During his travels, Italian native Simone Semprini found the acorn, which would later lead him to entrepreneurship.
Semprini found it ‘quite confusing’ to look for tourist activities, tours, and excursions of his destinations online. There was no specific place where he could buy tickets, so he began researching the market and realised there was an opportunity for a meta-search engine for the tourist trade.
He had the idea but needed a team, so he put an announcement on AngelList and found his co-founding team of CMO Guillaume Picard from France, and CTO Joseph Dimucci, from Italy.
They chose Lisbon as the destination to start their company.
“We were looking for a place to start our start-up,” explains Semprini. “And at the time, there were quite a few like policies incentivising tourist companies in Portugal. There was excellent growth of the tourist sector in Portugal and the start-up sector.”
“Also, we were looking for a cheap place that we didn’t need to have a lot of money at the beginning.”
TourScanner began from humble beginnings in 2018 and today employs, between full-time staff and freelancers, around twelve people.
The website works, in principle, the same as popular travel sites like Skyscanner or Trivago, only it is solely for tourist activities and destination experiences.
“We aggregate the catalogue coming from other websites. We currently aggregate about 20 websites, so we really have a lot of products,” he says.
TourScanner contains over 100,000 experiences and attractions for travellers all over the globe.
“Moreover, sometimes you have the same product sold by different websites, so you can also compare the prices and get some discounts, or on specific days some promotions and offers,” he explains.
TourScanner also prides itself on its user experience. The team has put a lot of work into search capabilities to narrow searches for a specific destination, activity, or place of interest.
“And we also do a lot of work on inspirational content – writing suggestions about things to do and places to visit in cities, so that the users actually know what they can do when they travel there,” he adds.
Raw data from TourScanner’s providers and partners improve the activities’ classification and improve the platform. The more it is used, the smarter it will become.
“We work with an affiliation model, so we earn a commission out of the sales that we send to our partners,” he says.
“In the beginning, it was difficult to get access to the APIs – especially as we didn’t have a lot of traffic or many users, but as we started to grow, most companies were open to partnering with us.”
“Now we have good relationships for the next steps we are taking to improve integration,” he adds.
If a smaller company cannot provide a decent API connection, Tour scanner can work with them by scraping their website upon their consent.
“This is the method we use when a website has some interesting products and a good catalogue but can’t have a proper API,” says Semprini.
The travel industry was somewhat decimated when the pandemic hit the globe, but thanks to the stage at which TourScanner was at when it arrived, they managed to pull through relatively unscathed.
“It was a very tough moment for the company and us because we were very young,” says Semprini. “2019 was our first good year with good sales, traction, and growth. Then suddenly, the world, in 2020, was shut down, so that was very difficult.”
“Luckily, we had a very light business model, and we didn’t employ anyone full-time at the time – we were only the three co-founders working with a couple of freelancers so we could reduce our costs to the minimum.”
They kept working on their product during the shutdown until some light appeared in the US market.
“We started seeing the United States was exiting the crisis at a faster pace than Europe, so we saw an opportunity there, and we started working more on American destinations,” he explains. “By spring 2021, we had already recovered.”
By adapting and following the opening markets, TourScanner was able to have an even better 2021 than 2019, and as of now, with the people starting to travel again, TourScanner has hit a sweet spot again.
Plans for the future of TourScanner?
“We want to become the gateway to the world of experiences,” says Semprini.