Travel Agencies Are Being Rebranded as Digital Goods

Travel is one industry that’s been very receptive to innovators and changes. In the span of two decades, the Internet has brought two titanic shifts for the travel agency. At first, Orbitz, Kayak, and put travel agents out of business. Now, they’re getting an opportunity to rebrand their services and curate travel for a variety of reasons.

Travel is no longer just a vacation good. It’s an experience that can be combined with inter-related services to create an entirely new reason to travel. Travel and work is combined to create digital nomad services. Travel and friendship is combined to create travel communities. Travel and spontaneity combine to create surprise vacations.

It’s not just about finding a beach with a margarita and forgetting about work. With 100 flavors of traveling now, savvy marketers are using travel as an attribute for selling a greater idea.

Travel & Work

If you have the luxury to work from home, then why not work from anywhere in the world? The remote work lifestyle birthed digital nomads. They’re workers who’ve married digital work with the jet-set lifestyle – traveling all over the world, while still conducting meetings and getting work done.

Digital nomads have been around for quite some time. But you had to be a smart researcher in order to find a good Internet connection in a remote village in Thailand. Resources like Nomad List made being a digital nomad simpler by crowdsourcing the best places to visit while still being able to make your 6pm Skype call.

Going one step further, though, are rebranded travel agencies that take care of all these minuscule, but important, details of digital nomadship.

Remote Year gives the average remote worker the opportunity to pick up their laptop and travel the globe as a digital nomad. They take care of booking your flights, lodging, workspace, activities, and community. 

Companies like TripActions are doing similar managing for more traditional corporate travel – a $1.5 trillion market. TripActions uses machine learning to better match travelers with trips and then manages a company’s entire travel budget tracking for better experience for their employees.

Travel & Community

Group traveling can be a phenomenal way to forge greater bonds with people. College students experience this through study abroad programs. Religious mission trips bring together people with like-minded pursuits for a grand purpose.

The closest group of friends my Grandpa ever had was his Over The Hill Gang. He joined this group of active people in their sixties and seventies. Once a month, they’d all take a trip somewhere in the country and live up their golden years. Really an admirable travel community.


So how are digital services forging these travel community experiences?

WiFi Tribe, like Remote Year, plans a person’s digital nomad details but with a greater emphasis on the community or tribe. It’s like signing up for a traveling coworking space.

Travel dating services like MissTravel are a matchmaking service through the lens of travel.

GoAbroad curates meaningful travel packages where travelers can volunteer for conservation projects, intern for a non-profit, or teach English in a foreign country. It’s like “study abroad for adults”.

Pollen is a service that incentivizes group traveling and shared experiences. It’s part community building and part gamified subscription.

Travel meets community is a very compelling service that I see expanding even more. 

The Travel Agent Rebranded

I find it fascinating that we went from not wanting travel agents to basically telling them, “We trust you fully. Surprise ME!”

Surprise vacations don’t make a lot of logical sense. But they’re an exciting take on vacation. Companies like Pack Up + Go and The Vacation Hunt promise a great vacation if you put your trust in them to plan for you. Whether you want to pack up and go away for a weekend or head somewhere internationally for a month, they’ll curate it for you.

The key differentiator is branding. Travel agents have long been viewed as a middleman. But when branded as a purveyor of hidden experiences, then travel agents once again become important. Explorer X, will plan your entire trip but through their network of locals instead of big box travel companies. That’s their branded approach.

Airbnb’s go-forward opportunity is … really reinventing the experience market around the world. Their latest offering is starting to scratch the surface of disrupting travel agents, where they have an all-in-one trip where you get your home, you get your experiences, you get your meals, and all you have to do is pick the destination, like “I want to go to Chile.”

Jeff Jordan, Andreessen Horowitz

With a regained trust in others to plan trips for us, the travel subscription will start to make more sense. Travel subscriptions like Be Right Back are a little ahead of this curve. However, if $40-120 per month will get you three fully-planned weekend getaways per year, then I really see them taking off.

Regardless, all of the above travel services are based on the idea that travel is more prevalent than ever but not in the traditional sense. They appeal to the 21st-century, productivity-obsessed person wants to accomplish more out of a vacation.

The technology of these travel services isn’t that advanced. However, it’s the blending of ideas and packaging of experiences that makes them successful and appealing.