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the European Community IN PERSON: connecting people and cultures through home dining

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECINPERSON (the European Community IN PERSON: connecting people and cultures through home dining)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2016-05-31

The ECINPERSON project intends to bring the Withlocals home dining social marketplace model to the European Community. By introducing Withlocals in the European Community, Withlocals intends to bring a new sense of understanding and belonging among not only the people in the different countries but, as important, also among people of different cultural origins in the same country, same city or same city block. Withlocals’ home dining is easily adopted by most as cooking is a daily activity and most people have a dinner table at their disposal. As important, food is a key aspect of getting to know a different culture. The authentic, personal and memorable experience of home dining is best illustrated through the quote from Cesar Chavez, a well-known and well-respected labor union activist from the United States: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…. The people who give you their food, give you their heart”.
Just as a way to further illustrate this, how much easier does it become for a Dutch person to understand why his tax euros are used to save the Greek economy once he has sat at the dinner table of a Greek family in Voula where youth unemployment of 50% has driven all siblings back to their parents’ house because they could no longer afford to study, to buy food or keep a room for themselves. It is the personal and authentic connection at the home dinner table that brings the friendship and understanding. Similarly, how to better create an understanding for the Berber culture than by sitting at the dinner table of a Berber family that lives one block away, who you might see on a daily basis but do not talk to. By sitting at the dinner table, enjoying the unique Berber culinary dishes and talking about the family, the neighborhood and of course the food culture, new ties and trust are created between citizens with a different cultural background but living in the same city. It is all about the opportunity to create understanding between people from different cultures under the conditions that their minds and hearts are open: at home at the dinner table.
Through the ECINPERSON project, Withlocals will, starting in Q2 2015, establish its presence throughout the European Community. Through the funding of the ECINPERSON project by the EC to the amount of € 2.5M to be completed by June 2015, our target for June 2017 is an accumulated 481K bookings. This is supported by a little over 28,000 hosts, close to 1,200 ambassadors, 15 partners and a team headcount of 46. The funding will allow the Withlocals platform home dining to grow rapidly past the inflection point of organic growth and continue along this curve reaching an accumulated 1.7M bookings by the end of 2017 and +10M bookings by the end of 2018. These growth numbers are not exceptional and still below growth demonstrated by companies such as AirBnB.
Since the start of the ECINPERSON project, June 1st, 2015, Withlocals has rapidly deployed its “food experiences & things to do” market place across Europe. After a successful pilot in the Netherlands in Q2 2015, Withlocals has subsequently rolled out its market place in Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Greece, Belgium and recently also the Czech Republic and Hungary.
As part of the ECINPERSON project, Withlocals also increased its data analytics capabilities, (WP1.3). Based on the data coming from its platform, Withlocals developed a second product line, Withlocals Originals. Under this new, data driven product line, Withlocals has compiled the so-called ideal experiences, enabling the creation of experiences with all the “popular” elements integrated: the “dream experience”. Withlocals offers these as “template” to the hosts so they can customize them and offer them to guests. In this way hosts can completely focus on offering a truly memorable and local experience, while they are guaranteed that their offering has a high degree of match with guest wishes. In addition, Withlocals provides the same template to multiple hosts, ensuring almost instant availability to any traveler who would like to book the experience, something which had been scheduled as part of WP1.6 but was pulled forward based on the data analytics. It is important to note the difference between the Withlocals’ standard product line which is based on hosts defining the experience (and marketing it to travelers and locals) versus Withlocals Originals where it is Withlocals defining the experience (template) and have the hosts personalize it (and market it to travelers and locals).
Since the launch of Withlocals Originals in Rome and Amsterdam late April, sales and especially revenue have increased significantly with Withlocals Originals now counting for almost 50% of the total bookings in Europe. This indicates that this change in strategy and product has guided Withlocals in the right direction and we are now speeding up to roll out Withlocals Originals in more cities to validate it and subsequently reach the growth we are aiming for.
Closer tailoring to customer needs by creating a data-driven product line, combined with a closer focus on travelers (with locals as a second tier audience). Second, we've found out that the benefits of the offers were not clear to many visitors, making it unclear why it is so special and how Withlocals really gives you that unique and cultural experience. That is why we shifted our communication to completely focus on our main benefits, namely:
i. 100% private meaning you or your group will have a private experience with the host.
ii. 100% personalizable, meaning that the offers can be completely altered to the guest wishes, by communicating upfront with the host and receiving a personalized offer that can be booked directly online.
iii. And our major distinguishing factor, making it really connecting you with the local is that the host you book is the host you get. As the only platform in our market you know the host offering you the tour or home dinner upfront, making sure you'll have a fit and really connect with the local host.
Third we've found that the offers of our hosts were so outside of the mainstream, that only a small group of early adapters was easily motivated to book the offers of our hosts. To bridge the gap between conventional activities and our local things to do and food experiences, based on our data we tailored our own offers to guarantee guests the best of the city in unique Withlocals way. We call this service Withlocals Originals. The offers are created by Withlocals and hosts can offer it to guests. In this way the offer is really fitting the majority of the travelers looking for things to do in a city, while they can choose from multiple hosts to make the perfect match. This is an additional service for hosts next to the normal offers created by hosts.
All of the above is backed up by the dominant switch to video - all hosts under the Withlocals Originals product line present themselves through a very personal video clip. Not only does this allow the future guest to connect on a very personal level with his or her host but it also allows customers to select from a number of hosts that they feel more connected to. Based on the four target customer profiles that we have build using our continuously growing database we are also able to more closely create offerings that not only match to the target audience but also have hosts that cater to this audience. This lays the foundation for next steps in the development where the cultural and linguistic background of the potential customer drives the offered experiences AND available hosts. Welcome to data-driven personal and customizable travel. It is believed that Withlocals is ahead of any competitor in its own market and is similar sophisticated in its data gathering and data mining as large players such as AirBnB.
Article in Dutch press on Withlocals roll-out in the Netherlands
Snapshot of the Withlocals roll-out in Lisbon
Snapshot of the Withlocals roll-out in Brussels
Press coverage by Amazon of Withlocals mobile app (top 50 travel apps)
Snapshot of the Withlocals roll-out in Rome