Many companies are trying to use AI chatbots (hereafter ChatGPT) in various industries – especially in the consumer sector. UK-based startup Layla is banking on this trend to build an eponymous chatbot (along with an app) that suggests new travel destinations. It will also help them when it comes to bookings.
The company was started by Jeremy Jauncey, the founder of the travel agency Beautiful Destinations with millions of followers on social media platforms, and Saad Saeed, who is the co-founder of the grocery delivery service Flink .
Jauncey told TechCrunch in a call that the company wants to bring a new solution to the travel industry based on their experience in social networks and creating technology products.
“Having spent a lot of time in the last 10 years really immersed in social media and the creator’s economy, we feel that travel discovery needs a new one. We see that, post-pandemic, many users are based in their travel decisions what they see on Instagram and TikTok and use that,” he said.
While the company officially launched its app and chatbot today, Layla already has thousands of followers on Instagram, thanks to Beautiful Destinations’ network. The founders believe that the Instagram chatbot provides a great entry point for users looking for different travel destinations.
Users can chat with Layla on Instagram about destinations, their temperatures, best times to go, and things to do along with flight and hotel options. The bot also shows videos of different destinations from creators (taken from the Beautiful Destinations network) to give you an alternative view of a place.
Saeed mentioned that the startup pushed people to use Layla’s own app on Instagram after a few conversational exchanges. In the app, people can create different lists, share them with friends, and have different chats with Layla about different trips. In addition, the app allows them to display videos, ticket prices, and hotel options in a better way.
Jauncey said that typically a person goes to multiple websites for all things related to travel advice from inspiration to the reservation stage. And with Layla, the founders wanted to shorten that journey.
Layla has partnered with Booking.com to display hotel options and Skyscanner to display flight options. Currently, it has started splitting the fees for these transactions as a revenue stream. However, with scale, the startup is also open to exploring more ways to make money such as personal advertising opportunities.
The company secured a €3 million ($3.2 million) investment led by Firstminute Capital— which was set up by lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman and M13. Other investors include Booking.com co-founder Andy Phillips, Skyscanner co-founder Barry Smith, and entertainment star Paris Hilton.
Layla feels that its diversity lies in the fact that it covers different types of content and does not have a website-like structure where users have to apply filters to get search results. While the company uses large-scale language models to parse queries and display answers, it is building its own recommendation engine. Additionally, Saeed said Layla has built in vision tech to help it answer questions like “show me destinations that look like Mars” or surface recommendations similar to photo or video locations.
Hoberman, an investor in the project, said Firstminute invested in the idea because they were excited about the combination of using AI to answer travel questions and surfing proprietary videos in different destinations to attract people to travel.
“Layla has challenges in terms of educating customers to ask the right kind of questions so that AI can provide accurate answers. In addition, they need to be the best layer of travel inspiration to differentiate from of other solutions out there,” Hoberman said.
Competitors are also gearing up to use AI in their travel solutions. Vancouver-based Pilot has built an AI-focused travel planner to easily share travel ideas with friends. Airbnb and Brian Chesky have begun experimenting with AI-powered review summaries and are open to infusing the technology into other parts of the app. Kayak and Expedia have their own GPTs (ChatGPT plug-in) and travel publisher Matador Network’s Guidegeek The app displays real-time flight information. However, the investors believe that “even a small lead is important now” when it comes to infusing AI in the travel industry.