These days, social travel startups the likes of Tripbirds, Tripl, (and maybe even Everplaces?) have been catching our eye. But unless you have a lot cooler friends than I do, they seem to be missing the critical mass to provide the content you need when you arrive in a new city. One Swedish travel startup that we haven't covered since 2010, but has been quietly growing in terms of usage, downloads, and content is Guidepal.
The company was founded in 2009 with the right idea that guidebooks would moving onto smartphones, and since then has seen over 3,5 million downloads and 600,000 registered users from over 170 countries.
The 60 Guidepal apps are broken down by city and are free to download on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and WP7. Each app provides information on the local restaurants, nightlife, sights, as well as the practicalities. And all the information and maps are available offline. To be sure all the information is fresh and up to date, Guidpal updates the cities information every two months with local guides and travel journalists.
The app also provides a pretty cool Augmented Reality functionality that lets you know what you're looking at, but Guidepal CEO Peter Schierenbeck seems ambivalent about it, saying the app provides a really amazing "wow" experience but doesn't get used very often in practice. Still, the company sees interesting advertising opportunities in their maps and augmented reality functions.
So where does a curated travel startup go from here? The company sees the benefits in adding more social functionality to their apps, and seems to be looking to hit the sweetspot between the social startups and the pure curated travel content, like Lonely Planet.
Schierenbeck is optimistic that these young startups will eventually get social travel right, but right now they can't compete with curated content. And at the same time, giants like TripAdvisor still don't provide any meaningful social functionality with simple Facbook integrations.
"Cities change so much," says Schierenbeck. "When you go to a big city like New York or Rome or Paris, unless your friend lives there they're probably giving you recommendations from 6 or 8 months ago. And one, they don't know the city as well as a local, and two, their suggestion is probably outdated. That's why it's always better to mix it with editorial content."
Going forward Guidepal's plan is to then continue to grow and strengthen their editorial content, and on top of that mix in stronger and stronger social features, telling us, "We probably have one of the best opportunities to get into social travel."
The company has received around $4 million in funding since launching in 2009 with $1.1 still in reserves, and are considering another funding round in Q3-Q4 2012 to increase their speed further.
Guidepal doesn't have the same young hunger as your Tripbirds and Tripls, but their position does give them a lot of power to give users a complete social and curated travel experience. It will be interesting to see how the travel sphere plays out over the next year.