Instead of Holiday Socks, Why Not Help a Friend Travel?

For all those reluctant holiday shoppers who hate long lines, Heddi Cundle has a suggestion: Give the gift of travel.

Cundle is the founder and self-titled “big cheese” of myTab.co, a website she launched last year to help consumers, as well as their friends and family, save up for vacations. It’s still in the early days, but Cundle says that up to 100,000 people are visiting the site every month and about 40 percent of them are coming back.

“They’re saying, ‘This year I don’t want socks, I don’t want ties, just even put $10 on myTab,” said Cundle, a native of the U.K., who previously spent almost two decades in public relations and marketing.

To gift money or start a personal account, users can sign up with their Facebook credentials and have immediate access to their friends on the social network. They can then send a virtual gift card to a connection or set up a personal tab and ask others to contribute. By partnering with Expedia, myTab is able to access most major airlines and hotels for its customers. Currently, flights have to start in the U.S., though that is changing soon to incorporate international originations.

The idea may sound familiar. Sites including Kickstarter and Indiegogo let people raise capital for projects through crowdfunding, while services such as Wrapp promote gift cards on Facebook. Within travel, Honeyfund and Traveler’s Joy let couples raise money specifically for their honeymoon. Cundle sees myTab as a year-round service for all travel.

Jennifer Lee had never heard of myTab until July, when her best friend sent her an e-mail around the time of her 30th birthday. After clicking on the embedded link, Lee discovered she’d been gifted $1,200 from a group of her closest friends. They all knew she loved to travel, and now she’s hoping to take her dream vacation to Santorini, Greece.

“Spending your money on travel and being with friends is something I appreciate more and more as I get older instead of material gifts,” said Lee, who works as a graphic designer in Irvine, California.

Cundle, 41, is bootstrapping her way into the $313 billion global online travel bookings market.  Although she’s met with “loads” of venture capitalists, she hasn’t raised any outside funds. She’s operating in San Francisco with just one other full-time employee and three part-timers.

Her plan is bold and getting there will be a challenge. In myTab’s current iteration, revenue is difficult to come by because airlines and hotels are reluctant to share sales with yet another third party.

While the company does generate some revenue from hotels, Cundle sees that as just the beginning. With users already planning trips as much as six months out, Cundle envisions the site as a place where people will start fundraising for travel even a year in advance. So students planning to study abroad or soccer fans getting ready for the World Cup could stash away a little money at a time.

Because users are providing details of their trip on the site, myTab can use that data to attract marketers looking to reach a targeted audience. Airlines could even offer discounts to people on the site if, for example, they book right away.

An essential component of myTab is that contributions are held at Citibank, so the money is insured and can only be used on the website. If the overall amount gets hefty enough, Cundle can use that as leverage with airlines, hotels and other tourist destinations, because they know that is money to be spent on travel.

“This is a captive audience that’s cash rich,” said Cundle. “You want that audience.”

For now, as the holidays approach, Cundle just wants you to think twice before purchasing that next random sweater or yet another Amazon gift card.

What do you think about this article? Comment below!