Imagine Experiences has designed itself for the post-pandemic era aiming to offer unique tours with a British flavor and limited numbers.
The company has put together a network of expert tour guides to help design fresh ideas to attract locals as well as travelers, once restrictions lift.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
Imagine Experiences is an innovative start-up in the leisure, tourism and hospitality industries. Created as a defiant and necessary reaction to the 2020 pandemic, we have designed from scratch a range of unique experiences that blend activities with the rich, cultural subject matter of iconic Britain.
They are designed to be safe in the post-COVID-19 era, with limited number and private options only and latch onto the exponential growth / demand of experiences in leisure and tourism.
Our products are in high demand from global online travel agents (OTAs) who need to adapt their own offering to the new expectations of travelers and we also engage with and support local tourism authorities to design new, more experiential products that will be attractive to both the domestic and international markets.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your Startup.
Imagine experiences was born out of the pandemic which is a challenge but for us it is just as much an opportunity to work within a favourable business landscape in which we have managed to create immersive cultural experiences at a price tag almost 150% lower than the equivalent type of tours on offer before COVID-19.
It means that we do not have to adapt like other operators, and we are capitalising in various areas, such as: key partnerships with transport businesses who provide hybrid vehicles and operate with remarkably high safety standards and accredited with the VB ‘Good to Go’ certificate which is part of a very savvy procurement strategy that is win-win for suppliers and customers alike.
Small businesses (mainly in London) highlighting to locals the wonders and varieties of their backyards, a rich mix of food and beverage providers traditional pubs and other venues.
We created a solid network of tour guides (historians, archaeologists, espionage experts, dancers, magicians and actors & much more…) many of whom were self-employed or made redundant from well-established brands providing coaches and day tours and we have invited them to work with us and co-design fresh ideas to liven-up the industry and especially cater for locals as well as the new travelers – for when the overseas visitors feel safe to travel again.
We hired on a freelance basis a few incredibly talented members of the industry who bring with them fresh ideas and varied skill sets and were only available because of the brutal prevalence of redundancies across the industry.
Since Imagine Experiences is bold about being a team of travel experts that pledges to radicalize the U.K. tour market, we feel that completely new products are not enough alone.
Tech is especially important for the travel industry to evolve and we are at the forefront of that.
Imagine Experiences has embraced the most innovative platforms & brands in the tech world covering key areas, including OTAs, tech aggregators, affiliate programs, social media, people/team management, content & visual creation, and customer journey & engagement.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- An agile, small, decisive organisation
- Low operational cost
- The post COVID-19 era opportunity to deliver experiences customized and curated for safety
- The appetite for innovation and the emotion linked to the pandemic and the need to be sustainable in the future business landscape
- Knowledge of the domestic market and its demands
- The creation and curation of a portfolio of experiences that are highly relevant in the first year and current business climate as well as adaptable to the return of overseas travelers
- The strategy to launch a brand membership business model as well as a cool product-range, for another dimension.
- The authenticity of “local-to-local” and quality of each of our experiences
- The curation and ownership of a range of signature experiences
- The support and engagement of DMOs/tourist associations
- A set of individuals behind the project with proven track records to deliver creativity, tech, sales and customer satisfaction (both B2C & B2B)
- The opportunity to distribute via competitors as well as via online & offline channels.
- The opportunity to scale nationally and internationally.
- A limited budget for marketing and advertising
- Reliability on organic online strategy
- The instability of the U.K. economy and COVID uncertainty on when and where the vaccination will represent a return of the overseas travelers and customer trust
- The reliance on freelance staff
- The reliance on seasonal guiding staff, who might need to engage in full time work in other industries to make a living
- Lack of data regarding what represents “an unprecedented market environment”.
- Lack of budget to perform the sharpest market research
- Reliance on OTAs to drive initial marketing campaigns for experiences and customer recruitment.
- The inability to demonstrate significant trade from the opening Aug 2020 until now 2021.
- To position a new brand in a renewed industry reset by COVID19 and a more digitally orientated market
- The lack of transport, resources and entertainment options during the post COVID period
- The lack of intentions of domestic market to travel overseas during 2021, increasing the likelihood intenders of a staycation stands at 52% according to Visit England figures
- The lack of agility of all big OTAs and coach and traditional sightseeing tour operators to adapt to the new trends and needs of travelers
- The dramatic increase of different market segments available for the domestic U.K. market (employees benefits and reward schemes)
- The defiant consumer-led attitude of the U.K. domestic market
- The necessity and potential cooperation of existing products in the U.K. to work with Imagine Experiences to advise on how to refine and adapt their products to new trends
- The growth of free/affordable organic channels to communicate and drive awareness to the concept/products (EG: affiliate programs & influencers)
- The massive appeal of our product to the international market that will return in the next 18 months. This will take the business to an incredibly high level with the leverage to expand internationally with its successful formula.
- The number of talented staff available because of nationwide furlough
- White label requirements of OTAs
- Popular gifting segment
- The developing space for virtual experiences for a “ghost” segment
- A strong negotiating power with existing products and DMOs’ support. Access to suppliers
- A strategic, smart SEO strategy to drive visitation and conversion
- European expansion
- Uncertainty about social safety measures
- The initial fear of consumers regarding health and safety in public places
- The insecurity around consumers’ disposable income and desire to return to a “sense of normality” after lockdown
- Slow or delayed vaccination campaigns
- Lack of data to forecast sales
- OTAs & 3rd parties commissions own products
- The possibility of other companies attempting to copy the Imagine Experiences formula
- The uncertainty of supplier’s survival
What is the travel pain point you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
As people return to going out and enjoying themselves, they do not want to join large groups and be packed-into coaches or walking groups…even when they can do so again! Also, apart from the history enthusiasts and ‘culture vultures’ the British public find they cannot enjoy their own heritage much from a leisure point of view because it is designed for tourists and is therefore too traditional, patronising and often over-priced.
We have made it exciting and more experiential, which, by the way, is also what international visitors want now too!
The tourist industry always charged a small fortune to visitors who wanted private or limited number experiences, which made that option the preserve of only high net-worth visitors. We have made it affordable and yet better, by making the days out/tours, more experiential.
Then there are the businesses who for many years have built large customer bases selling days out and tours. They are invariably small independents and do not have access to good tech. They can link with us and products are easily transactional from our website and inventory is managed with a live API solution, which makes it a great option not only for customers but for the businesses who want cooler product to sell in their portfolio. It immediately updates their business and makes them relevant again.
So, you have got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
We have both spent many years building industry relationships, so we know what they need and what the trends are. We have ensured that all the best leisure and travel brands are showcasing our products and now we are on the journey all entrepreneurs love…generating traffic to the web-shop!
We spent a lot of time working on customer segmentation and have a range of experiences targeted at all ages and tastes and feel confident that we will reach them.
We are in the Bokun Marketplace, employees and rewards schemes and affiliates programmes platforms. We have a very solid distribution ecosystem, which makes it easy for brands in there to connect with our products and inventory.
We are excited about customer reaction too! The feedback from those who were able to join our experiences before lockdowns two and three was sensational.
Once we get real volume in the months after this lockdown, we expect extremely healthy reviews and recommendations.
Tell us what process you have gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We are designed, very defiantly, with all the safety features and traits for the post-pandemic landscape and one huge advantage we had from starting a business in lockdown was that unlike other tour operators in our industry, we do not have to adapt our model.
There is such a great need for our products in the upcoming era, so we designed the experiences to fill that and we have been working on awareness since. We have secured a great deal of press and have more lined-up and we have already seen our product get traction on resellers’ platforms and be in demand from travel agents in Europe and the Far East.
As long as we are part of the travelers’ choice we are confident they will opt for this way to experience the U.K.
How and when will you make money?
We are already trading but not before negotiating a lot of obstacles! We started to formally trade in Oct 2020 after months of waiting for the pandemic to fade and as we now know it did not, so a few weeks later the tiered regulations came into place and we are in our third lockdown.
So, in November we got involved in gifting initiatives with partnership companies and through the Black Friday and Christmas period we did some healthy business. It shows what we suspected and what many credible market research stats are telling us; that there is a huge amount of intention from the British public to get out and make some positive memories after this awful period we have been through!
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?
Brendan Murphy has held commercial roles throughout his career, with the vast majority in the leisure and tourism sector. He has specialized in launching and growing businesses and helping struggling operations. As well as playing a key role in developing Big Bus Tours from being a small, three-city operator, to becoming a 25-city global market-leader, he most recently helped The Original Tour to recover from 20% market share to become a market leader in London again.
With more than 25 years in the travel industry, Ana trained as a marketer and began her career in the hospitality industry working across different sectors of the business and for private and chain brands: Hilton, Intercontinental Hotel Group, and others.
After leaving hospitality Ana spent years leading sales, procurement, and tech teams across different departments in tour operators worldwide. She also spent a few years developing lifestyle brands.
She was part of the team who designed and launched London’s The Shard brand in and led the sales and positioning of the brand worldwide and its attraction, The View.
Most recently, Ana was involved in the launch of projects such as The War of the Worlds immersive experience and the relaunch of Dreamland.
What has been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
We started the business with private funds and launch sales in October 2020. the most difficult challenge has been the inability to fully trade and seek both financial and “proof of concept” depending on the trajectory of the GOV regulations.
Currently in the process of raising funds and understanding what the best option is for us in this seed financial infancy period, considering the incredible endorsement we have received from most recognized OTAs and tours and experiences distributers by loading and supporting our products, claiming to be part of what they agree to be the “Future of Travel”.
Most OTAs, have been in a cleaning process, removing products that are unlikely to survive the post-COVID-19 era and on the other hand, loading Imagine experiences.
Generally, travel startups face a tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
We have collectively 50-years’ experience of product, operations and relationships between us and we bring to market solutions that do not currently exist and yet are in great demand.
Our brand is already very well known in the industry and we have been able to fast-track the development of the business with the luxury of downtime that the pandemic caused – for us one of the few positives to come from it.
In terms of brand, distribution, product, and all round set-up we are well ahead of where most startups would be after just several months.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?
A very strong state. We are close to launching U.K-wide products and will be ready to market to the international visitors of 2022 soon. We are generating sales despite the lockdown and expect to get a big upturn in traction from Easter.
We know the products are sought after and we are doing the right things to succeed. We can only go from strength to strength now.
What is your endgame? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)
Our endgame today leans more towards growing and staying private. There are infinite products to create and we like having control of that and the integrity of creating experiences with a view to entertainment & making unforgettable memories, rather than only being focused on dividends.