Reshaping travel: Mioji offers smart trip plans using A.I.

Also known as “brilliant idea” in Chinese, Mioji is a travel site that uses big data to help self-guided travelers find the smartest ideas and the most economical choices for their travel plans. This startup was founded by Zhang Fan, who discovered his passion and this idea while backpacking in Europe when he was a student in France. Eyeing the international market to cover destinations including Europe, America, Australia, and Japan, Mioji has now over 200,000 users globally. Here is Zhang’s startup story.

Do you know that two thirds of Chinese outbound travelers prefer individual travel? Data from the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) shows that Chinese outbound travelers reached 120 million in 2014, among whom 80 million chose self-guided tours.

While we can appreciate the various options available in transportation, accommodation, and attractions, it can also become perplexing and even frustrating to dig through a sea of information just for a travel plan.

“The abundance of choice allows everyone to personalize a journey, yet filtering out useless and repeated information can be time-consuming and not cost-effective,” said Zhang Fan, founder and CEO of the itinerary planner Mioji.

Zhang Fan, founder and CEO of Mioji (Photo from Yijian APP)

Simple steps for an efficient and optimized travel plan

Moji means “brilliant idea” in Chinese. That’s what the platform aims to offer travelers.
Enter Mioji’s web page, and click the “Start a new journey” button. After inputting details including the destinations, dates and cities of departure and return, as well as the number of people travelling, you can then decide the level of comfort by choosing preferences like the means of transportation and the preferred travel class.

For a visit to Paris, Berlin, Basel and Geneva from 9th to 17th of September, Mioji takes seconds to recommend an optimized itinerary. It suggests how many days to spend in each city, and tells you that transportation would cost RMB 6,482 (USD 974), including two flights leaving from and arriving at Beijing, two rail journeys, and one inter-city express.

One can make decisions based on various options: Visit many places in a day or just take time and keep it slow? Is walking better than taking buses or taxis? What type of accommodation? And voilà, it’s time to select scenic spots that attract you.

Defining “efficiency”, and then maximizing it

If you didn’t know about travelling other than by air, you might just take five flights to visit the four European cities, which would cost around RMB 10,000 — and miss a lot of wonderful views from the window of a train.

To define efficiency, Zhang said that Mioji works to help individual travelers spend less time to plan a more comfortable journey that costs a minimum amount of money.” Though sometimes a little efficiency must be sacrificed for users’ individual preferences,” smiled Zhang.

Mioji’s logo at Montmartre (Photo from Mioji)

He said that, before Mioji, most traditional itinerary-planning tools worked like Microsoft Excel, simply turning travelers’ preferences into a list. It would take a short time, but the list cannot ensure that the plan is feasible. Aside from this, too much useless and repeated information may drive you crazy — you don’t need to know the opening hours of the Louvre Museum in winter for a summer visit.

Mioji integrates information from two major data pools:

One is a travel-centered product database which covers transportation, accommodation, and destination resources, and other information, which is continuously updated. It connects to a wide range of trusted travel-centered data sources worldwide, including online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Ctrip and Expedia for resources on how to travel and where to stay, as well as official sites such as that of Rail Europe for up-to-date travel timetables. Over 500 servers are deployed backstage to digest and renew the latest information.

The other is a data base for travel knowledge and guides integrated from social media including Weibo and Facebook, sites like Wikipedia, and users’ comments from platforms such as Qyer.com and Mafengwo.cn.

Welcoming arms opened for both travelers and partners

In Zhang’s words, Mioji is more like a “search engine” that collects, analyzes, and integrates data to present optimized solutions.

Among Mioji’s 120 staff, 100 of them are engineers who have worked out hundreds of algorithms within two years. A group of twenty-plus people are specialists in artificial intelligence, contributing to the dozen or so patents owned by Mioji itself.

Mioji serves not only individual travelers, but also agencies who help travelers make plans. Not all travelers know what they want or are sure about their decisions, and they would need suggestions from the professional or the experienced. “Machines cannot totally replace humans,” said Zhang.

Earlier this March, Mioji’s app for customers went online. Zhang pointed out that while a PC’s bigger screen can present more information than a mobile phone, users can take advantage of fragmented time to complete a journey plan with the app.

In two months’ time, Mioji will introduce a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform based on the AI engine that is designed for travel agencies. In addition, it will work with other partners to improve solutions on route planning and dynamic data matching for self-guided tours.

A global picture right from the start

Mioji secured its Series B financing of USD 20 million last September; the fund is being used to further research and development.

“Our top priority is providing a better user experience,” said Zhang. “Making profit is not on the list at present.” For promotion, Mioji currently relies on word of month.

Having covered destinations including Europe, the U.S., Australia, Japan, with more to be added, Mioji now has over 200,000 users globally. Although most of the users are from China, a growing number of overseas users are joining in. The platform offers services in both English and Chinese.

According to research by Analysys, China in 2015 saw an online travel market of RMB 423.72 billion (USD 62.67 billion). 51% of all travel bought online was was outbound, nearly 60% of individual travelers referred to intelligent travel planning services while planning their journey.

Are you now ready to leave the drudgery of planning your journey to machines?

Check out Mioji Founder and CEO Zhang Fan’s video interview, one of the startup founders featured on our “20 must-know startups in China” video journalism project for our Indiegogo campaign.

(Top photo from Mioji)