Marco Deiosso is the CEO and Founder of 181travel, a digital-based DMC (Destination Management Company) that selects, organises and sells Travel Experiences, supporting the international hospitality industry.
In 2016, you founded 181travel (ex-Nausdream), a travel company that selects, organises and sells Travel Experiences supporting the international hospitality industry. What prompted you to establish 181travel?
Marco: The choice of establishing the company in Sardinia was not because I have lived here for most of my life, but because coming from a low-income family meant not being able to travel at all. Therefore, travelling, for me, has always been a dream.
The breakthrough happened at the age of 21, when I discovered the Contamination Lab while attending university. That lab was the starting point of a path that helped me empower the entrepreneurial side of me, which has always existed. I never lacked an entrepreneurial spirit, even when I was doing odd jobs.
When I turned 22, I left university, and together with three Uni partners, we embarked on a new journey called “Nausdream”, which later would have become “181travel”.
We left Sardinia to continue our project in Rome at the LUISS Enlabs startup accelerator, where we met Augusto Coppola, the same mentor we had in the Contamination Lab in Cagliari.
That moment was pivotal for us, because it was the beginning of the journey.
The company was born out of a market need. While we were in Sardinia, we came to realise there were opportunities in the industry of travel experiences. Therefore, in 2020, we changed the business model by adopting a highly pragmatic and data-driven process, which eventually led us to become what we are today: a tour operator active in experiential tourism.
This strong pragmatism, led to a reconfiguration of the founding team as well. We have learnt from this transformation that, in the end, it is the market that drives the business; and your business needs, must be built on solving the problem, and not the solution itself.
In the period 2021-2022, 181travel achieved more than € 3 million in turnover, + 800% compared to the pre-pandemic period. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company? What other results have you achieved until now?
Marco: The holiday of the future is no longer about travel and accommodation. It is about getting to know, in the truest way possible, the destination you are visiting. To get the most out of the destination, it is important to be involved in local activities, that ultimately, celebrate what the region has to offer.
The organisation of a trip can be structured in three main stages. There is an initial “inspiration” phase in which a person identifies a point of interest, checks the logistics, and gets information by word of mouth. Then, the following phase entails the “accommodation search and booking”, which leads to the final one, that is “transportations. 181travel takes care of what happens after the initial phase, allocating the local experiences when they are most suitable for purchase.
Typically, there are three instances when people are most likely to buy experiential activities: the first one, when buying a holiday package (10-15% of the market) the interval between the purchase of the accommodation and transportation and the start of the holiday (10% of the market); finally, the interval we call “-1-1”, i.e. from the day before the hotel check-in to the day of the check-out (75%-80% of the market). 181travel offers destinations in hotels, villages and resorts within the “-1-1” period.
This business model already exists in other countries, and in Italy, there is no operator with a widespread presence on the territory.
This is why we want to work with local agencies to create a valuable distribution channel instead of becoming a competitor to them. Today, 181travel serves Sardinia, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Campania, Abruzzo, Tuscany and Malta. This year, we are planning to serve Sicily as well.
In the interval between 2021-2022, we served about 42,000 people with an average ticket of around €80, for a total revenue of €3.3 million. This year, we aim to reach €5 million.
In January 2020, we were a team of just 3 people; today, we can count up to 22.
You recently announced a € 2.5 million fundraising round by CDP Venture Capital SGR (Fondo Italia Venture II – Fondo Imprese Sud), Primo Ventures SGR (Barcamper Ventures) and Sefea Impact SGR. What are the development plans of 181travel for the near future?
Marco: We are working to consolidate our destinations, expand territorially, and strengthen our partnerships with hotels and accommodation facilities. Southern Italy is our main focus.
We recently acquired Discovering PreSila (now 181discover), a company in Calabria, that offers experiential tourism with a model complementary to ours, dealing with upselling and cross-selling of local products.
We are also investing in various marketing actions and the acquisition of new talents. Likewise, we have planned to grow our team up to 100 people in the next four years.
What are the main challenges you experienced in creating and scaling 181travel? What are your next challenges?
Marco: We have experienced tough challenges when it came to recruiting new talents and dealing with adjustments to the management team. Even though I started my entrepreneurial adventure with four co-founders, today, my team has completely changed.
Another major challenge – hurts for me to say it – is doing business in Italy. The complex bureaucracy is a massive obstacle for entrepreneurs.
Finally, the most challenging, but also most rewarding venture I had to go through, was raising capital for the company. However, if you know you are doing valuable things, value always comes to you.
One last question. What is your vision for the travel industry in Italy?
Marco: There are many uncertainties in the tourism industry at the moment.
One of them is the shift in the destinations of interest. There is a situation where arbitrage works in an almost perfectly informed world. Some destinations have very similar beauty and attractiveness, but with different rates. This element shifts the incoming of tourists a lot, and it can cause market bubbles in the medium term.
A paradox to this issue, it is the absence of tourist coming from countries jeopardised by current political events.
In addition, it will be important to understand what will happen to the Southeast Asia and Chinese markets now that the COVID-19 wave has particularly abated.
I wish travel operators will stop considering people’s holidays as a logistical issue, and instead, they should think of them as a tale about destinations. By embracing this way of thinking, I hope they will start investing in companies like ours that bring the holiday experience to another level. Travellers are looking for new ways to discover destinations, we are trying to understand their needs.
There is a famous saying that goes “by making mistakes, we learn”. However, I think if we would listen more, perhaps we could learn without making mistakes in the first place. “By making mistakes, we learn, but by listening we can learn easily and quickly with no mistake”.
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For more info on 181travel, visit: https://181travel.com/