Utrip, a Seattle startup that uses machine learning to help travelers plan their trips , just closed a $4 million funding round.
Investors in the Series A round include Plug and Play, Tiempo Capital, Acorn Ventures, and executives from companies such as Apple and Costco, participating as angel investors. The cash will go toward Utrip’s machine learning and data science operations, which fuel the platform’s recommendation engine.
“One of the things that our travelers love about Utrip is the depth with which we curate destinations and go beyond those top 10 lists that are available everywhere to offer experiences that are really unique and local and authentic for that destination,” said Utrip CEO Gilad Berenstein. “That’s one big priority, continuing to build out our machine learning capabilities as well as our human expert network, our chefs, artists, historians, etcetera.”
Utrip also plans to grow its team by about a third this year, primarily focusing on sales and marketing. The startup currently employs 18 in Seattle.
Utrip’s itinerary-planning tools are free for consumers. The startup makes money by licensing its software and building products for businesses in the hospitality space, like hotels and cruise lines.
“All of our partners — be it small or big, be it hotel or cruise line, airline, etcetera — are interested in offering personalized experiences and recommendations their potential guests,” said Berenstein. “So, ultimately, this goes all the way from making great recommendations and itineraries on their sites to doing personalized email marketing and personalized social media promotion where they can show the right recommendation, the right experience, to the right traveler.”
Berenstein and his family moved to the U.S. from Israel when he was a child. As an immigrant entrepreneur and the founder of a travel-based business, he has a few thoughts on the crush of immigration-related news from the past few weeks.
“I’m a believer in immigration and I’m a believer in open borders and I think that travel … it’s this really beautiful, eye-opening experience,” he said. “When people travel they get to see the world and we all get to remember that our perspective is not the only perspective and that our way of life is not the only way of life. I think that if we look at some of the craziness right now that’s happening in the world, more travel and more connections between people in different countries and continents is only for the good.”
Here is a full list of investors participating in Utrip’s series A: Plug and Play, Tiempo Capital, Acorn Ventures, SWAN Venture Fund and W&W Capital. Angel investors encompass Apple, Inc. Treasurer Gary Wipfler; Costco CFO Richard Galanti; Savers Inc. CEO Ken Alterman; H. S. Wright III, CEO and founder of Seattle Hospitality Group as well a partner in family businesses that own the Seattle Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Sheraton Seattle Hotel; veteran hotel executive Carla Murray; hotelier Craig Schafer and Neal Dempsey, a partner at Bay Partners.