French make social media the new travel agent

PARIS -- French collaborative social networks continue to inspire start-ups, this time bringing users together to organize vacations and getaways with others in France and beyond.
Written by Bryan Pirolli, Correspondent (Paris)

PARIS – A new French start-up is changing the way we travel. The site, TripnCo, is a social media spin on traditional vacation sites that helps you find the right trip for the right price and, most importantly, with the right people.  For students backpacking through Germany or businessmen looking for a weekend on the French Riviera, the site offers a different way to plan a getaway.

Using social networking for real life interactions is not a new phenomenon.  Still, the trend, applied to all sorts of niche markets, has taken off in France over the past five years.  From social dining and house swaps to spontaneous walks in the park, there is a site to organize and meet people for various occasions without worrying about Craigslist stalkers.

Colunching, one such idea, started in 2011 to bring people together in local restaurants.  Begun in Paris, the site has branched throughout France and beyond, with meals organized in Australia, Lebanon, India, and the United States.  Sonia Zannad, cofounder of Colunching, said that the French sense of conviviality is part of the reason these sorts of sites work so well.  “It’s evident that the potential for these sites is immense considering the touristic vocation that marks the country,” she said.

TripnCo.com, launched this June, is the first site of its kind to bring together like-minded people on collaborative excursions and vacations.  Be it sharing a villa in Tuscany or a yacht in the Mediterranean, travelers can propose or join a trip with other users, adding a networking aspect that most travel sites do not embrace.

The site’s cofounder Ouriel Darmon, spoke to SmartPlanet about TripnCo’s potential.  While living in Argentina, Darmon tried to organize a trip to a Chilean volcano with friends and other travelers, but couldn’t find enough participants to help share the costs.  “A tool was missing for us to be able to anticipate and ease the formation of groups of co-voyagers outside of random meetings in bars and restaurants once we arrived,” he said.

TripnCo, much like LastMinute.com or other packaged tour sites, offers users the chance to browse and select a trip based on certain criteria like dates, interests, and location.  Unlike other sites, Darmon said TripnCo allows travelers to know who is joining them on their excursions.  Also, members can propose their own packages, so that someone looking to rent a seaside cottage in Normandy could post their idea on the site and share the experience and cost with other TripnCo members.

Despite being known for coming off as cold and unapproachable, the French, Darmon said, are profoundly social people at heart.  “The French are inaccessible at first and have a certain difficulty meeting new people,” he said.  This disequilibrium between wanting to be social though with a seemingly impenetrable society helps make collaborative websites successful.

The site is a way to breach these walls within France, but also internationally.  An English version of the site should be available over the coming weeks, part of a strategy to attract a mixed set of travelers.  “We think it’s interesting to share a trip with foreigners, so having the site in English is a priority,” Darmon said.

For the moment, TripnCo is partnering with French brands like Nomade Aventure, Allibert Trekking, and Vélo Voyageur while reaching out to others like Promovacances and Club Med in France.  The partnerships will help offer special deals to users, offering more incentive to plan a trip via TripnCo.  Future partnerships with AirBnB and its French counterpart BeddyCasa are also in the works, but the international possibilities are endless in finding opportunities and deals for members.

Having just launched in June, several trips to places like Thailand Turkey, and Brazil are already on the site generating buzz.  Users can also express interest in various groups including windsurfers, wine lovers, salsa enthusiasts, and base jumpers.  But while meeting up with like-minded travelers in exotic locales via the web is increasingly commonplace, TripnCo is the first site of its kind to propose organizing such trips with those individuals, sharing costs and pooling resources.

“Today, the concept doesn’t have an equivalent anywhere in the world,” Darmon said.  Time will tell, however, if the collaborative consumption model will be a hit or not for travelers.

Photo: Flickr Emerald Grande

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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