolutionising tailor-made holidays

04min read

Key Info
Tom Stapleton, CEO & co-founder, TravelLocal

Global tailor-made holidays brand and managed marketplace, TravelLocal, receives bookings from clients worldwide. With annual bookings over $50 million and over 90 destinations available, it has helped more than 70,000 customers create the perfect trip. We caught up with co-founder & CEO, Tom Stapleton, to understand the inspiration behind the brand and the focus for its next stage of growth.

What inspired the launch of the brand? 

While working for a traditional tour operator in the UK, myself and my co-founder, Huw Owen, realised that there’s a better way to support people in finding their perfect trip. A better solution for the customer, but also for the local economies and communities that people are visiting when they travel in these destinations.

Traditionally, when booking a holiday through a travel agent, you speak to someone in the UK and they sub-contract to someone on the ground. However, through TravelLocal you will get connected to someone in-destination, so you get access to a better level of expertise. In addition, because you’re booking locally, more of the value of the trip is being ploughed back into the local economy. All the companies on our site are locally owned and domiciled in the country which you’re visiting.  

We’re focused on making travel a force for good, and believe travel has the potential to improve all our lives and wellbeing, but it should also improve the lives of the communities in the destinations people are visiting.

What makes the TravelLocal offering so unique?

We connect our customers to one of our local experts, who are all based on the ground, in the destination you wish to travel to. So, if you’re travelling to Sri Lanka, we’ll connect you to a local expert based there, which means you’re speaking to someone who lives and breathes that destination. They can then make personalised recommendations, rather than someone sitting thousands of miles away in an office in the UK, which results in a better and more personalised trip. The majority of these experts we’ve worked with for years, and when we’re sourcing new partners, we have a thorough due diligence process in place prior to onboarding them.  

Many of our customers may also be used to organising their own trips (rather than using a tour operator), which is hugely time-consuming, and we can meet their needs as well in a cost-effective way.

Post-pandemic, how has the travel sector shifted and what has this meant for the evolution of the brand?

In many ways the pandemic accelerated trends that were already there. People are focusing on travel in a more sustainable way, so that it can benefit local communities, and that’s very much what our business model is all about.

Since the pandemic we have focused even more on making travel a force for good, and now give 1% of our revenue to charities based in some of our destinations, through our Fund For Good initiative.

Where is growth being driven from globally? What demographic of traveller are you appealing to?

Our core markets are the US (this is our biggest market), DACH countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and the UK. We also have a significant proportion of our business from English-speaking countries in the rest of the world. There’s a huge potential target market and increasingly more people that want to travel this way – through both tailor-made holidays and finding a more sustainable way to travel.

Our core demographic is “empty nesters”, whose children have left home. They are still active, want to see the world and get an authentic perspective on the destination they’re visiting, rather than following a traditional tour group. They really value their travel and want to get the most out of every destination that they visit.

We also appeal to “pre-kids professionals” who are time-poor and want to go and explore the world, making the most of their precious holiday time before they settle down and potentially have children.

What destinations are most in demand this year?

It’s a real range depending on where people are travelling from, but at the moment Costa Rica is extremely popular. We find with our core demographic that they want to make the most of their holiday time, so they have a list of places and experiences they want to visit in an authentic way. Steadily they’re working their way down that list, and coming back to book with us again and again.

How has external investment from partners such as Puma Private Equity helped to support your growth journey?

Working with investors such as Puma Private Equity has meant that we’ve been able to build our brand across our core markets. Through our platform we’re connecting travellers from many different countries to our local on the ground experts in the destinations they wish to travel.  We have 90 destinations, and they all interact via our web-based platform. This investment has enabled us to evolve and develop that further to enable greater functionality to both our partners around the world and our customers.

We really appreciate the broader network that having an external investor brings in guiding us to grow our business through all the challenges that brings.

What’s next for the brand?

2024 is set to be another great year for building the brand, and we’re really excited to be advertising on German TV for the first time, as well as being back on UK TV via our partnership with Channel 4. We’re seeing some great early results coming through from that. Broadly, our focus is on building brand awareness across our other core markets, in particular the US later in 2024.

Our goal remains focused on connecting more people to the places they most want to visit, in the most authentic way possible.