Travelling in the Time of Covid-19 with Canitravel

For travelers all around the world, the Covid-19 Pandemic has turned out to be a complete nightmare. Several restrictions have been posed on traveling in many parts of the world and these restrictions vary from country to country. It has become very hard for people to navigate their travels during these difficult times. Canitravel, founded by three lifelong friends, helps people plan their travels keeping in mind the restrictions put in place by the different governments. The three friends, who are in love with travelling themselves, designed Canitravel to ease the struggles of travelers in today’s world. Venture Mirror in conversation with George, co founder of Canitravel, learns more about this venture and how it can be used to plan upcoming trips!

What is the startup/product about? Give us a brief description of it.

Canitravel helps travelers around the world navigate the confusing world of COVID-19 driven travel restrictions. By giving them tailored answers, based on their specific travel needs, it provides a simple yet comprehensive answer, to guide them towards a better decision for their upcoming trip. We cover all countries in the world, and we update information daily.

You select your passport/residency, departure, and destination and get a quick, intuitive and human processed result to help you decide whether you can travel or not.

To top that, we show general and country-specific COVID-19 data, an exhaustive excerpt of the current restrictions, with sources, a list of your destination’s nearest open alternatives, a shortlist of entry requirements and plenty more useful information. We cover all countries in the world, and we update information daily.

How many co-founders are there? Please introduce them and their backgrounds.

Federico, George and Filippo (left to right)

We are 3 lifelong friends, now partners.

We have known each other since 6th grade; we grew up in the same small touristy sea town (Riccione). We parted ways around high school, but kept in touch throughout the years, as we were the few amongst our peers to leave to move overseas. In the past couple of years, despite the distance, as our interest in startups and finding a better life to work balance grew, so did our friendship. We started having semi regular brainstorming video calls every month, sharing lots of business plans, our wildest ideas, aspirations and fears…

Filippo is our tech expert that loves innovation and surfing. He left Italy 5 years ago to study Computer Science in the UK and ever since he has been living abroad. After graduation he started working fully remotely as an Entrepreneur and Freelance Developer. Living in places with great waves to surf has been a major priority of his. After failing 2 business ideas, he believes that canitravel will make an impact to fellow travellers.

Federico dropped out of high-school and left Italy to live in the Canary Islands at the age of 18. He started working as a waiter looking to improve himself, throughout the years he kept living and traveling to different countries in the world while working odd jobs, ranging from “croupier” to “sales & events consultant”. He’s now working online as a copywriter while managing various businesses.

I left Italy in 2013, started a new life in England, working and studying; I then moved to New Zealand, Norway, Russia and ultimately Vietnam, where I’m currently based. In between countries I travelled and worked in a wide variety of professions, among which: Cleaner, shop assistant, waiter, Chef, factory/construction worker, farmer, car salesman and flight assistant. I eventually embraced my creative and entrepreneurial side, and I now work on achieving some of the dozens of business ideas that have been piling at the back of my head for a years.

How big is the entire team currently?

As I write this, we are still 3, however we have plans to expand to at least 5 shortly and likely pick up more people in the coming months.

How did you come up with the idea? What motivated you to do this?

Back in February as border closures and the first travel restrictions were put in place, I spent hours researching my way out of Vietnam for my visa run; despite my best efforts and years of travel experience it was a genuine struggle to find reliable information. My flight out was eventually canceled, and it annoyed me to a point that I got working on a basic draft of what is now known as canitravel. The next day I enthusiastically pitched the idea to the guys, whom to my delight accepted to jump right into it and start working.

In the past few years we have shared and discussed a LOT of business ideas ranging from cheap and straightforward ones, up to actual science fiction. In all this, the pattern to emerge was that we mostly like solving real-life problems and we get a proper sense of gratification from exposing injustices. COVID-19 has affected us all, however it disproportionally affects people like us, with lower income, students, budget travelers, families, etc…

At the time we were all living apart, split between Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. We love traveling and living abroad, and the sole idea of being forced to return home or limit our travel options was deeply distressing. We all thought it would be very beneficial for our family and friends to have a way to instantly know whether they can travel or not, and therefore it may help plenty more.

What is your target market? Who do you think your product will appeal to?

Ideally we could reach everyone, as we believe anyone could benefit from clearer travel restrictions; however for the sake of practicality and the limitations of a 3 people team, we are currently focused English speakers and tourists; being stranded tourists what fueled our growth at the very beginning and holidaymakers at the current moment.

In the future we are looking to extend our service to anyone that is looking to travel for almost any reason (there are a lot more than people think) and translate the website in all major languages.

We are also interested in helping people with highly specific travel issues,  as we do receive a lot of emails from people in extremely distressing situations, due to the pandemic and are working to find a compromise that will allow us to help them too, at least to an extent.

What are the marketing plans apart from the product hunt/beta list launch? How are you planning to acquire new users?

We actually launched on Product Hunt solely because we were asked to reach a certain number of, “high paying country users” by a certain advertising company. We have since ditched that plan and not really nurtured our Product Hunt growth.

Given the nature of the website we decided to focus on quality over quantity, a bet that paid off, as most of our users are now acquired through “world of mouth”, as our website gets often shared on social media, our satisfied users are our greatest positive PR source, causing unexpected spikes in users, reason why we are now streamlining the sharing process for them.

As our team expands we are surely gonna increase our focus on marketing. We discussed many ways, product hunt, social media marketing, influencer marketing, likely google ads and various forms of content marketing. We are also gonna increase the engagement with our users, as they have constantly surprised us with the amount of positive feedback and fantastic PR.

Do you have a separate dedicated team to take care of marketing (digital marketing/traditional marketing)? Which digital platforms are you focusing more on?

No, we obviously do focus on digital marketing and we are likely to center future our campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Google, Producthunt, Reddit and Twitter.

What according to you is the biggest challenge that you faced? Is it product development or marketing or scaling or … ?

Product development for sure.

Travel restrictions are normally something handled by governments and highly specialised agencies. We took on a market that we mostly experienced as outsiders and tried to bring something to it.

As we started working in March, there was barely any reference for the kind of service we were trying to offer. So we had to constantly get creative and imagine how WE would want to be helped by the website.

We came up with the traffic light colour system, to give an immediate idea of the type of restrictions, and decided to shape the website around the Passport-Departure-Destination form. We built a database from the ground up and determined how we would portray each type of restrictions.

Finding reliable and comprehensive data sources have been plaguing us for a while; despite the fact that we have improved a lot, we constantly work to offer more dependable, immediate and exhaustive answers for our users, as it remains our main value proposition.

Monetization was also a considerable one, as we worked on this since March and had hopes to turn a profit by June. We greatly overestimated the importance of ads and although we are currently running them, we will do our very best to phase those out in favour of products  we trust and bring more value to our users.

Who are your competitors/alternatives? What sets you apart from them?

There are a few, I won’t mention them as I can’t speak on their reliability, but no major players that we are aware of.

We are the only ones on the market to give you personalized results based on your nationality/residency and departure, rather than a generic one based solely on destination. We break down the entry to give you a quick answer to your specific problem, as well as the full list of country restrictions with sources and suggest any viable alternative.

What are the future plans with the product/startup? Any new features you are planning on?

As we are still a small team, I believe there is some merit in not discussing all the changes and the direction we want to take in the future.

What I can tell is:

  • We are always developing on the data side.
  • We want to further increase transparency and are taking steps to have a more direct connection with the users.
  • We have a few new features coming very soon, such as: country specific email alerts, notifications, additional travel requirement icons and an improved, more visually pleasing and intuitive design interface.

Much more is also discussed in our daily meetings. We listen to our users’ feedback and are confident they will be pleased with all the new stuff.

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