ToursByLocals, a Canadian startup that connects travelers with local tour guides, got its first outside investment in January with $25 million in funding from Texas-based Tritium Partners. Until now, the firm has bootstrapped its way up to 4,130 guides in 162 countries.
The Vancouver-based company plans to use the new infusion of funds to drive growth and "allow initial investors to take money off the table," CEO and founder Paul Melhus told Cheddar.
Melhus started the venture 11 years ago in the aftermath of the Great Recession. One benefit of that, he said, was that the weaker market made tour guides eager for help getting customers. That network of guides is now the backbone of ToursByLocals' business proposition.
"We wouldn't be here without Lehman Brothers," Melhus joked.
Travel activities, which include tours, attractions, and events, comprise a $135 billion sector globally, the third-largest segment in the travel industry behind hotels and airlines.
Within that segment, ToursByLocals has positioned itself to take advantage of what it sees as a growing interest among affluent travelers in intimate, one-on-one experiences rather than hopping on a double-decker tour bus or trailing along with a big group of fellow tourists.
"We're riding a big trend towards people wanting a more customized experience," Melhus said.
The company's online platform connects travelers with individual guides, who craft their own tours and determine the price, of which ToursByLocals takes a 20 percent commission.
"We provide them with a steady stream of interested travelers," Melhus said on the value of the service to tour guides.
A portion of the investment will go towards building out the platform's customer review option and proprietary booking technology.
"ToursByLocals represents the seventh online marketplace investment and fourth travel marketplace in which I've been involved," said Phil Siegel, Tritium co-founder and managing partner, in a release. "We understand what it takes to be a market disruptor, and we believe ToursByLocals has the potential to transform the private tour industry in the same way HomeAway changed the market for vacation rentals."