The Quality Makers: Abby West of Thatch

Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…

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Before the internet, travel agencies were the go-to solution for people looking to get the most out of unfamiliar destinations. I’ve never used an agency, and I think it’s safe to say that most of the current generation hasn’t either. 

Over the past several years, the travel economy has been undergoing a massive transformation, even before the pandemic. Between the increased access to information about faraway places and the rise of the sharing economy driven by startups like Airbnb and Vrbo, the way we travel and who benefits financially from it is shifting. We are seeing it become increasingly democratized, with individuals and small businesses able to participate in the trillion-dollar tourism economy that will continue to grow as the sector recovers from COVID-19. 

Tools like Airbnb and Hopper make it easier to find destinations and arrange transportation, but how do you get the tailored recommendations that a travel agent can provide, without the agency price?

Abby West, co-founder of Thatch, recognizes the value of personalized service without the commission fees and lack of control that come along with old-school travel agencies. Her business simplifies travel planning by providing a marketplace where local experts can curate custom itineraries and accompanying digital products like maps, guides, and DIY tours. Thatch's interactive map keeps everything organized and synced across devices, making trip preparation stress-free and convenient.

Thatch co-founders. Credit: Thatch

Those who participate on the creator end of Thatch have an intimate relationship with the  

territory they claim, setting the platform apart from larger agencies that might jump to tourist staples like parasailing or narrated segway tours. Using Thatch for overseas excursions supports local community members and allows the traveler to nestle into the fine grooves of the culture and scenery. 

This exciting concept wasn’t like anything I’d seen before, so I was eager to understand how Thatch came to be and how it all works. I had the opportunity to chat with West about piloting this new travel resource and the factors that make Thatch a must-try for future vacations.  

See the best of what Tokyo has to offer with a package from Thatch. Credit: Thatch

What was the main opportunity you saw in the way travel culture has evolved that brought Thatch into existence?

AW: “Every few decades, a new technology radically changes travel — commercial flight made it fast and affordable to reach any corner of the world, the internet made it possible to book hotels and flights without a travel agent, and now social media has fundamentally changed how we pick our next getaway.

Travel creators are now this essential part of the travel industry’s economic engine, driving billions of dollars of travel decisions every year — but we didn’t see creators directly capturing the value they were creating; they were still mostly relying on ancillary income, like brand deals. So we set out to build tools to help them directly capture more of that value. In doing so, we recognized that there was a big opportunity to build a new go-to brand in the travel space.

Thatch is a place where travelers and travel creators can come together over their love of exploring the world and sharing what they’ve seen and uncovered. There’s also a shared ethos that travel should feel modern and seamless, and the people who are offering up their hard-earned knowledge ought to be compensated for their work.

 By the way, people often ask how we define a travel creator. It’s actually a really broad term for us – it could be a Youtuber from Munich or an Instagram adventure couple, like many would expect, but it could also be your incredibly plugged-in friend who always takes the coolest trips, your favorite online magazine, or your sister-in-law who’s starting a boutique travel agency.”

Across all of the user-created itineraries you host on Thatch, what are some common trends you're seeing across their travel plans?

AW: “People are definitely back in the swing of international travel! Local getaways and road trips were super popular in past years, but 2022 and 2023 have been all about big trips to Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, and France.

We also see a lot of successful guides that touch on really specific topics – whether that’s exploring a niche neighborhood in Tokyo or getting a list of laptop-friendly cafes to work out of in Paris. Everyone travels so individually, so Thatch travelers tend to bundle up several smaller, specific guides that will help them take a trip that’s super tuned to their tastes instead of just following the best-of lists that are so easy to find on Google.”

Is there any kind of vetting process applied to the plans that creators publish on the platform?

AW: “We’re really bullish on the idea that all types of travel belong on Thatch – so we don’t actively vet for creators who fit one particular travel style – but we do verify the identity of every seller to make sure that they are who they say they are.

At first, we thought we would be a curated platform but we quickly realized that it would be impossible to deliver on our mission – to make it easy for anyone, anywhere to take unique trips they’re proud of – if we were to be the sole arbiters of what it means to take a good trip. There are too many gatekeepers in the industry as it is! 

The all-in-one platform to buy travel plans. Credit: Thatch 

As a result, Thatch has become a place where you can go to find people who travel like you – whether you’re into building a trip around the latest boutique hotel or you’re looking for travel that’s celiac-safe or you want an itinerary built around seeing the filming locations of your favorite Netflix show.

 We see our jobs as being the matchmakers rather than the curators and so a big focus for us this year is making it easier for you to find and match to the right products and services for your next trip rather than having to wade into the abyss of the internet once again.”

How do you attract local experts to join your platform and create itineraries for travelers?

AW: “Almost all of our travel entrepreneurs and creators come from seeing already successful creators posting about their own Thatch shops on their social channels. We also reach out to specific creators who have audiences that already clearly trust their perspective on a given destination – Youtube is a really fruitful place for us to find great travel creators who have engaged audiences.”

Thatch exists in the same vein as many other travel-based startups which set out to democratize the tourism/mobility experience such as Airbnb and Uber—do you see future opportunities in giving individuals the chance to extract value from the industry Thatch occupies?

AW: “That’s very much the origin of the business! Anyone can register to sell on Thatch, meaning they can do what they already do – make recommendations to friends about great places they’ve been, but now they can earn from that, either by collecting tips, getting hotel commissions automatically, or by starting to charge for the guidance they used to give away for free.

This is working well for larger creators who have an audience already, but we also have tons of small creators and travel entrepreneurs who have started to earn real income on our platform. Our aim is to build the go-to travel brand of the 21st century by connecting a global community of millions of travelers, travel creators, and travel entrepreneurs.”

Considering Thatch for an upcoming adventure? Check out their site here where you can browse creators and stay up to date with the platform.

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