The founder of Project Expedition, a New York-based company that puts together tours and vacations for people with an adventurous spirit, speaks about the challenges of building a business when working with clients and providers all over the world.
When your co-founder's favorite activities include kayaking down the Panama canal, you know you've got an exciting business.
Kayaking down the Panama Canal for a day, Jeremy Clement cut through dense rainforest filled with troops of howler and spider monkeys, crocodiles on the shores, and toucans in the trees.
Clement, founder of travel booking company Project Expedition, describes this as one of his favorite travel experiences:
“It was an incredible way to experience both a fantastic nature ecotour out on the water and you’re also next to one of the engineering marvels of our time."
How Project Expedition works
The unique activity is just one of 4,500 in 60 countries that travelers can book on Project Expedition, the New York-based discovery and booking resource that Clement co-founded in 2014.
Activities range from shorter adventures lasting a few hours, such as a three-hour long tour of Havana’s cigar and rum culture, to multi-day trips, like embarking on a 11-day Highlights of Vietnam tour that weaves through the whole country.
Creating a data platform for travel
An avid jetsetter, Clement co-founded travel website Project Expedition when he was living in Japan and his co-founder Rob Keen in London.
Both working for Bloomberg Finance, the two men were often on the road for work and for leisure.
For Clement, the hardest part of planning a trip was not just deciding what to do when he reached a destination, but figuring out how to book activities there in a secure and reliable manner.
“A lot of tour operator websites don’t really imbue a sense of confidence in transactions or you see a lot of email forms. We wanted to have a data platform similar to Bloomberg that provided transparency around tours, either a type of activity or a location.”
Forming relationships, country by country:
In order to line-up the best, most reliable tour providers, the start-up has formed direct relationships with them, often visiting them firsthand, says Clement.
Now a team of five employees, Clement and Keen say they have directly engaged with 90 percent of the providers.
Right now the bulk of Project Expedition’s inventory is in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, but they are also expanding rapidly into South America and will launch soon in Hawaii.
“We found a lot of success with destinations that are a little less advanced from a tourism perspective. There’s a little less technology, it’s a little less time consuming for travelers to figure out how to do things and where to go and who are the best operators.”
While Clement initially envisioned their customer base being “millennials seeking greater control over their trip,” he’s been pleasantly surprised to find that their demographics range from 24 to 70.
Keeping costs down with TransferWise
Priding itself on customer service extending until after travelers return home from their trips, Project Expedition customers and service providers can communicate with the company through a live-chat on their website or through phone - a service they soon hope to expand to a 24/7 model.
Yet their focus on customer satisfaction also comes through costs: both keeping them down and making transactions safe and reliable. They charge local prices for each activity - with the tour provider deciding the cost themselves - and a guaranteed refund if a customer needs to cancel an activity or it does not occur due to bad weather.
That’s where TransferWise comes in. Project Expedition initially receives the customer’s payment, holding it until a tour has successfully completed. Only when it has, do they send the final profit - minus their commission - to the service provider.
For countries in TransferWise markets, they have found it a reliable and secure way to remit payment.
“For smaller costs, a one percent TransferWise fee is definitely a more affordable option for us than traditional bank methods. We try to work with operators themselves rather than mass distributors or third parties so that we generally just have a really strong control and handle over what’s on our site. TransferWise makes that process a lot easier for us.”
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