Recently, TheRichest caught up with Michel Karam, founder of the müvTravel website, to chat about his creation: a travel planner which is a game-changing digital platform that helps everyone from seasoned traveling pros to newbie vacationers enjoy custom trip planning using artificial intelligence.
müvTravel is an all-encompassing, one-stop website that allows users to book hotels, compare several booking sites, hotels and flights and even has the capability to build a trip that includes multimodal transportation as well — all using AI. His goal was to create an experience that didn't exist at the time, something that would allow him to find the "hidden jewels" of vacation destinations, take him off the beaten path to the road less traveled and get an experience worthy of precious memory space. The website allows users to party like the locals do, get the tourist experience or all of the above! When we caught up with Karam, he happened to be in Croatia at the time, having used his own website to plan out his trip —which proves that he achieved his goal with this amazing website!
TheRichest (TR): Can you briefly explain to our readers what a common experience of using müvTravel is like?
Michel Karam (MK): Essentially, the initial experience of müvTravel is the exploration. The reason why we have 500 destinations is to allow people to discover the many corners of the world. A lot of people have been to some of the main destinations in the world… New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona… but not everything else which is actually great. We have an absolutely great world to explore. What we wanted to do is allow people to explore, to see the things they could do at each destination and to also discover some new stuff, some more original stuff in terms of travel. The next step becomes what we call “dreaming a trip” — it could be the summer, next weekend or anything like that. You just start building a trip that you could do one day and who knows? You might end up doing them faster. This is our trip planner. The trip can be built several ways on müvTravel. You can just go and explore destinations and add them to your public list and then it will build a trip for you. [The website] will ask you how many days you want this trip to be and it will build the perfect itinerary for this destination. Or you could start adding activities directly into the trip that you would like to do and potentially, you could optimize it afterward to get the best itinerary. Obviously, if you do have a trip in mind, it becomes a great tool to build the perfect itinerary but also not to miss anything that you would like to see. One of the major issues that we have found incorporating travel is that it’s easy to get a hotel, it’s easy to get a flight but afterward, it becomes very complicated. So you can go on different local websites, you can try to read some blogs from people who went there but there’s nothing very easy around you to build a trip, to just find exactly everything that you want to see in a limited time that you have during this trip.
These are the initial steps. The last step, which is very important to us, is the sharing. So let’s say that you’re trying to build a trip with friends. You could just share the trip and allow them to add things that they would like to see. Your family can follow your trip if you share it with them and they can view everything that you do. Similarly, if after a trip, a friend tells you, "Hey, I heard you went to Barcelona. Can you tell me what I should see there?" All you have to do is share your itinerary with them and he will know exactly what he needs to do. So this is more or less what müvTravel is like.
TR: Can you explain how the AI (artificial intelligence) comes into play and its significance in making müvTravel a game-changer in the travel industry?
MK: We’re using several aspects of AI to help evolve [travel] and help people get the most out of their travels. The first aspect that we’re using is allowing them to have a better feel about what are the best places to see or the best places to stay or eat at. Obviously, in the last few years, we’ve built a lot of our travel tools on reviews, on user reviews but who’s able to read 3 million reviews? The first thing that we use of AI is an aspect that allows us to pull out, from these millions of reviews, what are really the best cases that people should go to and we kind of rank them to get. For example, the best ranking art museum in Europe. Similarly, we use another AI technology for the itinerary building. To be able to optimize the itinerary, we have to use some technology that will allow us to find what will be the best itinerary based on where the person is starting every morning: his hotel. That’s the second thing. But the most important part of AI technology that we are using is personalization. Allowing us not only to personalize itineraries based on people, dates, lifestyles, and budgets but also to help them find the right places that really fits their own needs. So these are the three main technologies that we are using. We are also using similar technology that Netflix and Amazon use which we call recommendation engines. These allow us to give recommendations based on people who have similar tastes. So if you are the type of person who likes sushi and visits several sushi places in New York, you might find other people who like sushi also and who have recommended this other sushi place in France so we’ll be able to give you these recommendations based on similarities based on similarities based on you and other people who share the same mindset.
TR: What are some of the most common mistakes travelers make when planning a trip? How does müvTravel fix that?
MK: Well, in general, one of the major tendencies, it’s not really a mistake, it’s the tool that they have. In today’s world, we have a very limited amount of tools that allow you to know where to go. Most people coming from the United States to Europe, are going to use Lonely Planet. But by using Lonely Planet, everybody’s going to the same places. Similarly, if they use TripAdvisor, they will always be going to the same restaurants which are the top 10 or others and it becomes a bit of a circle where this restaurant will stay on top just because all of these people are going to it and this other restaurant which is very good and actually is much more interesting than the popular one, which has become too popular, doesn’t get the recognition that it is supposed to get. So what we need is tools that are a little bit different and we can see that very often, if you see, for example, some restaurants are recommended by Yelp, but some others might be recommended by TripAdvisor, and the third one would be recommended by Lonely Planet. What is needed is more personalization. What people need to have is really a recommendation based on their own taste and needs. This has been missing until now and this is what müvTravel is trying to resolve. If I’m the type of person who likes, let’s say, boutique hotels and the majority of travelers tend to go to Marriott and Sheraton, I still need to be able to get the recommendation that fits my tastes which would not be what I’m getting right now.
TR: What can you say to someone who is worried about having a “robot” helping them plan their trip?
MK: It’s very funny that you use the term "robot" because, obviously, as we speak about AI, people talk about killer robots. In our case, müvTravel is less of a robot and more like your personal butler in a way. This is a personal butler that knows everything about the world and who just came to stay with you and learn everything about you so that he’s able to tell you about where you should go, what you should do and what are the places you will probably like most. So just as your personal butler, he’s only an advisor. You end up choosing what to do and where to go. So, even when we end up giving you a personalized itinerary, you can change anything. You can change it on the go. You can change it before you go. If we know that what you like are art museums and we end up giving you a personalized recommendation about seeing two art museums and you feel tired and just want to relax in the park, you can take it out of the itinerary with just a click. It’s just like your weekly planner, it helps you better organize your week. And sometimes you will miss an appointment, who cares?
TR: How did you find this void in the market?
MK: I have never been able to use TripAdvisor to fill my needs with travel. So I’ve always had a very, very hard time finding the right places to visit. Using TripAdvisor, which is very "mass market", it will cater to a very large population of people and not specifically to my tribe, the type of person that I am. And I will end up always getting a recommendation for a restaurant that is popular on TripAdvisor, but that doesn’t mean that was the best of the most interesting to go to. So, this is where I have my limitations about tools like TripAdvisor.
TR: müvTravel allows users to plan a trip that is happening in the near future as well as offering a place to create a dream vacation. How did you come up with the idea to allow for curating the trip of a lifetime?
MK: I’m the type of guy who had a big map of the world and I had my pins in all the destinations I wanted to go to. When I grew up, I started traveling and going places and as the internet evolved, I said, "wow, now I have not only the places I want to go to but everything I want to do in these places," and this is how the dream idea came about. I just thought that in 2018 or in 2015 at that time [when the website was launched] it would be great to have a map of the world online with all the trips I would like to take in this lifetime. And that would also help me if I had the tool that would tell me when would be the best time to leave for the cheapest price and if there were any deals out there that would allow me to take this trip, I would like to know about it. I wanted to create a tool to help people not just only plan their trip so that they could visualize it but also to help hem personalize it by giving them hints and tips. And yes, people can keep their trips as long as they want to [on the website] and as we grow, we will probably make more deals with airlines and hotels and places and tell them "Hey, we have 5,000 people who are looking to take a trip to southern Italy. Why don’t you give us a deal and we’ll offer it to these people?" So that’s where the idea is coming from.
TR: What is one quality that you possess that has aided in your success?
MK: Its vision and perseverance. I’m somebody who really likes change. I like to see change happening. I embrace it in a way and from change, I’m able to see how things could develop in the future. And perseverance because anything that you do will never be easy. It’s very rare that people who try something, make it work the first time. You need to go at it, you need to change it, you need to develop it. You need to fail sometimes and start again. So probably these are the two qualities that helped me.
TR: What advice would you give to our readers who might be thinking of venturing out into the world of entrepreneurship?
MK: Two verbs: dare and persevere. One thing that I do see with young entrepreneurs today is that they have great ideas except they are afraid to talk about them. They think that they should keep them to themselves, hide them because someone else might take them. It is good to talk about ideas because they will know whether it’s a good idea or not. They will get feedback to build on the idea so this is mostly what I would advise someone to do. And especially, when you’re sure that it’s something that people will like, that will succeed, just dig. Go for it. So that is my advice, dare, persevere and concentrate on the product.
TR: Michel, thank you so much for this wonderful interview.
MK: Great! I appreciate it. Thank you very much for your time.
Readers, you can check out Karam's müvTravel, on the official site. And then, bon voyage! Happy travels!