Interview with Dr Kris Naudts, Founder-CEO of Culture Trip
London-based Culture Trip is revolutionising the way millennials search for and book travel experiences online. With hundreds of new pieces of content each month produced by 600 freelancers across the globe, Culture Trip is a unique offer in a fast-changing industry. We talk to CEO Dr Kris Naudts about what makes his content creation model special and the future of travel.
Welcome! Please tell us a little about Culture Trip and what makes it special?
Unlike traditional travel sites which focus on selling travel services, we publish inspiring content which seeks to inspire people to travel to new places or help them to find out more about a destination once they are there. We want to inspire people to go beyond their cultural boundaries. Our website and app are used by 15 to 20 million people per month.
As a trained psychiatrist, your background is really interesting and different to many tech CEOs! How do you think your medical training influenced your decision to start Culture Trip?
Of course anyone who undertakes medical training has a solid background in science and data and this is always useful in the tech industry. As a medical student you are also taught to be disciplined and absorb knowledge. My desire to start Culture Trip came from a passion for culture and creativity, and of course a desire to build something from the ground up! Nowadays I’m mainly a traveller of the mind, I read books about places that interest me. In fact that was what we initially intended to do with Culture Trip, build a website that recommended works of fiction based on places people wanted to travel to. Then this expanded to art, design, architecture and culture and now we have the Culture Trip we see today.
You describe Culture Trip as “the first truly full-funnel offering in the travel industry“, bringing together high quality content with easy-to-use planning and booking features. Can you tell us how this funnel works and a little about how your marketing strategy currently looks?
To be honest, when we started in 2011 we were not marketing experts, we simply wanted to provide people with inspirational content. 2018 was the first year we actually brought marketing experts on board to run campaigns. We did a fantastic event at the SXSW conference in 2019 where we screened our first original documentary on the three SoHos – in New York, London and Hong Kong – called The Soul of Soho. It got people talking about Culture Trip and our content. We make our money through sponsored branded content and tourism boards are a major contributor here, for example we collaborate with Hamburg Tourism and we currently have a campaign with the German tourism board about German UNESCO sites. We also provide tools for people to plan and book their trips.
You have also said previously how important AI is now in the travel industry. What part does AI play in the customer’s Culture Trip journey?
Through Culture Trip we capture a lot of information on peoples travel intentions. We have developed AI tools to integrate this data into our content and optimise it. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can best leverage what we have and personalise our offer to the individual user.
What tips would you offer other start-ups interested in adopting similar models, say, in different industries?
You need to produce a lot of really good content, otherwise no one will read you or find you! It is by no means an easy ride. It takes a long time to build up a library of really excellent content. It is also really important to invest in quality assurance. Keeping your content library up-to-date is also a challenge and we are currently looking at technological solutions to assist us with this.
What in your view can traditional travel companies learn from Culture Trip?
They can learn how to acquire customers in a different way than through traditional paid search methods. The younger generation, for example, is looking for inspiration, the world is their oyster and they are particularly receptive to our content creation model and our local creator community. User-generated content also has its limitations. Our users see great value in professionally produced and curated content. Through this companies like us catch users much earlier in their journey.
What role will Culture Trip’s development into countries like Germany play in your future development?
Growing our audience and customer base is important to us. We are beginning to see an increasing audience in European countries, both in terms of people using our site and the locations people want to travel to. We may also begin to translate our content into local languages.
What will the traveller look like in 20 years time and how is Culture Trip developing to meet his/her needs?
Quite simply, future travel will be looking more Chinese. We are seeing the beginnings of this trend now but there is so much room to grow and it will be so interesting to see how travelling to and from China develops. Sustainability will also be a huge topic for the future traveller. How do I travel the world and see new places without damaging the planet? We are currently working hard to meet these trends. A huge task but we are keen to work this out.