Meet Olga Bortnikova, CEO & Co-Founder at Online Travel Marketplace: YouTravel.me

YouTravel.Me is an algorithm-powered online marketplace for booking multi-day small group adventure travel organized by travel experts. We offer everything, from yoga retreats to safaris. Launched in Europe in 2018, YouTravel.Me is a global community of over 10,000 happy travelers and 4,100 travel experts offering 15,600 tours in over 130 countries around the world.

Previously, YouTravel.me successfully completed several accelerator programs and received grants from Startup Lab, Madeira Startup Retreat, and 500Georgia – 500 Startups, where YouTravel.me was named among the Top 5.
 
 
Travel & Vacations Cash Back — Megabonus United States
 

How did you come up with the idea for the company?

 
My husband Ivan and I used to travel a lot and planned every trip on our own. But one of our vacations in China proved to be a disappointment: putting our trust in a tour operator, we bought a package tour and ran into many problems, from a 5-hour flight delay to the tour guide’s incompetence. A charter flight, several buses, tired people, no feedback — we were amazed how little the organizers cared about the tourists.

Nobody was concerned if the guests liked the trip, everybody was just working their part of an assembly line. The hotel was far from the city, and if we wanted to go anywhere, we had to pay extra and plan it all on our own. The group walking tours mostly took us to the souvenir shops. As a result, we had to come up with our own itinerary and plan activities on the go.

After returning home, we decided to find a service with a more personalized approach to tours but discovered that there wasn’t any platform that could offer that.

We did learn that there’s a better way to do group travel — there are trips that are organized by travel experts, professional tour guides who assemble small groups for exciting trips anywhere in the world. However, there was no single aggregator for such trips, and we decided to create it on our own. We invested about $10,000 of our own money to set up YouTravel.me, spending it on site development and advertising.
 

 

How has the company evolved during the pandemic?

 
The 2020 pandemic proved to be the biggest test for YouTravel.me. It’s hard to survive when not only your platform, but the entire travel industry loses its use to everyone. What happened was a big shock to both the team and the experts: we had to spend a lot of effort to reassure our tour organizers because most of them are small vendors, and the long quarantine threatened their existence as a business.

We decided not to work on online tours, which became popular during the lockdown, because no online tour can replace a real trip anyway.

Instead, we created BeGuide, an educational platform for those who want to become guides and sell their own trips in the future.

We involved our partners and team in the new project, invited leading experts in the field of travel and built a rich two-month educational program. It turned out that we did the right thing: during the lockdown, more tour organizers turned to us and we expanded our community. At first, the team’s goal was to prepare a quality knowledge base for organizers in a market niche where the entry barrier is low, but the market players have to deal with high-level demands from the clients.

But in the process, we realized how fragmented the community of organizers was, and that it was the support that was most important to them. It’s good to know that we not only solved our own problems but were useful for the whole community. Today, BeGuide has a more accessible format that doesn’t require the travel experts to undergo training in a limited period of time, and instead is available by subscription at any time of the day or night. Thanks to BeGuide, YouTravel.me has doubled its revenue during the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the startup’s main product is still the marketplace. Over the summer, when restrictions were relaxed in many regions and the vacation season began, YouTravel.me managed to achieve the same level of sales as pre-pandemic. The only difference is that this year the users started booking more domestic tours.
 

What can we hope to see from YouTravel.me in the future

 
We are going to raise new funding to strengthen our position on the U.S. market and enhance our technology platform. There are also plans to automate the verification and authorization of tours and to devote a lot of attention to developing our community and educating travel guides through the BeGuide platform. Our ultimate goal is to improve the overall quality of travel services offered on the global market.