A radical pivot for travel networking and experiences app Travello has seen the company’s Facebook followers double to 3 million, while downloads have grown dramatically to reach more than one million in just five months since the company was forced to re-evaluate its business in the wake of COVID-19.

Co-founder Ryan Hanly says Travello, based in Brisbane, first got an inkling that the world was changing in February when Asian hoteliers they were set to sign a deal with pulled out citing concerns about COVID, which wasn’t a thing yet in Australia.

“By early March we made some pretty quick decisions – we cut staff and our marketing costs. We saw it as a good opportunity to look at the business to see where there was fat and where we could improve operations. There were some tough conversations, tough days, tough weeks and tough months.”

When the Australian Government launched the JobKeeper employment subsidy scheme Travello was able to re-employ several staff (it now has 12 employees compared with 15 pre-COVID, all on four-day work weeks) but the issue of no marketing budget remained.

“There was zero money for marketing and we needed to find a way to grow without spending money. We thought ‘let’s turn to social networks and start creating memes based on COVID and travel’.”

That pivot immediately hit a nerve with travel-starved consumers aged between 18 and 34, Travello’s key demographic.

A Mr Bean spoof generated 30 million views through the company’s Travel Inspiration page and Travello’s Facebook business page also took off. 

“The numbers are just insane, those pages just exploded,” says Hanly, pictured right.

Followers of the Travel Inspiration page doubled to 2.32 million, while Travello Facebook page numbers trebled to 686,000 as of today.

Hanly estimates Travello now has an organic reach of 80 million between the two pages, from which posts are avidly shared. 

Increased downloads of the Travello app followed and are now running at 2000 or more a week, taking total downloads to 1m plus. Encouragingly, content sharing between users on the app instantly took off.

“Sharing content is massive at the moment. We made a couple of tweaks to the app and immediately saw a 102% increase in content creation month on month.”

He says more than 80,000 pieces of content were shared by users through Travello in August.

Pre-COVID Travello wasn’t that serious about Facebook, says Hanly. It just went through the motions with posts, often without properly promoting the business. That has all changed and a new future beckons.

“Our business has really flipped from a marketing perspective. We used to focus on ‘in destination’ to access people who were there and might want to buy an activity.”

Travello sources its product from global tours and activities aggregator LIVN, based in Sydney

“In March we switched more to ‘explore the world from home’.” Which is when things took off.

Now the big challenge is to convert those eyeballs to revenue in an era where many people cannot or don’t want to travel due to border restrictions, lack of money or safety concerns.

“Before COVID our revenue was coming from selling experiences, which was growing quite nicely toward the end of last year but that completely stopped.” And won’t take off again until border restrictions are eased.

The answer for now is partnerships with travel dependent businesses who are keen to engender loyalty among consumers so that when travel resumes they are the first port of call.

Hanly says a campaign with Visit Dubai “smashed all key metrics” and Travello is also working with a number of other destinations and retailers.

Meanwhile, after years of trying, Travello has now started working with Flight Centre, powering a new consumer ‘experiences’ interface for Australia’s largest travel retailer.     

Early days but the signs are positive for a company in the midst of a reinvention that may very well define its future.

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