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St. Pete startup uses artificial intelligence to find, book wellness travel

Margie Manning



Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the fastest-growing segment of travel was wellness travel — people looking for a retreat, a spa vacation or an active experience.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, wellness travel has become one of the biggest travel searches online, and a St. Petersburg-based travel agency is among the beneficiaries of that trend.

Vacayou Wellness and Active Travel is North America’s first and only centralized marketplace for wellness and active experiences, CEO Muirelle Montecalvo said at Tampa Bay Wave’s TechWomen Rising Pitch Night. Vacayou is one of 13 women-owned companies participating in the current Tampa Bay Wave TechWomen Rising accelerator cohort.

“Ninety percent of people start planning their wellness trip online but 70 percent end up booking with traditional travel agents, because it’s a fragmented convoluted marketplace. There’s no trusted resource and quite frankly, you just can’t find them,” Montecalvo said.

Muirelle Montecalvo

The company uses artificial intelligence technology in its search functions, and has partnered with well-known national and international travel brands.

“We are providing the bridge between the wellness traveler supply, which are the retreats, resorts and active tour providers, with these high-yielding travelers who are also trying to find them,” she said. “We believe that people who travel to support their wellbeing are calmer, more productive, successful and overall happier in life, and our mission is to create a healthier global community through wellness and active travel.”

Wellness travel, which stands at the intersection of the tourism industry and the wellness industry, is growing rapidly and expected to be a $300 billion market in the United States alone by 2022.

Vacayou gets its revenue from a 15 percent to 20 percent commission on all of its bookings. It also has opportunities for marketing and placement fees, sponsorships and branding, as well as for corporate wellness benefits, Montecalvo said.

The company, which is accredited by IATA (International Air Transport Association), has a strong social media following, with 120,000 social followers. It also has a magazine featuring articles from fitness bloggers and influencers. Vacayou is working on partnerships with corporate wellness initiatives as well, Montecalvo said.

Montecalvo leads a team that includes Ryan Schneider, who is Vacayou’s president; Ben Jennings, head of operations; and Matt Blackmon, chief talent officer. They have been at some of the top travel brands in the world and together have over 60 years of startup and travel experience.

Vacayou also has an advisory team that works with the company on a day-to-day basis, she said.

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