Two French entrepreneurs are disrupting the travel sector with an app and website which deliver authentic trips
Eric La Bonnardière and Yves Wibaux are the founders of Evaneos which is the first online travel marketplace in Europe to offer people fully customized trip planning for bespoke adventure travel.
By cutting out tour operators and connecting travelers directly with select local travel agents, their platform delivers bespoke adventures to those who share a passion for authentic travel and who prefer personalized booking and touristic experiences.
Since launching in 2009 Evaneos has brought travel delight to around 120,000 travelers from 30 different countries who have enjoyed tailor-made and more affordable trips (including outdoor adventure trips) designed especially for them by Evaneos’ group of local partner agencies.
Recently the Paris-based startup completed its third round of investment and raised $21 million in order to innovate further and launch its international expansion.
‘In a world of increasing international communication, travelers want the freedom to have personalized, meaningful local experiences when they set off abroad.’ – Eric La Bonnardière, CEO and co-founder, Evaneos
Here Eric tells Nativa World about his startup journey and why he thinks Evaneos can become the global destination for people who want to explore the world in a more meaningful and authentic way….
Eric, how did Evaneos come to life?
Yvan, my co-founder, and I have always been incredibly passionate about travel. At the start of our collaboration, we realized that meaningful, personalized multi-day tours were difficult for travelers to create. We were frustrated by the standardized package holidays offered by tour operators, and by the lack of authenticity and local expertise available. Emotion is key to travel, and yet the planning and booking processes by intermediaries on the internet were equally uninspiring, with no real ‘human’ element present.
We then had the idea of connecting travelers directly with the local experts: travel agents on-site in the destination itself. Our startup concept followed naturally. We set our minds to combining human interaction and local expertise with technology, secure online platforms and tools.
What’s the Evaneos mission?
We aim to create the most inspiring travel website and community worldwide, by connecting travelers everywhere with passionate local agents who know their destinations inside-out. Evaneos was the pioneer of this concept seven years ago, and today, we’re more determined than ever to make meaningful, tailor-made travel available on a global scale.
How did you come to work with your co-founder, Yvan?
As an alumni of HEC (a French business school), I received an email one day from a mysterious contact named Yvan, that was sent to everyone in the alumni mailing list. In the email, Yvan expressed his interest in creating some sort of startup in the travel industry, adding that he was looking for a partner in order to do this. As a fellow travel lover, I responded immediately, and we arranged to meet up two or three times to brainstorm ideas. It was a match made in heaven from the outset. I quit my job as a consultant, and not long after, Evaneos was born.
Yvan and I both share the same passion for traveling and discovering new cultures and places, and the same vision for how we want to run the company. In terms of backgrounds and experience, our skill sets are also complimentary. Yvan is more in charge of the product and the technology side of Evaneos, whereas I’m more the finance, marketing, and communication guy.
What problem does Evaneos solve?
People aren’t happy simply being ‘tourists’ anymore. In a world of increasing international communication, travelers want the freedom to have personalized, meaningful local experiences when they set off abroad. Traveling isn’t the novelty it was long ago in the past, and with more and more people accustomed to travel, their needs and expectations for their trips are naturally increasing too.
Before the creation of Evaneos, travelers had two options when it came to booking a multi-day tour: the DIY route was to organize it themselves using multiple different websites for reserving hotels, flights, on-site activities, and guide accompaniment etc. The drawback? This is a complicated and time-consuming process, with nobody to give reliable advice or recommendations on traveling in the destination. The second option was to book a package tour via a tour operator, in which case you either end up with the same standardized product as everyone else, or the trip becomes expensive as soon as you want to tailor-make it.
Evaneos provides a third solution: 100% tailor-made travel, (from accommodation, itinerary, transport, activities, whether you require a guide/driver, pace of travel, and more), organized by a local expert, at a lower cost.
What challenges have you faced since Evaneos launched?
Once you have proven that a business model works, the main challenge is obviously to make it grow. I think the biggest challenge in any business is finding the right people in order to do this, and then organizing an internal structure which operates in the most efficient way possible. I’m a firm believer that you learn enormously from your mistakes, so in hindsight, I wouldn’t actually do anything differently. Part and parcel with being an entrepreneur is accepting the risk of failure.
Do you use data to shape your strategy?
In terms of utilizing data, we’ve collected much regarding travel habits, such as what people tend to do on-site, the profile of our travelers etc, and we use this accordingly in the planning of future projects, to ensure that we’re constantly improving the traveler experience.
What are your short and long-term goals?
Our short-term goals include launching Evaneos in three new markets, but our long-term ambition is to become a global brand, and the ultimate reference point for all people who want to explore the world.
Have you had to pivot and adapt?
It took us more than a year to understand exactly how the travel industry works, and to find the Evaneos concept. Before Evaneos, Yvan and I had already created one other company within the travel sector together, which stood us in good stead for Evaneos. I think initial experimentation is a necessary stage to adapting business concepts and strategies so that they bring added value to a market.
What’s been your funding route thus far?
Yvan and I started off by investing a small amount of our own money in the company. We were then given state aid, which enabled us to test out our ideas more concretely. Since 2009, we’ve had three funding rounds with Venture Capitalists, raising $26 million in total. Raising funds is a challenge that Yvan and I like as co-founders, as it forces us to write down a clear strategy and to see a bigger vision of the company at each step.
Who is your main competitor and why is Evaneos different?
The travel industry is incredibly competitive, and there are many successful holiday booking solutions within the industry that already exist (for example tour operators, Trip Advisor, Booking.com, etc). Thanks to the human touch that is at the core of everything we do, the Evaneos platform provides a very different experience to all of these. We are able to offer people the freedom to personalize every detail of their trips, and to book with local experts passionate about their destination.
Who is your target user?
Quite simply people who want to explore the world, on a range of budgets. They tend to be travelers looking to discover new places through an authentic lens, rather than those seeking only to see the touristy highlights of a country. Our number one marketing strategy consists of giving travelers the best experience possible before, during, and after their trips, as we know how important recommendations and word-of-mouth can be. We do of course also use standard acquisition marketing channels both online and offline (such as organizing community drinks and events to allow travelers and local agents to meet in person).
How do you source your local travel agents?
We actually have an entire team dedicated to sourcing local agents. Our selection criteria at Evaneos is rigorous, and in the end we only partner with around 15% of the local agents we assess.
What is ‘Responsible Tourism’?
Responsible tourism is a huge issue for the travel industry. The total number of tourists in the world will have doubled from 2010 to 2030, approaching 2 billion. For me, responsible tourism means coping with these numbers in a sustainable way, by encouraging preservation of environments and local populations. Today, there is a mass concentration of tourists in specific spots within destinations, which can be detrimental to the local area both in terms of environment and culture. With Evaneos, we are encouraging a wider distribution of these tourists, by opening up the possibility for tourists to travel to off-the-beaten-track sites, to discover the lesser-known (and therefore less touristy) areas, and by encouraging travel in individual groups, which has much less of an impact on the local environment than tourists groups that require bigger-scale infrastructures. Evaneos also provides a grant to support local projects supported by our partner agents in their destinations.
Is the US launch the next phase?
Evaneos has already launched in five major European countries – France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK. Thus far, we’ve launched in each of these markets by opportunity. The next step is to conduct a more precise study into understanding the needs of future markets before we launch. As far as the US is concerned, we are already creating a comprehensive network of English-speaking local agents in preparation for launching in this market. Extending Evaneos to the US is really exciting for us, given that it’s the biggest market for travel in the world. It’s not going to be an easy feat, so if there are any travel fans at Nativa World who’d like to help lend a hand, by all means get in touch!
What is your favorite app?
The Evaneos app, of course! That way, I get to work and dream at the same time.
Eric’s top start-up tips:
- Look for the right people, not for the right idea
- Test, and learn (which works well when you start out without funding)
- Forget about market studies, it’s experience that counts
- Done is better than perfect
- Share your ideas
Eric’s top travel experiences:
- Toyko: dinner at the Aman, a fantastic new hotel and restaurant
- Paris: shopping fans, head to the lesser-known ‘arcades’ of the 18th arrondissement
- London: Shoreditch is a really trendy area that I recommend a visit to. In summer, a boat ride in Little Venice is also a must, plus London has many outdoor movie theaters where they show the classics, for example the Rooftop Cinema Club, which organizes these events in different locations throughout summer
Photography courtesy of Evaneos, Aventure Australie, iStock and Thinkstock.