Alterra.ai launches a new Travel API, and it's changing how we build chatbots.

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Alterra.ai launches a new Travel API, and it's changing how we build chatbots.

As an ongoing supporter of the TTC Community, we are excited to announce the new API Alterra.ai has just launched! We sat down with the one and only Founder and CEO Sergei Burkov to talk APIs and chatbots in travel tech. Oh, and want to hear it from the man himself? Register to Travel Tech Con where you can meet Sergei in the flesh! 

No programming, just Deep Learning.

Alterra.ai is a Deep Learning / NLP startup, building conversational virtual assistants for online travel and beyond. We can do it virtually without programming, using Deep Learning (LSTM) instead – just feed a training corpus into the neural network.

Alterra is a virtual AI travel agent. She can recommend travelers where to go on vacation and what to see there. She can then book flights and hotels.

Alterra is a bot. She understands plain English. You can chat with her, as with a human. Almost :-) However, Alterra is 100% powered by AI algorithms. No humans are involved, whatsoever.

What problem is Alterra solving?

Bots are gaining in popularity, mostly because users are spending more time in messengers than in email or apps. They also prefer chat to a phone call. Every travel brand needs its own bot. However, building chat bots is hard. AI and natural language understanding require Google-level special knowledge not readily available to the majority of the OTAs, airlines, hotel chains, TMCs, and other travel companies. Universal AI platforms like Google's API.ai, IBM Watson, Facebook's Wit.ai and others are not intelligent enough to automate travel agency workflow. Additionally, TMCs are still employing live travel agents to take orders over email or phone. It's expensive and inefficient.

What inspired your company?

Bots are coming. But dumb bots suck. They need brains. However, building bots with scripting and regular expressions is too labor intensive, and still the bots are too dumb. Luckily, now there is better approach: Deep Learning. There is a clear need for silicon brains for chatbots, in travel and beyond.

Announcing the new Alterra Travel API.

The Alterra Travel API allows third- party developers to build their own virtual travel agents that can sell flights and hotels, and recommend destinations, all in natural language. Developers can also embed the functionality in broader virtual assistants and pair it up with live travel agents, etc. 

The API takes free-form user query, extracts all parameters such as locations, dates, target prices, class of service, amenities, etc. and returns them in a structured form. For example, travelers may say things like "I need 2 nonstop economy class tickets from San Francisco to Munich departing next Friday back in 10 days" -- the software will understand it. Developers may pass these structured queries to GDSs or their booking engines. The API also returns text to be displayed to the users. 

What are you most looking forward to about Travel Tech Con?

Meeting people who work on similar issues, and customers.

Who do you want to meet at the Travel Tech Con 2017 and who should approach you?

Customers! OTAs, airlines, hotel chains, TMCs, and other travel companies.


Sergei Burkov PhD is the founder and CEO of Alterra.ai, a Deep Learning / NLP startup, building bots for online travel and beyond. Sergei ‘s previous startup was acquired by Google, where he became the first head of its R&D Center in Moscow, Russia.


Are you a Travel Startup?

Just like Alterra.ai your startup can be featured in a TTC blog just like this! All you need to do is become a TTC Startup, simple as that! Another bonus as a TTC Startup is that you can apply to pitch at Travel Tech Con 2017. Please apply here (will only take you a few secs!). 

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Why Norm Rose is attending Travel Tech Con 2017.

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Why Norm Rose is attending Travel Tech Con 2017.

We are excited to announce Norm Rose, President of Travel Tech Consulting, as a keynote speaker at Travel Tech Con 2017. We sat down with him and asked his background, who should approach him at the conference and what he's most excited about Travel Tech Con 2017. Can't wait to see you in May Norm!

Norm Rose, President of Travel Tech Consulting. Image taken from Phocuswright 2016.

Norm Rose, President of Travel Tech Consulting. Image taken from Phocuswright 2016.

Why did you get into travel tech?

I’ve always had a passion for new technology.  I began my consulting practices in 1995 at the same time the Internet became mainstream.  That combined with my time at Sun Microsystems help drive me to a constant exploration of emerging technologies and anticipate their impact on the global travel industry.

 

Who do you want to meet at the Travel Tech Con 2017 and who should approach you?

I am interested in truly disruptive startups that use emerging tech such as machine learning and natural language processing to provide solutions for all the sectors of the industry.  I am also looking to connect with local investors who are interested in travel technology.

 

What’s the best thing about being in travel tech?

Helping clients both improve their core travel systems and identify emerging overall tech trends that will impact the global travel industry.

 

What are you most looking forward to about Travel Tech Con?

Content and networking.

Norm Rose hosing a panel at Travel Tech Con 2016 discussing Blockchain in Travel.

Brief outline of speech

I normally review between 100-150 startups pitches annually. I have been associated with the Phocuswright’s Travel Innovation Summit since its inception. For Phocuswright, I screen all Summit startup submissions and prepare those selected in sharpening their presentation for the main stage.  My work with Phocuswright combined with my experience working with Plug and Play, the Travel Startup Incubator and various investment groups, will provide unique perspective for my presentation:  “How to win at the Phocuswright Innovation Summit”.  The talk will include:

  • Evaluating your innovation – are you a core disrupter or peripheral solution?

  • Common pitch mistakes to avoid.
  • How your pitch can be sharpened to better match judging criteria.

 

Norm Rose is a recognized expert on all aspects of travel technology and travel industry trends. He is a seasoned travel industry visionary who provides a clear picture of the future of travel. Whether addressing changes in the airport experience or how mobile and social media is reshaping the planning and booking of travel, Norm brings the future of the world’s largest industry, travel and tourism, into clear focus.

See you there Norm! Are you a Travel Startup? Tickets are going fast for the Travel Tech Con Workshops - get your tickets now here! www.traveltechcon.com/2017-conference/#travel-tech-con-2017

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Fed up of the current state of travel tech, Travel Tech Con challenges all norms.

Hear Co-Founder of Travel Tech Con, Maksim Izmaylov discuss how his frustrations in Travel Tech led him to Travel Tech Con.

“Our first conference in May 2016 aimed to fill the gap left by travel industry conferences and trade shows that don’t cater to startups or talk about real problems the travel industry is facing.

It’s been almost a year since then and we see that the travel industry problems lie much deeper. As one of the travel executives we talked to put it: the biggest problem in travel is ego. The symptoms of this problem are that there is no collaboration, there are no events or communities where travel industry professionals solve common problems. There are no open-source projects in travel and no events for software engineersSam Altman once said that one can approximately predict how well a field is doing by its willingness to accept contributions from outsiders and travel is extremely hard for startups.

The main goal of Travel Tech Con 2017 is to enable collaboration in travel on multiple different levels:

  • Help startups to navigate in the travel industry and connect them to established travel companies
  • Allow big travel companies to learn from startups about how to move faster
  • Learn from technology experts
  • Enable permission-less innovation by putting software developers together”

     

Frustrations in Travel Tech

“I am passionate about making travel a more enjoyable experience for everyone. As an avid traveller and a person who knows technology, I’m very frustrated with the state of tech in travel. Don’t even get me started and ask me what I mean exactly.

  • Did you know that information about available rooms and prices at a hotel has to be entered to Booking.com manually?
  • Did you know that the content on the screen in front of your seat on the plane is not personalized at all?
  • Did you know that airport systems do not know how many passengers are on the plane that is about to land?
  • Did you know that in 2015 at least 2 huge travel companies released their JSON APIs (technology that is 10+ years old) and claimed it a breakthrough?

We talk about robots, virtual reality and other cool toys, but the plumbing we inherited from 20th century starting to release bad odor. Travel Tech Con is here to fix it.”

Maksim Izmaylov’s passion is to solve problems with technology and he successfully does so in the travel industry.

Maksim Izmaylov is founder and president of Roomstorm, company that helps airlines to find hotel rooms for passengers from delayed and cancelled flights. He also founded Travel Tech Con, a community and a series of events for travel startups and established travel companies. Maksim’s last project is Winding Tree, a completely new way of doing travel distribution using blockchain.

Register for Travel Tech Con Today!

Travel Tech Con is an independent travel industry conference dedicated to startups and technologies that will transform travel in the next few years. Join us in May 2017 in San Francisco for three days of learning, making connections and having a great time.

Register Here!

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Why Adam Goldstein is attending Travel Tech Con 2017

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Why Adam Goldstein is attending Travel Tech Con 2017

Why Adam Goldstein is attending Travel Tech Con 2017

We are excited to announce Adam Goldstein, Co-Founder & CEO of Hipmunk, will be one of our awesome keynote speakers at Travel Tech Con 2017. We sat down with him and asked him his inspirations, who should approach him at the conference and what he's most excited about Travel Tech Con 2017. Can't wait to see you in May Adam!

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Adam Goldstein - Co-Founder & CEO of Hipmunk, a consumer-oriented online travel company headquartered in San Francisco, California.

Why did you get into travel tech?

I started Hipmunk because I was frustrated with existing travel services. They didn't seem adequately focused on reducing the agony of searching for travel. The tech side was integral from the beginning—building on modern web and mobile technologies gave us a huge advantage against our more established competitors.

 

Who do you want to meet at the Travel Tech Con 2017 and who should approach you?

People should introduce themselves if they:

• Are fans of Hipmunk

• Want advice on starting a travel startup (hint: don't :)

• Are looking for jobs

 

What’s the best thing about being in travel tech?

The never-ending intellectual challenge of the online travel industry.

 

What are you most looking forward to about Travel Tech Con?

The chance to stay current on travel tech in the city that's been at the forefront of so many innovations.

Adam is a full-time travel nerd who founded Hipmunk just weeks after his graduation from MIT in June 2010. At MIT, he earned degrees in electrical engineering/computer science and mechanical engineering, and was the North American Debating Champion in 2010. Prior to Hipmunk, Adam co-founded BookTour with Wired's Chris Anderson, and was also the youngest author ever at O'Reilly, writing AppleScript: The Missing Manual at the age of 16.

Want to hear Adam speak live on the Travel Tech Con stage? Get your tickets before they sell out here

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When 4 travel communities ignite together!

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When 4 travel communities ignite together!

Thank you for joining us for our first ever collaborative event on Jan 31st at WeWork Transbay! It was one of our biggest turnouts so far, and was great to meet so many people doing amazing things in the travel space! We had a great time and hope you all did too! Here's a quick recap:

The live-stream you can watch here

The night started off with Travel Massive - Community for Travel Industry professionals. They presented us with three interesting talks from Mike Geddes (The Third Half Soccer), Melissa Chiella (Evergreen Escapes) and Tin Sae Koo (Tint).

Next up was our community where we invited three startups in the TTC community to share their groundbreaking projects to the wider community. Before the talks Marina announced our upcoming event next month on VR in Travel as well as our Calendar of Events. Thanks to Michal Wroczynski (Fido.ai),  Chris Fultion (BlueSmart) and Han Jin (LucidCam) for bringing diversity, creativity and inspiration - great job guys!

Following TCC was NomadPass - Community for Digital Nomads. They shared with us talks from Estella Kun (Inspiral Studio) and Daniel Feeney (Buffer).

Ending the night was Travel Hackers - Community for Travel Hacking Enthusiasts. In true ignite style they presented insightful and sisynced from Craig Thomas (Travel with Craig), Dawn (Travel Hackers) and Daniel Tahara.

So yep, this Meetup was a big one! We left with great takeaways from the speakers as well as chatting the attendees. See you next month at Upload VR for our Meetup on VR in Travel!

 

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Startup of the Month: Hostfully

We're starting this year anew with and our newest segment 'Startup Spotlight', where we highlight travel tech startups each month. This month we're talking to President and Co-Founder David Jacoby of Hostfully, a vacation rental management platform for companies and individual vacation rental hosts, helping hosts be better hosts.

What problem is Hostfully solving?

Providing 5-star hospitality (in the vacation rental space) on a consistent basis is hard work. Equally hard is communicating with a never-ending flow of guests and all their questions.  The vacation rental space has a big focus on the bookings-side of things: there are many listings platforms (eg: Airbnb, HomeAway, FlipKey, etc), softwares to help you list on multiple sites, and dynamic pricing companies to help you charge the right amount for your listing.  However, after a reservation is confirmed, there are not many tools to help hosts be better hosts and manage the hospitality experience.

How is Hostfully solving this problem?

Hostfully helps hosts (both individual hosts and vacation rental management companies) be better hosts.  Our value proposition is two-fold:

  1. We help hosts provide a more professional-looking experience to their guests.  Our flagship product is beautiful guidebooks, available both digitally and in print.

  2. We save hosts time (and money) by decreasing the amount of unnecessary questions they get from guests.  We make important information and local recommendations more readily accessible than the traditional, old-fashion method of out-dated and ugly binders.

David Jacoby, President & Co-Founder, with the Hostfully team.

David Jacoby, President & Co-Founder, with the Hostfully team.

What is the most important thing you're working on right now, and how are you making it happen?

Following the Lean philosophy of constantly testing and pushing new releases on the product.  As a scrappy new startup, we have a long roadmap of features we’d like to add.  Listening / watching what our users are actually doing on our website and the feedback they provide helps us prioritize.

What inspired you to start your company?

In 2010, my wife and I took a one year sabbatical and traveled around the world.  We visited 27 countries in 5 continents, and stayed in 38 people’s homes during that journey, including places such as Lima, Cairo, Jerusalem, Kigali, Hanoi, and Phenom Phen (from traditional vacation rentals, to Couchsurfing.org, to friends of friends).  It was then that I realized the incredible influence a host has on a guest’s stay; anything my host told me to do immediately went to the top of my priority list, above other travel guides like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Yelp, etc.

After that trip we moved to San Francisco and started doing home sharing in our home, on both Airbnb and Couchsurfing.  We’ve had over 100 guests in the past few years and I’ve become an Airbnb Superhost.  During this experience, I’ve realized two things:

1) The incredible pain-point of having a full-time job and trying to provide a consistent 5-star hospitality experience to my guests, and being in constant communication with guest after guest (both before their visit and while they are here)

2) The pleasure of hearing from them that they went to my favorite local recommendations.  Sure, they went to Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, but it was visiting my local favorite brunch spot, coffee shop, etc that made their trip truly memorable and unique.

In looking into the vacation rental, I realized there are many platforms (like Airbnb, HomeAway, etc) that focus on getting the booking, and there are other tools (like property management softwares and dynamic pricing companies) to help with that.  But once the reservation is made, there are not many services to help the host be a better host and provide 5-star hospitality to their guests.  That’s where we come in.

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"We help hosts provide a more professional-looking experience to their guests"

David Jacoby, President & CO-Founder

Describe your business modal.

We are a SaaS platform for vacation rental management companies and individual vacation rental hosts.  Clients pay us a monthly subscription.  We are also a sales channel to connect businesses to tourists, of which we receive advertising / commission revenue.

What’s your go to market strategy?  How will you find and attract customers?

One successful component of our go to market strategy has been our high quality content.  We are the number 1 publication on Medium for “travel” and “Airbnb” and have had industry leaders publish with us.  There are many individual hosts who have started blogs about hosting, but there are not many “thought leaders” in the space…it is still pretty young in that regards.  We also have a strong social media presence, and we are present at both local and national vacation rental events, including having multiple speakers at the Airbnb Open in Los Angeles last November.

Who are your main competitors?

The vacation rental market is growing so fast, and the ecosystem is still in its early stages.  While it’s not the case 100% of the time, we always try our best to look at other companies in the space as potential partners.  What are we doing differently and how can we help each other out?  A rising tide lifts all ships.  

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Meetup Recap: Travana on December 8th 2016!

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Meetup Recap: Travana on December 8th 2016!

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Thank you for joining us on December 8th at Travana in San Francisco - we had a great time, hope you did too! Here's a quick recap:

- Travana provided us with an amazing spread of food and drinks (thank you again!)

Sergei BurkovFounder and CEO of Alterra.ai, a Deep Learning / NLP startup, building bots for online travel spoke about virtual travel agents powered by artificial neural networks. Sergei described the rise of bots and what it means for the travel space, and where the opportunities are. He talked about how Deep Learning is utilized for building smart conversational bots and compared them with less intelligent bots that rely on on-screen buttons. 

Stephen GrabowskiProduct Manager with Skyscanner who is currently advising teams working on chatbots and conversations products spoke about Skyscanner's experience building a booking chatbot for flights, what works and what doesn't.

Michal Wroczynski CEO and co-founder of Fido AI spoke about how bots are the ultimate solution for solving the paradox of choice in hospitality and travel? He opened up the questioned of whether AI would change the way users learn directly from reviews. 

- Travel Tech Con team announced upcoming events including the first Ignite Travel event where four SF/Bay Area travel communities come together as well as the February Travel Tech Meetup based on VR in Travel, with our friends at Non-Gaming VR. TTC also announced the exciting Travel Tech Con 2017 that will be held at Treasure Island in May 2017! More information released soon!

Here are the startups that got to do 3min mini pitches on stage - Hitlist, Quest City, Villo & Gnomad Travel

It was really a special night, with great space and company - see you next month at the Ignite Travel event!

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Advice for Travel Startups starting out

Watch Part 2 of November Travel Tech Meetup! Sylwia Gorajek, host and producer of Valley Talks asks special guests Amir Amidi, Rom Hendler & Julia Lam advice for travel tech startups starting out. Filmed @ Plug & Play Tech Center in San Francisco.

For a recap of the Meetup see here.

Want to see what else Travel Tech has in store? See more of our upcoming events here!

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Congratulations Beyond Pricing and Hello Scout!

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Congratulations Beyond Pricing and Hello Scout!

We are so proud to see our close supporters and friends growing and doing so well!

Last week it was announced Beyond Pricing was the Summit Winner in the Startup Category, as well as the Winner of People's Choice. We watched Beyond Pricing pitch and win a free ticket to Phocuswright through Travel Tech Con 2016 Pitch Competition - so we can definitely say they took that winning ticket and ran with it!

We chatted to Beyond Pricing’s CEO Ian McHenry on the win and the incredible opportunity. 

Ian McHenry, CEO of Beyond Pricing

Ian McHenry, CEO of Beyond Pricing

"Travel Tech Con was an incredible opportunity not only to pitch Beyond Pricing for the first time, but also to earn our way to the Phocuswright Battleground.  We crawled our way all the way to the big stage and were fortunate enough to win.  I can't thank TTC enough for enabling that!"

Beyond Pricing provides a dynamic pricing solution for Airbnb and other vacation rental sites. Their focus is on utilizing real-time market data to help managers & owners maximize the performance of their vacation rental properties.

Another success story was seeing Hello Scout take the crown as the Winner of 'Summit General Catalyst Award for Travel Innovation' as well as Runner Up in the Startup Category. We reached out to congratulate Hello Scout, with CEO David Temple saying a few words:

"We're always excited to talk with new people about why we think chat, SMS and data can come together to change the way travelers book experiences. That's why we've been coming to Travel Tech Con from the beginning and it's what made Phocuswright so fun. We're thrilled that the judges and audience responded so well to our vision too!"

David Temple, CEO of Hello Scout

David Temple, CEO of Hello Scout

Hello Scout connects guests with local experts to help hotels improve TripAdvisor reviews. Their platform finds passionate locals and pays them an hourly rate to respond to guests , using data to guarantee five-minute response times.

Again, sending out big congratulations to these two well-deserving startups as well as all that pitched at Phocuswright 2016. We look forward to seeing these two startups grow and can't wait to catch up at our Meetup and at Travel Tech Con 2017!

Want to get in touch with startups like these or become part of the TTC community? Our Travel Tech Hub will be your launchpad for connecting to our worldwide network of partners in travel industry. Stay tuned when we begin open registrations!

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funding DIFFICULTIES in the travel space

Watch when Sylwia Gorajek, host and producer of Valley Talks speaks to special guests Amir Amidi, Rom Hendler & Julia Lam discuss difficulties getting funding in the travel tech space @ Travel Tech Meetup, November 3rd at Plug & Play Tech Center in San Francisco. 

Missed our November Meetup? No problem we've got you covered! We'll be posting videos just like these that cover the topics that were discussed during the night. 

Ready for our next meetup? See you December 8th when we talk Chatbots!

See Sylwia Gorajek's Valley Talks here: http://www.valleytalks.com/

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Meetup Recap: November 2016 - Plug & Play Tech Center

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Meetup Recap: November 2016 - Plug & Play Tech Center

What a great night it was at The Plug and Play Center on November 4th! We left with great takeaways about the travel tech funding space, and hope you did too! Here's a quick recap:

- Our panel host for the night was Sylwia Gorajek, founder of Valley Talks, went far and beyond in probing our panelists with the questions we all were thinking . 

- We were lucky to have Rom Hendler call in to share his insights from extensive experience in the travel tech industry.  Formerly CAO at Las Vegas Sands Corp and currently Managing Partner at InnoVel, Rom had plenty of advice that was valuable and long-lasting.

Amir Amidi also joined our panel as As the Managing Partner at Plug and Play, Travel & Hospitality Innovation Tech Center. Being in contact with various travel startups on the daily he definitely knew a thing or two about the industry and the importance of getting funding right. 

- Co-founder of Bucket (acquired) and formerly at Facebook, Julia Lam also joined our panel who as always was a delight to have. She shared her funding and investment insights as well as her own experiences and lessons. 

We will be posting updates about next meetup on our Facebook Group page and the TTC official FB page - stay connected!

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Meetup Recap: The Vault on October 2016!

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Meetup Recap: The Vault on October 2016!

Thank you for joining us on October 10th at The Vault in San Francisco - we had a great time, hope you did too! Here's a quick recap:

Federico Ast, founder of Blockchain based Crowdjury and a member of Singularity University, talked about Blockchain technology and potential applications in travel space, especially as a powerful and incredibly efficient tool for dispute resolution. 

Max Izmaylov, founder of RoomstormTravel Tech Con and Winding Tree, talked about decentralized, Blockchain based travel data distribution, current industry challenges and future opportunities.

- Travel Tech Con team has announced upcoming Travel Tech Hub - a platform that connects travel startups to industry opportunities and gives travel tech businesses direct access to startups. If you're a travel startup - signup to be notified when spots open up, and if you're a business interested in partnering with us - get in touch!

Here are the startups that got to do 3min mini pitches on stage - FlightshipFanxchangeExcurion AppArrivedo.

- Here are the slides from the meetup:

Travel Tech Hub

Crowdjury

Winding Tree

Flightship

Fanxchange

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Meetup Recap: July @ StartupHouse

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Meetup Recap: July @ StartupHouse

Thanks for joining July meetup at StartupHouse! Here is a recap:

At the meetup we introduced our plans for Travel Tech Con 2017 and 4 focus areas that we're working on. We also mentioned that we're digging for insights on how to make Travel Tech Con 2017 a blast - you're very welcome to contribute your thoughts (it's also a chance to win 2 free tickets to the conference)

On another note - we opened Call for Speakers - feel free to nominate a speaker and share the page with anyone who you think would be a great fit.

We also opened Call for Startups - share this opportunity with travel startups in your network!

At his meetup we had a special guest - Dillan Keene from Plug and Play Tech Center who introduced Travel and Hospitality Program and the opportunities available to Travel startups. To learn more - visit Plug and Play website and watch program introduction video

We will be posting updates about next meetups on our Facebook Group page - stay connected!

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