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.
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.