How Entrepreneur Leans on Tech for Vacation-Planning Credit: Smart Destinations

Even though going on vacation is supposed to be a stress-free experience, in reality, that oftentimes is not the case.  Vacation planning service Smart Destinations, is looking to change that by bringing technology into the planning process.

"We take all of the top attractions in nine top United States destinations such as New York, Chicago and San Diego and put them on a single ticket either on a smart card or your smartphone that you can purchase for a set number of days," said Kevin McLaughlin, co-founder and CEO of Smart Destinations. "Customers save money, skip lines and have a much better vacation."

Since opening in 2003, the company has sold more than 1.5 million passes and facilitated more than $26 million in traveler savings.  BusinessNewsDaily spoke with McLaughlin about how they are utilizing technology in their business, how past experiences have shaped the business and the how important it is to find the right workers. 

BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Kevin McLaughlin: An architect, since I was always drawing houses and floor plans and building with Legos.

BND: What did your parents do for a living?

K.M.: My mom was an administrative assistant and my dad was a nuclear cooling designer who designed systems for nuclear submarines to keep the reactors cool.

BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start? 

K.M.: Smart Destinations is the leading provider of attractions passes in the United States. We got our start when my co-founder Cecilia Dahl came up with the product concept after seeing something similar overseas in her role as a travel buyer for a large travel company.  It fit nicely with my experience in consumer Internet startups. We decided to pursue the venture together.

BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?

K.M.: Wearing shorts to work in 90-degree heat. 

BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

K.M.: There have been plenty. The biggest would probably be hiring the wrong senior leader who almost derailed the business.

BND: What was your main motivation in starting this business?

K.M.: I had been a part of a number of successful startups and had been waiting for a few years to find just the right opportunity.  I was able to start it with smart people who were also my good friends and really enjoy the struggle and the process. 

BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey? 

K.M.: I was fortunate enough to be a part of many great companies with fantastic mentors, right at the beginning of the Internet boom.  I was part of Delphi Internet — the very first Internet provider to consumers, the Powersite team at Syabse, who built the first e-commerce stores and iWant.com, which was a dot-com bubble victim, but had an all-star team of brilliant minds who taught me so much about strategy.

BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it? 

K.M.: Our biggest challenge was probably the financial crisis of 2008 and how it affected consumer travel behavior and also access to capital.  So many companies disappeared overnight.  We had to focus on our best chance for survival amidst all the uncertainty — so we actually focused on the development of our new platform, which has been a tremendous success.  It was a huge risk and more hard work than we imagined, but we believed in ourselves and it paid off.

BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?

K.M.: Find great mentors who you trust and get plenty of advice, but always do what you think is right.  You'll sleep better at night, whether you succeed or fail. 

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.