Premium Travel Services Where Personalisation Comes First: Interview with Ivan Saprov, CEO and Founder of Voyagu 

Premium Travel Services

Unlike many other services for travellers where the emphasis is on automation, Voyagu‘s offering puts personalisation first, and only then applies the latest technology to building automation into that. CEO and founder Ivan Saprov explains how this philosophy enables travel advisors to deliver an enhanced travel experience for premium travellers. 

Hi, Mr Saprov. Thank you for joining us! To get started, could you tell us how you came up with the idea for Voyagu? 

I’ve always been passionate about travel, and my professional path started when I joined a travel company. Attending different travel venues and conferences for travel agents, I realised that the industry’s future would definitely be driven by technology. I wanted to create a backed-by-technology travel management platform to make the job of the travel advisors more efficient and exciting, providing them with the tools to work faster, easier and also make client interactions much friendlier and smoother. 

The pandemic did major damage to the travel industry. The travel agencies were cutting their staff, and the growing number of independent advisors created a new market opportunity for us to enter and focus on providing solutions to the problems the pandemic had created for travel. 

Premium travel seems like a very specific target market, not to mention a certain clientele that you need to look after. Why not opt for economy-class travellers instead? 

The role of the travel advisor is to collect the preferences and travel details carefully and precisely, and then the magic begins.

This is a great question! Every traveller needs good support and client care. Quite often, the industry is not able to offer it, mainly for the reason of the high cost of human labour and the availability of resources with a strong level of empathy and expertise. We started with the US premium-travel market, because it is a rapidly growing segment and less volatile in value terms. Most of our clients have the time and financial resources for international travel, so the role of the travel advisor becomes more essential to help increase the quality of the travel experience. The advice of a travel advisor is even more valuable for well-travelled clientele. For the travel advisor, building engaging relationships based on trust and expertise is very important and rewarding.  

Our solution aims to improve the experiences of premium travellers and raise the overall standard of service in the industry. We consider expanding to other segments as well.

Travel has evolved in the past decade as clients need – and now demand – greater flexibility and immediacy in travel itineraries to meet their business imperatives. Voyagu uses advanced technology and tools to enhance the process of flight booking. Can you walk us through how it all works?  

The process is very simple. All customers need to do is to get in touch with the travel advisor and give them all of the information about the trip in a free, comfortable conversation. The role of the travel advisor is to collect the preferences and travel details carefully and precisely, and then the magic begins. The travel advisor, equipped with a powerful search engine and booking tools, will create a personalised and customised offer with a very high likelihood of being accepted by the client. So indeed, this is very simple and easy for the client. 

Voyagu connects clients with real humans who are experts in premium air travel, passionate about what they do, and are sincere about offering exceptional client care. What, if any, trends are you most excited to implement in the future? 

The main trend is that tech will become more accessible to people, including travel advisors. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more prevalent and sophisticated, it will support all professionals to a greater extent and all professions will become much easier and more interesting. 

AI has the potential to significantly impact the travel industry and the work of professionals in this field. The quality of the client experience will be elevated further to an extent hardly imaginable by an ordinary traveller. All problems such as flight disruptions and cancellations will be resolved in a much shorter time. 

Thanks to chatbots similar to open AI’s GPT, one travel advisor will be able to manage huge customer databases. The only issue standing in the way of this is that chatbots need to learn to solve tasks and not just work with texts. In the future, clients will only need to share their preferences, and a chatbot backed up by information from search engines and other open sources will swiftly create a tailored offer within the proposed budget.  

You’ve grown Voyagu into a business with six locations all over the world, such as Japan and India. Do you have any plans to expand soon? 

We are a diverse, international company. Our talent strategy is to hire the best people across the world, so any location will be possible. Our business focus, for now, is on the US travel market and helping American travellers explore the world.  

All of the players in this market have to confront the trust issue in a peer-to-peer business. How are you dealing with some of those issues and any legal pressures that you might be facing, and the industry faces, from various jurisdictions in your many locations?

Voyagu is a reputable company with a strong performance record, and our brand is gaining recognition in the United States. We adhere to all necessary compliance regulations and licensing and are transparent in our business practices. The top recognition for us is the positive recommendations and high trust of our clients. Neither trust issues nor any legal pressures are a concern for us. Every day, we do our best to make our customers happy to love us back. This is our main goal and strategy.

So many companies talk about personalisation, but it seems as if it is at a very early stage. Can you give any examples of what Voyagu is focusing on and how it works for the company? 

From the very beginning, we decided to build our product on personalisation. We designed a personalised experience that we are trying to automate, rather than following the path of many well-known online travel agencies that attempted automation first and are now trying to personalise it.   

Voyagu is a reputable company with a strong performance record, and our brand is gaining recognition in the United States.

A commonly used strategy is to first create a generic service and then try to fine-tune it, but this has never been our method. We have a different approach, putting personalisation at the core and building out from that. It creates an entirely different experience when a live advisor addresses you by name and provides you with unique offers that perfectly answer your needs, knowing your preferences and fitting your budget.  

What’s more, human support has a stronger sense of urgency in answering calls or chat messages within seconds and providing all problem solutions with empathy, which is something in high demand, especially during travel disruptions like delays or cancellations. 

Can you tell us more about the exclusive statistics and facts about premium trips to Europe that Voyagu has access to?  

River cruises have become very popular among Americans. The demand for European river cruises showed an increase of 115 per cent in 2022 vs. 2021. Additional end-of-year European river cruise promotions, expiring on 31 December 2022, facilitated the spike of +47 per cent in November-December Voyagu booking requests. The choices of international river cruises for 2023-4 have also expanded.  

One of the reasons for river cruises’ popularity is a combination of visiting the top popular destinations, such as Amsterdam, Vienna, Paris, Budapest, etc., with lesser-known inspiring locations like Avignon, Lyon, Koblenz, Basel, Transylvania, and Belgrade. 

The overall demand for trips to Europe has soared. Travellers choose arrival and departure airports in different cities or even countries to expand the experience with the neighbouring destinations for their extended weekend getaways, family visits or “bleisure” travels, combining both business and leisure purposes. By booking flights with Voyagu travel advisors, the client gets maximum flexibility. 

We see a growing tendency for micro-trips, 4-5 days, and visiting multiple locations during one trip. This summer, we saw travellers visiting up to five countries in one trip. And, if they travelled to one country, Italy being at the top, they visited up to six cities. This summer, our travel advisors observed 20 per cent of trips with an entry to London and departure from Paris, or vice versa. 

We have travel advisors who know European destinations really well. For example, Paris is extremely popular, so they can suggest a restaurant for dinner and a cosy place for a coffee break, perfectly knowing the client’s taste, in addition to making all travel bookings and reservations.  

How do you see premium travel panning out in 2023? 

The current economic uncertainty is unlikely to shake the US premium travel sector. Travellers are more than willing to spend on new experiences after the time of pandemic restrictions. Besides the rise in domestic and international travel, we will see the formation of a new “blended” or “bleisure”, a travel category that combines business and leisure, replacing business travel. Now, people travel on vacation or visit family and simultaneously set business meetings, attend professional events, and continue remote work or vice versa.

What’s more, we will see a shift in the demand for value-added services, such as travel assistance, among millennials and Gen Z. They are becoming real advocates of travel professionals who can take the burden of planning and organisation off their shoulders.

And, of course, the general trend for sustainability will increasingly impact premium travel. Travellers of all ages have become more committed to sustainable travel and will opt for companies that provide more sustainable opportunities. 

What can we expect to see next from Voyagu? 

At our company, we are committed to constantly improving our technology in order to enhance personalisation and empower our travel advisors. By doing so, we want to create as much value as possible for all those involved – travellers, travel advisors, and our partners. And we also want to bring back fun for everyone! 

Executive Profile

Ivan Saprov

Ivan Saprov is a tech entrepreneur with a strong background in sales, a deep interest in business strategy, and proven leadership skills. He is a travel nerd with 10 years of experience in the industry, and CEO and Founder of Voyagu  – a San Francisco-based travel tech startup that connects US premium travellers with travel experts for better and easier planning, booking, and management of their trips. 

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