Picture this. You’re on holiday in an exotic locale, travel guide in hand – probably one produced by a big brand like Lonely Planet or some other pocket guide. The pages are dog-eared from where you’ve bookmarked all of the things you want to see and do.
But half the time, the recommendations made by the guide are out of date: the venue is pricier than you expected, or busier (because everyone has the same guide book), or has stopped serving the “amazing” dishes that the writer highlighted. Sometimes, the venues have closed down entirely.
This is a broad problem with the travel book industry – they’re not always that great.
“We looked at the whole context of travel and destination guides, and what we found is that they’re very limited,” says Hugo Campbell-Davys, founder of luxury lifestyle service Urbanologie.
“They either have very limited content, or they are limited in how often they get updated. We wanted to create something that was highly curated, updated daily, and enabled people to live and travel like a local – and get that local experience.”
Urbanologie does just that. It’s an app and website that serves a private network of high-net-worth individuals, businesspeople, and globe-trotters. They pay £100 a year to become a member of the service, and in return are informed about the latest bar openings, restaurants, immersive experiences, and pop-up events in any of 13 destinations from London to Los Angeles – as well as dozens more mini-travel guides for other cities and locations around the world.
The service aims to keep its members in front of the crowd, nosing out the best upcoming things to do, and giving its users the best opportunity to access an event – before all the tickets sell out, or the waiting list stretches out to the distant future.
“As the world gets smaller, it’s up to people to tell and inform others about the most extraordinary and enriching experiences, and that’s what we try to do,” says Campbell-Davys.
“Other guides are very reactive in this space. We try to be proactive – we tell our members about new bars and restaurants before anyone else does.”
Preparing for lift-off
Campbell-Davys comes from a PR and communications background, working with nightclubs and running private members’ clubs in Mayfair.
After building an extensive list of connections, he set up Urbanologie as much as a hobby as a side business, to maintain these relationships.
Originally a private, invitation-only newsletter started in 2012, Campbell-Davys sent it to close friends and contacts to tell them about new bars and locations around London.
“It was very much a slightly under-the-radar business, strategically working alongside what I was doing within integrated communications,” he says.
But the newsletter grew popular as recipients recommended it to colleagues, friends, and family.
Eventually, Campbell-Davys raised the capital needed to turn Urbanologie into its own standalone business, adding new destinations – first New York, then more – to the service, and leading to the creation of the website and app.
Urbanologie now has detailed guides for 13 destinations, including Dubai, Mykonos, and Santorini, with more destinations to come – Campbell-Davys’ goal is to cover 25 destinations by the end of 2019.
“What we try and do with our destinations is not only map out places our members will travel to for business, but also the places they go for leisure,” he explains.
“We have a strong pipeline of future destinations – we’re looking to add Monaco and Hong Kong next.”
The lap of luxury
Campbell-Davys has created a slick service. Described as “the must-have VIP lifestyle app” by the Financial Times, you can scroll through lists accompanied by high-quality imagery, or use colour-coded pins on a map to tell you what’s happening in each destination – red for new openings, purple for restaurants, and so on.
Editors in each destination produce daily content to provide the inside-track on what to do. And rather than long-winded reviews, the articles are concise explanations of why a bar or restaurant is worthy of your time, what it’s ideal for, and even seating or dish recommendations.
“The target audience has always been the sort of people who are time-starved, so we’re very precise and informative,” Campbell-Davys tells me.
“Both our website and app enable the member to get the content as quickly as possible and efficiently, so they can find out what’s going on in all the latest places.”
Currently, the service has 16,000 members around the world. This is the company’s main revenue stream, but it also partners with major brands such as luxury travel retailers, that offer special rates or discounts to these members.
And Urbanologie has been working on another revenue stream to monetise its content. It’s developed an application programming interface, which will enable the company to post its guides on other platforms and reach new audiences.
“Partners have come to us and asked to share our content with their client base. That’s principally private jet companies, concierge companies, even lifestyle brands.”
The jet-set lifestyle
Building a company based on living the high-life does require, well, living the high-life.
Campbell-Davys regularly receives invitations to evening receptions and new venue openings, and rubs shoulders with the likes of Hollywood actors and successful entrepreneurs. His Instagram profile is stuffed with pictures of mouth-watering food, or snaps with restaurateurs and Michelin-starred chefs.
He also travels extensively in order to meet with potential brand partners in new destinations, and find local journalists to produce content. He admits that he’s been travelling so much in recent months that he’s starting to develop a cold.
“It’s so much fun travelling with the business. I’m going to Milan, then Istanbul. We’re launching in Tulum in Mexico, which is a really popular destination with our members in the US and Europe. Next year, we’ll do a guide to the south of France, and we’re doing Havana. I have a local editor ready to engage there.”
And even if you aren’t planning to travel to any of these places anytime soon, there is still plenty to do here in the capital. Campbell-Davys recommends the “extraordinary” Hide restaurant in Piccadilly, as well as the bar at the Mandrake Hotel which has a “great vibe”. He adds that there are several exciting new restaurants set to open in London this year.
“There’s a huge amount of interest from US chefs and restaurateurs coming in. We’ve recently had three restaurants from Dubai open in London, which is unusual – normally you see London restaurants open in Dubai, but this is the reverse.”
With the sun (mostly) still shining, and many already planning their next holiday, it may be time to ditch the dog-eared travel book, and invest in something a little more up-market, more detailed, and really get the inside track on the best things to around the world.