With Villy, Business School Students Seek To Streamline Travel Planning

Prospective travelers may now think twice before jumping on Kayak or Expedia. Villy, a new kind of travel booking website created by two Business School students, relies on location preferences, rather than price alone, to tailor travel plans.

The site, which was founded by Business School students Rami A. B. Lachter and Itai Turbahn through the Harvard Innovation Lab’s Venture Incubation Program, launched last week and has generated traffic from users across 100 countries.

Villy, which is a play on the French word “ville,” serves ten cities, including Berlin and Bangkok. It guides users through a series of choices, asking them where they want to go and what they are interested in doing during their visit, as well as how much they plan to pay and the number of people in their traveling group. 

The platform then generates a list of neighborhoods that best align with those preferences, utilizing information from locals—a feature unique to Villy—along with objective data based on hotel rates and reviews from TripAdvisor and Expedia.

“Everybody likes traveling, but finding where to stay is very frustrating,” Lachter said, adding that traditional booking websites usually do not prioritize hotel location over price. While the Internet has become the major medium for planning trips, prospective travelers can be overwhelmed by the plethora of travel websites claiming to have the best deals, he added.


In a 2012 survey by the I.B.M. Institute for Business Value, 20 percent of travelers reported spending five hours or more booking travel online. Nearly half said that planning their travels required more than two hours.

“The planning process still is really inefficient,” said Patrick A. Kinsel, who mentored the pair at the i-lab last spring. He added that the search for hotels is so driven by price that travelers end up booking accommodation in neighborhoods that may not suit their interests.

Last February, Villy was accepted into the Venture Incubation Program, where teams share their ideas, get feedback from industry specialists and experts, and receive a mentor for long-term guidance beyond the 12-week program.

Villy stands out from other travel websites due to its “community of experts that is incentivized to share experiences and make recommendations,” said Turbahn, a designer and developer who has researched crowdsourcing and incentivization strategies. Each expert is native to one of the ten cities served by the site, recognizing which neighborhoods are best for different activities.

In the immediate future, Lachter and Turbahn are looking to add members to the team and start hiring locals beyond those known through their personal networks. While Americans and young people generated most of the traffic to the site during its first week, the team hopes to cultivate an international audience. They are also planning to expand to two additional cities.

“When I meet any team, I’m always skeptical of whether they can deliver on the product,” Kinsel said. “These guys have built a beautiful travel space.”

–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.