We’re thrilled to be launching our second Bristol coworking site, Runway East Temple Meads, this December! As the entrepreneurial scene in Bristol continues to thrive, we’re chatting with Bristol’s leading startup founders about their unorthodox success stories.
We spoke with Tom Stapleton, co founder of TravelLocal and member at Runway East Bristol Bridge, about startups and all things tech, but instead, we ended up asking him to solve all our travel problems.
Having securing a recent investment from Channel 4, they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
So Tom, you’ve worked in the travel industry since 2005. What was your experience like travelling and working in the industry before TravelLocal?
The part of the travel industry that we’re in (tailor-made holidays) is old fashioned and hides the true stars of the industry away – the great companies that are on the ground in your destination. It’s these local heroes that make or break your trip but few customers are aware of their existence. Our mission is to bring these hidden stars of the industry into the light and into the forefront of the planning and booking process.
You’ve incorporated the practice of buying local into your trip ideas for customers – why should this matter to customers?
Intuitively, if you’re planning a trip anywhere, it makes sense to ask a local. With TravelLocal customers get the best local advice and expertise from travel agents based in their destination – we think this means customers get a better, more in depth experience of a destination. Plus booking with TravelLocal means the benefits of tourism are going to local economies as much as possible.
You’ve said your favourite travel memory was on the Trans-Asia express between Istanbul and Tehran where you shared a compartment and a bottle of wine with an Iranian couple – do elaborate!
That was a trip I took with my brother a number of years ago. We traveled to Tehran by train from London, crossing Europe. The last bit of that train ride was from Istanbul to Tehran, a three-day journey. The train was 12 hours late but it was a really interesting journey. Most fascinating was seeing how on the Turkish side of the border, people were still able to drink and were lively and friendly. As soon as they got to the other side of the border though, they were suddenly home in their own country where things are more restricted, especially for women. It was really interesting to see that change in people’s demure. Iran is also an amazing country to visit with a long and fascinating history, and distinct culture that many people are not aware of.
Choose between the two – all trains are high speed forever, or all trains are rickety old trains with sleeper compartments forever?
Can I say both? The high-speed trains are needed so that people are flying less, but rickety old sleeper trains are the more romantic and imaginative way to travel.
You and your co founder, Huw, have worked together on TravelLocal since 2012. As co founders how do your skill sets complement one another?
I would say our approaches are quite different but they are complementary – I am probably more analytical and process-driven but Huw loves speaking to our customers and working with our partners around the world to make sure they are having a great time .
You have destinations spanning the globe: Georgia, Oman, Tanzania and The Galapagos Islands to name a few. What’s your selection process like for choosing destinations, and what’s been the most popular option so far?
Costa Rica is somewhere that is definitely popular. When it comes to the selection process, footfall is important to us when we’re choosing locations. But it’s also about having a good spread for our customers and choosing places that have the benefits of local expertise. That tends to be places farther away – medium to long haul – where it’s harder to organise things yourself.
TravelLocal is all about bespoke travel with a difference. Helping travelers gain an authentic experience travelling by partnering with local experts. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while scaling TravelLocal?
The biggest challenge is acquiring customers because it’s a highly competitive industry. We’re really committed to quality and making sure our customers come back and book with us again and again and again. Everything we do is to make sure that our customers have a great trip and a great experience booking their trip so they book their future holidays with us and tell their friends about us – that’s really at the heart of what we’re doing.
TravelLocal has had some recent funding by Channel 4. Can you elaborate on your new partnership with them?
We have a TV ad that is being broadcasted on Channel 4 and a core part of the partnership is centred around that. Without revealing too much – we’re working closely together on all avenues of collaboration.
How has the startup scene in Bristol helped shape TravelLocal?
Bristol felt like a great place to grow our business because there are amazing people here. We’ve been able to assemble a great team within a very supportive environment. There are plenty of support and networking opportunities around. It’s great to be amongst like-minded companies here at Runway East. The team love being here and the events that Runway East puts on are very popular. They wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
We’re guessing the TravelLocal team is full of avid travelers?
Most people are interested in travelling and get away when they can – we have a TravelLocal annual travel allowance that we give to every member of the team so they can visit any destination they want.
Where should we be looking to travel to right now that most people don’t know about?
Colombia is pretty hot right now. We’ve just added Mexico to the platform – there is a deep, rich cultural heritage to explore there. November to March is the best time to go. So that would be a good winter getaway.
And the best place for a summer break?
Safari is a great thing to do over the summer period. Costa Rica is a great all year-round destination to visit.
Top travel tip?
Always ask as local. And on a practical note, I always bring a photocopy of my passport with me in case I lose mine!
Your tagline is ‘local knowledge makes a world of difference’ – drop some local knowledge on us!
The best pizza in Bristol – G Brothers pizza – is just round the corner from Stapleton Road station in Easton. The “food alley” at St Nicholas Market is a great place for an exciting lunch. And lastly, Bristol has loads of green spaces but the best are outside of the centre – Victoria Park, St.George’s Park, the Downs.
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