In an effort to make travel planning easier for those looking to see the world, startups such as Noken are creating mobile personalized itineraries out of hotel, activity and ground transportation bookings. The aim is to produce a single guide to help travelers navigate a place that they haven’t been before. “We curate itineraries that are designed specifically with the idea of exploring a new country for the first time,” Noken Co-founder Emily Brockway told PYMNTS in an interview.
Brockway seeks to help travelers explore well-known sites as well as those with more of a regional flair, providing a balance of both landmarks and local gems so they can understand the essence of a country when they visit. At the same time, she aimed to allow travelers to customize the guides to their specific dates and budget.
The booking process starts when consumers visit the Noken website and select a destination. They then enter the dates for their trip and choose a hotel from a selection that the company curates. Noken provides a wide range of lodging options that run the gamut from hostels to five-star hotels, allowing consumers to decide how to allocate their travel budgets. “Some people like to stay in hostels but eat at Michelin star restaurants. Some people like to stay at Four Seasons and eat at the local market,” Brockway noted.
Beyond hotels, travelers can book specific activities as well as in-country transportation options through the Noken platform. Brockway noted that payments are handled through credit or debit card via Stripe technology, but the real magic happens after the consumer makes her reservations. At that point, she receives an access code that can be entered into the company’s app to see a personalized guide that contains a daily route and all of her reservations, among other features.
Curating Destinations for Nomads
Noken, which just raised $2.5 million in seed funding, is focusing on three destinations for now: Portugal, Japan and Iceland. To choose destinations, Brockway engages with her community of travelers to see where they want to go next and keeps an eye out for where leisure travelers are going. Portugal, for instance, was forgotten for a time as a travel destination, and has since seen a resurgence.
Brockway said Portugal is “like a classic European destination with a twist," as it has the classic European historical elements of castles and cobblestone streets along with a beautiful wine region. The city of Porto has a big food scene along the waterfront and, of course, Port wine. In addition, she noted that the South Coast region has scenic beaches and an even bigger surfing scene. Overall, Brockway said it’s a small country that offers travelers a bit of everything. She added that Iceland provides a nature-focused road trip experience, and Japan offers travel in trains as well as cultural experiences.
The Digital Nomad Market
For now, Brockway said her target market is millennials and young families who are digitally savvy, as “this is definitely a new type of intermediary in the travel space.” Having a digital guide in a phone is a pretty novel idea, and people have to be pretty comfortable with apps and phones. For that reason, her service primarily attracts consumers between the ages of 25 to 40.
Brockway noted that today's consumers want less, not more: “They like simplicity and curation,” she said, as everyone is overloaded with options. When travelers go to online travel agencies (OTAs) or travel agencies (TAs), they may be faced with millions of choices. Narrowing them down can be a painstaking process, as consumers might check out Instagram, blogs, magazines and different booking services to piece their trips together.
Overall, Brockway said, consumers are looking for seamlessness and curation from trusted intermediaries in a variety of different industries. One way travel startups can carve out their niche is to serve as digital guides instead of simply a place to make a reservation.