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Since 2000, Needham-based Tripadvisor has been the go-to site for DIY travelers, with more than 887 million traveler reviews and opinions posted so far. But what if you don’t want to do it yourself — say, the trip is complex, or it’s a special anniversary getaway or some other high-stakes vacation? In December, the company launched Reco (short for recommend; www.helloreco.com), to match travelers with curated Trip Designers. These 300 travel pros, representing more than 100 countries, create custom itineraries for a flat fee of $200. We chatted with Reco’s creator and founder, Erik Ornitz, to get the details.

Erik Ornitz of Tripadvisor.
Erik Ornitz of Tripadvisor.Handout

Q. Why did Tripadvisor decide to launch a trip-designing platform? Was this product in the works prior to the pandemic?

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A. Reco was born out of conversations with many travelers who were excited about a platform for custom travel planning, particularly for complex, highly-considered trips like international getaways, honeymoons, and safaris. We were already investigating this venture before the pandemic, but trip design is more important now than ever, as travelers start exploring again. These are early days — behind the scenes, we’re working on a bunch of tech tools that will make the experience more seamless, to make your trip planning better and help elevate your trip as you go. The idea is to deliver the best technology-driven travel experience possible.

Unlike other platforms for custom planning, Reco gives travelers the choice of who specifically to work with. The advice, recommendations, perks, and support that a Trip Designer helps with create elevated, memorable travel experiences.

Q. Who are these Trip Designers?

A. Reco Trip Designers are a curated set of respected travel professionals who can offer their services to specialty destinations that they know inside and out. They are not employees of Reco. These Trip Designers earn a portion of the Reco planning fee and, as members of top tier consortia and independent contractors of agencies, earn commission for booking accommodations and activities. When they do so, they also offer incredible perks, upgrades, and service for their travelers. [Note: Trip Designers do not handle airfare. That’s up to the traveler.]

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Q. How is this different than simply hiring a good travel agent to plan a trip?

A. The best experiences happen when the traveler and the Trip Designer are excited to work together. We encourage you to get to know one another quickly. We’ll ask you, say, “Are you a street food person or a Michelin-starred food person?” If you click, the Trip Designer will offer themselves up to be hired. It’s important that the fit is right, and that the Trip Designer can give you the trip you’re looking for. If you’re thinking Spain, but Italy might be better for you at this time, they may direct you to another Trip Designer who really knows Italy. It’s really about that match-making.

Q. Since the lowest budget category is $2,500, this service is best for a high-end trip, yes?

A. We like to call it the “highly-considered trip.” It’s the trip that you really care about — maybe it’s an anniversary trip, or a honeymoon. It’s not the backpacking-through-Asia trip, or the quick weekend on the Cape. A good fit for Reco is a trip with complexity, meaningfulness, and a place you’ve never been to before.

Q. These days, tents, houseboats, and treehouses are part of the vacation mix. Can those be booked on Reco?

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A. Quite a few of the Trip Designers have villas or alternative accommodations that they can vouch for, or professionally-managed vacation rentals, often on the luxury side of things. Most often, it’s hotels and resorts; typically, boutique hotels. This isn’t the best fit if you’re looking for an Airbnb-type experience, but that may change in the future.

Q. Can Trip Designers navigate the ever-changing COVID protocols for the client? That’s a big issue right now.

A. It’s huge. There’s masking policy, COVID entry fees that can cost thousands for a family — a really bad surprise if you don’t know about it when you arrive. As a traveler, you can offload some of that stuff to your Trip Designers. They stay on top of it.

Q. Which destinations are most popular so far in 2021? Any surprises?

A. This spring, the hot spots have been Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Now, Greece and Italy are coming on strong as they open up. Domestically, Florida is strong.

Q. So many popular spots seem to be selling out because of pent-up demand. Could a Trip Designer help navigate this scenario?

A. I think travelers are getting surprised by this (when properties sell out). As travelers, we’re not used to that! This is an area where Trip Designers can add a lot of value. They might say, “You want to go to Tulum in June? You’d better book fast — the good hotels are really booking up.” This happened to my wife and me on an upcoming trip. By working her contacts, our Trip Designer got us the last available room. [They] might know of a great place that’s less known but will deliver what you want. Giving you that insider intel is a big plus.

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Q. Any final thoughts?

A. We are thrilled to go down this path. We want to empower travelers to have amazing trips. We’ll continue pushing to make this better.


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com