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NYC Startup to Watch: How Offmap is Reinventing the Adventure Travel Industry

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When we covered Allen Burt’s first startup, he was building a business around the intersection of his two greatest passions: adventure travel and saving money.  The result was Epic Thrills, a members only, adventure-vacation, flash-sales website.   It wasn’t until he immersed himself in the travel industry, however, that Burt discovered a more effective way to deliver exotic vacations on the cheap.

Traditional adventure vacation outfitters, as Burt explains, are wrought with inefficiencies.  First, most travel packages are attached to a limited set of dates.  Once the allotment for that date is full, typically after 10-20 people, the number of possible travel dates is even further reduced.  Second, these outfitters traditionally send a liaison along to act as the traveler’s guide.  After all, people go through a travel agency to save time and energy on the planning process. As a consequence, however, “this drastically drives up the cost,” says Burt.  Lastly, agencies tack on an additional couple thousand dollars to cover their share.  What results is a highly rigid and inflated vacation package.

Burt knew he could do better.  Enter Offmap.

Like the traditional agencies, Offmap uses local grassroots outfitters to build the adventure’s itinerary.  This is where the similarities end.

Instead of offering a pre-set list of dates, Offmap’s packages are available year-round (assuming rooms are available at participating hotels).  Instead of using personal travel guides, Offmap equips travelers with a custom mobile guide book (available for iPad; iPhone coming soon).  Lastly, Offmap takes a much smaller margin to offer “a price point up to 70% less than traditional outfitters,” according to Burt.

But is Offmap cutting corners – replacing personal guides with a digital version – for the sole purpose of driving down price?  Don’t people enjoy, and therefore pay a premium for the personal touch?

“The overwhelming feedback we got from Epic Thrills was that the packages were too structured.  Having to show up to dinner by a certain time removes all spontaneity,” Burt continues. “Nobody has changed the tour industry over the last 50 to 100 years.  A mobile tour guide can totally replicate, and actually enhance, the experience. We’re incorporating a much more broad set of data – tips from Foursquare, Yelp, and Trip Advisor – to build a more customized experience for our users.”

Offmap currently offers a trio of destinations: a week long trip in Peru, including a tour of Machu Picchu (editor’s note: yes please), a six-day multi-sport trip to Iceland, including diving, snorkeling, whitewater rafting, and ATV driving, and a weekend bed and breakfast getaway to the Hudson Valley in NY.  Burt adds that they will be adding at least one to two destinations every month.

Offmap Founder Allen Burt

Travel Junkie

A self-proclaimed “travel junkie”, having led a literacy non-profit campaign in Southeast Asia, built libraries in Laos, illegally trekked across the Tibetan plateau, and cross-country skied the backcountry of Patagonia, I was curious where Burt’s top vacation destination was along with what gear he considers essential.

I’m absolutely in love with Argentina.  If forced to choose one place, I’d go there….oh, and Patagonia!  Those are my top two.

As for gear, I’m a sucker for a good backpack.  My personal favorite is the Deuter futura 32L – it’s the perfect pack, whether you’re hiking the mountains of Peru or carrying on for a weekend getaway in the States.  In addition, there is no better travel companion than your iPhone.

(Editor’s note: From someone who lived in the woods for five months, I concur.)

Need to scratch an adventure itch?  Head on over to Offmap to check out their latest travel destinations.  

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About the Author

When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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9 Responses to “NYC Startup to Watch: How Offmap is Reinventing the Adventure Travel Industry”

  1. ohplease

    Yeah sorry, but this assertion that he is overhauling the travel industry for the first time in 50 years is simply overstated. His customer set represents a tiny fraction of the travel industry- 40-something rich people from urban zipcodes- these types are already so saavy they can figure out these trips on their own and dont actually need his services, unless they are incredibly passive and dumb. The average traveler who can afford to go on real trips is actually around 65-85. A person like that who have never been to a place like Iceland before is not going to happy with an iPad to solve all the logistical problems that arise, nor are they interested in white water rafting to begin with. The DO want a 'liason' there and they want them 24-7 practically. They are HAPPY to pay EXTRA for that and DO NOT WANT the 'VALUE' he is promoting. Forget all that, he does not even offer a phone number so you can speak to anyone about his offerings before you get there! Sorry, but that's truly taking automated service too far. There are plenty of providers who actually undercut HIS services and sell pre-booked custom self-drive itineraries, its nothing new at all, I just saw one called ICEPEDITION who does this for Iceland and no iPad is needed- and they will let you text and email along the way for free assistance- something his is definately NOT offering. That's much better than an iPad which is nothing more than an electric guide book. We've had Lonely Planet for decades now- this idea is NOTHING NEW. God forbid your batteries run out on some remote highway somewhere. A bunch of hot air and marketing hype. That's all. You really shouldnt be covering mullarkey like this- it makes you look like a hack writer.

    Reply
  2. @zrdavis

    Thanks for writing in, ohplease.

    I'm sorry that you don't agree with the business model behind Offmap.

    In my conversation with Allen, the typical customer that his company was targetting was in the 25-40 age range. Perhaps people between the ages of 65-85 wouldn't feel comfortable with an iPad as their guide, but I (a 26 year old) likely would.

    But regardless, Tech Cocktail is a website dedicated to covering tech startups, amongst other subjects. That was the goal of this post.

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Reply
    • chris

      Respectfully this isn't a tech start up -its just an old news e-commerce marketing tool- nothing special, rare or unique nowadays. Gilt Group, Rue la La, and so many more came up with this model years ago, OffMap is just a copycat, and in so many ways.

      For example, since you're a tech start-up expert, did you know OffMap is a name Burt name stole from an existing company, OffMaps, which already offers interactive iPad travel guides on Apple products???

      As for what he told you about his 20's something travelers. there ere are in fact PLENTY of tour companies that offer really dynamic, exciting, highly personalized adventures for young people, contrary to the 'church group' scenario you CHOSE to paint for us here and there always have been. Gap Adventures pioneered this a decade ago.

      OffMap is nothing more than a case of you (only) get what you pay for, and with OffMap it seems you don't get very much at all- a few off-price day trips and rooms in economy hotels and youth hostels you could already do much better finding on your own by using airbnb's website.

      The 'big' companies that Burt is absurdly pitting himself against, which he says are charging three times as much as he is, are in fact offering customers ten times what he offers- a MUCH better value for price paid.

      Anyone who has any extra money at all will have a considerably better time buying better quality and more experiences than OffMap is selling- because…. drum roll… you get what you pay for.

      Again, please, have some integrity as a reporter, don't just believe everything a self-promoter tells you about himself, do some research and don't be the fool of this marketing sham which is ALL that it really is. You have an ethical obligation as a journalist to challenge people like Allan Burt rather than simply quote them.

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