Many companies are trying to use AI chatbots (beyond ChatGPT) in different industries — especially in the consumer sector. Berlin-based startup Layla is banking on this trend to build an eponymous chatbot (along with an app) that suggests new travel destinations. It can also help them when it comes to bookings.
The company was started by Jeremy Jauncey, the founder of travel agency Beautiful Destinations with millions of followers across social media platforms, and Saad Saeed, who was the co-founder of grocery delivery service Flink.
Jauncey told TechCrunch over a call that the company wanted to bring a new solution to the travel industry based on their experience on social networks and building tech products.
“Having spent so much time over the last 10 years really deeply embedded in social media and the creator economy, we felt travel discovery needs something fresh. We saw that, post-pandemic, many users based their travel decisions on what they saw on Instagram and TikTok and harness that,” he said.
While the company is officially launching 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 to look for different destinations to travel to.
Users can chat with Layla on Instagram about destinations, their temperatures, the best time to go and things to do, along with flight and hotel options. The bot also surfaces videos of different destinations from the creators (fetched from the Beautiful Destinations network) to give you an alternative view of a place.
Saeed mentioned that the startup pushes people toward using Layla’s own app on Instagram after a few conversation exchanges. In the app, people can create different lists, share them with friends, and have different chats with Layla about various trips. Plus, the app allows them to show videos, ticket prices and hotel options in a richer way.
Jauncey said that on average a person goes to multiple websites for all things related to travel advice, from inspiration to the booking phase. And with Layla, the founders want to shorten that journey.
Layla has partnered with Booking.com to show hotel options and with Skyscanner to show flight options. Currently, it is starting with a fee sharing for these transactions as a revenue stream. However, with scale, the startup is also open to exploring more money-making avenues such as personalized advertising opportunities.
The company has secured a €3 million ($3.2 million) seed investment led by firstminute capital — which was set up by lastminute.com’s co-founder Brent Hoberman and M13. Other investors include Booking.com’s co-founder Andy Phillips, Skyscanner co-founder Barry Smith, and entertainment star Paris Hilton.
Layla feels that its differentiation lies in surfacing different kinds of content and not having a website-like structure where users have to apply filters to get search results. While the company is using large language models to parse queries and display answers, it has built its own recommendation engine. Plus, Saeed mentioned Layla is building vision tech to help it answer queries like “show me destinations which look like Mars” or surface recommendations that are similar to places in a photo or a video.
Hoberman, an investor in the project, said that firstminute invested in the idea because they were excited about the combination of using AI to answer travel questions and surfacing proprietary videos of different destinations to edge people to travel.
“We feel Jeremy and Saad are the perfect team to approach and solve these two challenges. Through Beautiful Destinations’ huge bank of content, Layla is differentiated against all its competitors out there,” Hoberman said.
“Layla will have challenges in terms of educating customers in asking the right kind of queries so AI can give accurate answers. Plus, they will need to be the better inspiration layer in travel to differentiate from other solutions out there.”
Competitors are also gearing up to use AI in their travel solutions. Vancouver-based Pilot is building an AI-focused travel planner to easily share trip ideas with friends. Airbnb and Brian Chesky have already started experimenting with AI-powered review summaries and are open to infusing the tech in other parts of the app. Kayak and Expedia have their own GPTs (ChatGPT plug-ins) and travel publisher Matador Network’s GuideGeek app shows real-time flight information. However, investors believe that “even a small lead matters right now” when it comes to infusing AI into the travel industry.