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PhoCusWright "Young Leaders" Q+A Series: Ruzwana Bashir of Peek.com

Ruzwana Bashir

At last month’s PhoCusWright Conference, the travel tech industry’s much-anticipated annual event, some of the most exciting, buzz-worthy attendees were the wunderkinds behind travel start-ups and high-profile online products. Travel + Leisure sat down with select Millennial entrepreneurs—or maybe a better moniker is disruptors?—shaping the next generation of Travel:

Ruzwana Bashir, the British-born 29-year-old co-founder of Peek.com, is part of the exclusive club of PhoCusWright “Young Leaders.” In October of this year, she launched a new website that provides an attractive, centralized place to book vacation activities. It also highlights “Perfect Day” itineraries supplied by travel insiders, luminaries, and in-the-know locals.

While we predict it will be a challenge to wrangle disparate Activities providers around the world (from vintners to camel drivers), the promise—and ease!—of being able to do everything (get inspired, research, and book) in one place is undeniable. The solution exists for air and hotel, but no company has yet to "own" the space for on-the-ground experiences. We think Bashir is onto something good. And we’re not alone; her lead investors are Innovation Endeavors, started by Google's Eric Schmidt, and Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square.

We sat down with Bashir to ask her some questions:

Q: Where do you find travel inspiration for Peek.com and in real life?
A: I travel to see awe-inspiring places and learn from new cultures, so invariably I’m looking for incredible things to do, rather than for the coolest hotels or the cheapest deals. My most memorable experiences include visiting the Dharavi slums in Mumbai, flying in a helicopter over the world’s most active volcano in Hawaii, and exploring the Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul. But the process of finding these great experiences was always a pain, which is why I started Peek.com! I would ask friends for recommendations, pore over magazines (from T+L to Nat Geo), dig through guidebooks (like Wallpaper), and spend hours browsing the web. Then came the hassle of finding a reputable operator and actually booking the best activities.

Q: Where do you think there’s room for improvement (or an opportunity) in online travel—content, tools, booking engines, etc.?
A: Users now expect each travel website they engage with to have great photography, easy navigation, instant online purchasing, and social network integration. With big data analytics and a rapidly expanding social graph (e.g. Facebook and Twitter connect), there’s an opportunity to make travel booking much more relevant, streamlined and beautiful for end-users. Unfortunately many small travel merchants often have limited resources and can lack experience interacting with customers online. This is especially pronounced in the travel activities space. For example, in the U.S., less than 3 in 5 travel activity providers have any online booking tools, and 20% don’t even have a website! (This is despite the fact that 80% of travelers are searching for activities online). We are hoping to help!

Q: What are your predictions for where the digitally powered travel industry will go in 2013 and beyond?
A: The most important trends in travel will be the move from offline to online by small travel businesses, and the continued growth of mobile. There are now better ways for small merchants to come online easily and without onerous costs, so I anticipate big changes here.

In terms of mobile, users will be able to more easily access itineraries both online and offline, travel apps will come closer to replacing the need for tour guides in popular destinations, and we will be able to get better travel recommendations based on our geo-locations. Although researching and purchasing via mobile are already important, we’ll also see a move towards real-time travel suggestions and booking.

Q: What’s your best travel tip?
A: Take redeyes! They’re not fun, but think of all the time you’re saving—those extra hours can go towards exploring instead. Eat well beforehand (the carb coma is a classic trick), drink a camomile tea, avoid being lured in by movies, and bring along a cashmere blanket to ward off the cold air. If it’s a 6 hour flight or less (e.g. London/NYC), beg for an early check-in at your hotel and take a nap before starting the day.

Adrien Glover is deputy digital editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Peek.com

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