HipTraveler, a startup founded by 1998 USC alumnus John Baumgartner, combines visual and social inspiration in order to simplify the travel-planning process for people. The online forum allows users to custom-build itineraries using beautiful images of destinations from around the world.
The idea for HipTraveler came from Baumgartner’s personal dissatisfaction with online travel planning.
“The average traveler visits 38 websites before he actually books travel, and spends three times as long travel-planning as he actually does traveling,” Baumgartner said. “So obviously there are some huge, huge problems there.”
When Baumgartner discussed this issue with his friends and family, he found that many people shared similar sentiments.
“Most people I talked to were very frustrated with the time that it takes to plan a trip,” Baumgartner said. “The resources that are on the web aren’t adequate for what people are looking for.”
HipTraveler, which officially launched on March 6, transforms travel-planning into an artistic and social experience. The site allows users to custom-build trips by simply dragging and dropping images of various activities into an itinerary. People choose a destination, then refine their search based on various categories such as dining, sight-seeing and nightlife.
“You’re actually taking visual inspiration and you’re turning it into something that’s actionable,” Baumgartner said. “Once you’ve built your itinerary via the imagery, that itinerary is now printable; it’s bookable and it’s sharable.”
Once someone completes an itinerary, other users can access it to gain ideas. If a user enjoys a particular guide or activity, he or she “hips” the post. “Hips” function similarly to “likes,” in that the most-hipped images appear on HipTraveler’s home page.
“We’re adding up the ‘hips’ on the back end so we can now rank everything by popularity,” Baumgartner said. “So, if you search for a Bali itinerary, for example, you’re gonna end up with the best of the best.”
Additionally, users can follow and message one another directly through the site. Through creating popular itineraries and demonstrating depth of knowledge about a particular region, users can become travel ambassadors.
Ambassadors serve as key resources for other travelers, answering questions and offering planning suggestions. Eventually, HipTraveler hopes to provide ambassadors with monetary rewards for their services.
Baumgartner described how USC’s diverse student body has contributed to developing the ambassador program.
“Obviously USC having more international students than any other university in the country was the perfect fit for us,” Baumgartner said.
James Bottom, the vice president of business development, recruited students from countries such as Mexico and Turkey to design insider’s guides to their home cities.
“We would love to be able to go hire the entire IR graduating class to become ambassadors,” Bottom said. “They have the perfect background for exactly what we need.”
HipTraveler targets people searching for dynamic and unique travel experiences, known as “adventure travelers.”
“[Adventure travelers] don’t want to cruise. We’re not focused on the cruise segment,” Baumgartner said. “We’re focused on the segment of the market that wants to do a more adventurous trip … If you’re just going to Hawaii and you’re staying at the Marriott, that’s a little different trip. That’s much, much easier to plan.”
Baumgartner added that the up-and-coming generation of travelers are also more visually and socially driven.
“This is the Instagram, Tumblr generation of people. So they are used to seeing things presented visually. They get it,” he said.
Baumgartner and Bottom identified their audience as “young millennials” with high levels of disposable income. In the future, they hope to accommodate more cost-conscious travelers, including USC students looking to explore local destinations.
“We kicked around a way to see HipTraveler as focusing on some of these weekender-type trips for the students on campus,” Baumgartner said. “So it is part of the ambassador program, for us to pay special attention to these folks and create mini-excursions for them.”
Baumgartner and Bottom’s long-term goal is to develop a database with thousands of itineraries for local and global destinations. Eventually, they hope that HipTraveler will become an invaluable resource for people to discover travel plans that satisfy their eclectic interests.