“I saw an opportunity to form a worldwide community of hostel travelers.”
- Year selected
For WeHostels, travel is not just about the places you see but also about the people you meet along the way. In a multi-billion-dollar industry dominated by large, impersonal companies, Diego Saez-Gil seeks to revolutionize online budget travel booking through a young, untapped market. Based on the belief that booking travel should be as social as traveling itself, WeHostels, founded in 2011, offers a social-mobile platform through which users can not only browse and book hostels on the go but can also see who else will be staying at each accommodation. Even before arriving at their destinations, WeHostels travelers can connect with others who will be staying at the same hostel, as well as find travelers with shared interests, friends, or travel destinations in order to interact, share tips, and plan activities together. As the first global social-web company built from Latin America for the world, WeHostels’ innovative product has grabbed the attention of TechCrunch, BBC News, and TheNextWeb, among other global media outlets.
A natural leader, Diego left his small town in northern Argentina with a business degree and an itch to travel. After a stint at the energy company Plupestrol, Diego headed to Barcelona’s Universidad Ramon Llull on a scholarship, earning his MBA while working at Altran, a leading tech consulting firm, and at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating. As an MBA student and consultant by work week and backpacker by weekend, Diego had the chance to fulfill his dream of traveling throughout Europe, staying in hostels and meeting other young travelers. Countless passport stamps later, Diego realized that the backpacker community—the young, like-minded travelers that he met during his travels—was underserved by the Internet travel industry. Diego moved to New York City in 2009, where he interned at a small design firm and fleshed out his plan for a new sort of travel company. That year, Diego and two friends founded the backpackers’ travel guide Off Track Planet. Although the business struggled, it gave Diego invaluable experience in the startup scene, which would aid him in his next venture, WeHostels.
In mid-2011, Diego had not given up on his vision of a social-mobile booking platform, and decided to start over by focusing on mobile access, often the only web connection available to travelers. He assembled a team of engineers from Colombia and businesspeople from New York and, in just four months, built and launched WeHostels.com. Within six months of inception, the company had acquired 10,000 users and more than 3,400 hostels of its own, in addition to a revenue-sharing partnership that gives WeHostels access to many thousands of additional properties.
WeHostels takes a community approach to hostel booking in an innovative way. Travelers connect their Facebook profiles to their WeHostels accounts, and hostel owners set up their own profiles to post details about the accommodations they offer. In order to emphasize the social experience, the company has developed engaging features designed to keep users involved. Providing users with an easy-to-use interface built on the social networking model, the Hostel Lounge creates a forum where travelers can interact and share information before meeting in real life. Frequent users receive Badges, achievements that double as travel credits, adding a motivating dynamic to the process. WeHostels builds on information from social graphs—the network of online relationships between individuals—to give its users the most effective and interactive product possible, and it is presently compiling a unique selection of budget accommodations in South America that are not available through other online services.