Daniel Velasquez of Homefans sharing insights on Sports Travel industry trends and future outlook.

Harnessing Sports Tourism Successfully with Daniel Velasquez from Homefans

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this captivating episode of TravelPreneur, we get into the exhilarating world of Sports Travel with Daniel Velasquez focusing on how it’s being redefined by innovative platforms like Homefans. Our discussion illuminates the transformative power of sports in the travel industry, showcasing the unique blend of passion, community, and unforgettable experiences that only sports can offer. Explore how the landscape of sports travel is evolving, offering fans and travelers alike new ways to experience the games they love while discovering new cultures and making lasting connections.

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Listeners will gain invaluable insights into the burgeoning field of Sports Travel. You’ll learn about the latest trends shaping the industry, the importance of authentic local experiences, and how technology is revolutionizing the way fans engage with their favorite sports while traveling. This episode is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in understanding the future of travel and sports, providing key takeaways on creating memorable, immersive experiences that go beyond the game.

About Our Guest:
Daniel Velasquez, the dynamic founder of Homefans, joins us to share his expertise in Sports Travel. With a visionary approach, Daniel has played a pivotal role in transforming sports fans’ travel experiences worldwide. His insights into building a successful platform that connects fans with authentic local sports experiences illuminate the innovative intersections of travel, technology, and sports. Learn from a leader who’s at the forefront of redefining sports tourism, making it more immersive, personal, and unforgettable.

Topics Covered:
The enlightening conversation covers a wide array of topics within Sports Travel, including the inception and growth of Homefans, the impact of technology on sports tourism, and the future of authentic sports experiences. We dive into the challenges and triumphs of pioneering a new niche in travel, the power of community in sports, and how Homefans is creating a global network of sports enthusiasts. Discover the importance of customer-centric experiences, the role of local insights in enhancing travel, and how sports can serve as a bridge between different cultures, all through the lens of Sports Travel.

Our Guest: Daniel Velasquez- Pioneering a New Era of Sports Travel

Daniel Velasquez is the founder of Homefans, a groundbreaking platform that has significantly transformed the sports travel landscape. With a keen entrepreneurial spirit and a deep passion for sports, Daniel, along with his co-founder Luke, identified a unique niche in combining sports with travel, thereby creating unparalleled experiences for fans worldwide. His journey began from a personal passion for football, which, combined with his professional expertise, led to the conceptualization of Homefans. The platform stands as a testament to his vision of offering sports enthusiasts authentic local experiences, connecting them with the heart and soul of the sports they love while exploring new destinations.

Before his venture into Homefans, Daniel had already established himself in the realm of business and sports management. His academic background and professional experiences have endowed him with a robust understanding of the sports industry, market dynamics, and the importance of creating meaningful connections through travel. His Colombian roots and time spent in Manchester provided him with firsthand insights into the global sports culture, enriching his approach to crafting memorable, culturally immersive sports travel experiences. Daniel’s expertise lies in strategically blending the excitement of live sports with the authenticity of local travel experiences, thereby innovating the way fans engage with sports.

Daniel Velasquez’s leadership at Homefans has been instrumental in shaping the company’s success, steering it through the rapidly evolving landscape of sports and travel. His forward-thinking approach has led Homefans to become a pioneer in the sports travel industry, focusing on authentic, community-driven experiences that resonate with fans on a profound level. Under his guidance, Homefans has expanded its reach globally, offering experiences in over 95 destinations, emphasizing the importance of local engagement and the transformative power of sports in bridging cultural divides. Daniel’s vision for the future of Homefans involves not only expanding the platform’s reach but also deepening the impact of each travel experience, ensuring that sports fans have the opportunity to create lasting memories and form genuine connections worldwide. His commitment to excellence, innovation, and community embodies the core values of Homefans, making every sports travel experience unique and unforgettable.

Episode Transcript

Daniel Velasquez: You have to create something that people want. You have to identify that people really would pay for it or that it adds value to them. So it’s a lot of conversations, feedback, etc. We started well because we were the customers as well, so we could identify who was like us, especially Luke because he’s a bit younger than me. I’m a bit older in that sense. But that was the customer persona, so we could understand the needs, the motivation, and the behaviors and then find a way to grow it.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist Megan McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses, if it impact the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur. Welcome to another episode of TravelPreneur the podcast where we delve into the innovative world of travel business. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we’re venturing into the exciting realm of sports travel with our esteemed guest, Daniel Velasquez. Welcome to the show, Daniel.

Daniel Velasquez: Thank you. Thank you for the invitation. Pleased to be here and looking forward to our chat.

Megha McSwain: Daniel is a dynamic CEO and co-founder of Homefans, a revolutionary platform transforming how sports fans experience games globally. So let’s dig right into the unique journey of Homefans and how it’s changing the face of sports tourism. Daniel, can you share the inspiration behind Homefans and how it stands out in the sports travel industry?

Daniel Velasquez: I’ll start with the concept. What we are? Homefans, we’re a marketplace for what we call authentic sports experiences. We basically connect travelers going to a destination, looking for things to do with locals, professional clubs, or travel companies offering unique sports experiences. Our long-term vision is to champion the relevance and the importance of the sports experience, concept, or even vertical within the travel space, as, let’s say, one or another topic in the agenda. Just to summarize, whenever you’re traveling somewhere and think about your personal experience, you’re always looking for sort of sightseeing experiences or cultural experiences, gastronomic experiences, but not necessarily you think about sports, and that’s what we try to do to make it more relevant for everyone to do it. Homefans started based on the personal experiences of both founders and one of the co-founders. My other co-founder is Luke. It started with his personal experience. I’ll try to be brief. It’s related to soccer or football. So he’s a Dutch national, but his club is Manchester United, well known around the world and here in Europe, it’s really common that you go for the weekend, you travel across other countries, etc. and you just go for the weekend for a weekend break. And he used to go with his family first and then friends. He had everything sorted, flights, tickets, accommodation, events, and the plan in the city. But somehow in terms of the group, they still felt disconnected, like they weren’t part of the local community. And that changed over the years when they started meeting local fans and they invited them over. They showed them places. They took them to the right places, introduced them to new people, taught them hands, etc. Up to the point that over the years it became more important this local community concept than the game itself. The game was more like an excuse and Luke thought to himself, “Okay, actually this resonated a lot with me.” I’m pretty sure there’s something out there that can resonate with more people around the world, same as it did with me. And it wasn’t there. That’s when I met Luke. I was living in Manchester ironically back then and doing some studies and studying out some different ventures that I wanted to do in sports, and I had a similar experience that I’m not going to talk about so long in the World Cup, a few years before following Colombia in Brazil, me and my dad wanted to secure accommodation because we had everything else sorted, and the nicest thing about it is that we went through locals to secure that accommodation. But the most important thing was not the accommodation itself, because it was just lodging and staying there, but it was the whole experience that we had with the locals that made it nice and the best father and son experience. So with these two experiences paired together, what we thought was, “Okay, let’s do something to address the need.” It’s great to connect and that’s how we started building Homefans. We started working just right after COVID, connecting what I mentioned before, travelers going to a destination, but not necessarily just going for a ticket, but more for the whole authentic experience. Because experiences are what’s on right now, rather than just a transaction of just having to purchase a ticket, etc.

Megha McSwain: When you think about it, there are sporting events year-round, every day, when you think about all the different sports golf, football baseball, tennis, everything, there are so many different events that you could go to and people do go to that aren’t the big ones, the Super Bowl. So it’s nice to have someone looking out for curating that experience or if they’re just going for a weekend.

Daniel Velasquez: The cherry on the top is basically, imagine if you would go to a friend that lives somewhere abroad. That friend will take you over and you’ll have a curated plan. It’s the same. Yes, the sporting event is the central point or focal point, but around it, there are a lot of little things that you’ll be really touched by or really will have an impact on in the future. It sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true. Like where you ate, where you went, etc. around the sport allows you to immerse yourself for a day or two.

Megha McSwain: As you said earlier, it’s the game is an excuse, right? So if someone’s traveling somewhere for a sporting event, they’re going to, of course, look forward to, oh, where am I going to eat in this city? I’m excited to be there. And you don’t want to eat at the nearest chain restaurant just because it’s convenient. You want to at least get a taste of where you’re visiting for that brief time.

Daniel Velasquez: Right, and that’s what we understood and analyzed, let’s say, with the customer base. It’s not just about the sport, per se. There are other layers around it. That’s what makes it really authentic and interesting.

Megha McSwain: So in pioneering this new niche in travel, what were some of the challenges that you two faced with Homefans, and how did you overcome them? Because it’s still a fairly new business.

Daniel Velasquez: Yeah, it’s growing rapidly. It’s thankfully, and we have to thank that to our partners and customers and people who have believed in the concept. I think the main challenge is whenever you bring something new, on the one hand, try to present the concept, fortunately, we found a driver which was football or as you call it, soccer as the main sport. It’s the most popular sport around the world. It was based on our personal experience as well on this sport. And what we decided to do was at the beginning, okay, we could tap all the different sports, but let’s start with one and this gives us a bit more breadth in that sense. Yeah. The challenge, however, was when we started and went back to COVID-19 times when everyone was at home and wanted to do something different. We received an enormous response in terms of especially local people becoming local hosts because as a marketplace, we have a supply and a demand at both ends as part of the whole transaction process. And the supply was enthusiastic. E was at home and they were digging into the concept, and because the challenges that we faced were that we wanted to cover it all at the beginning like we wanted to win it all. And we started recruiting people in Latin America, North America, Europe, even Northern Africa, a bit of Asia, and everything went well. But then when restrictions eased and we started operating, we found ourselves in a conundrum where by being an early-stage business, you couldn’t just cope with everything. So we had to focus on specific areas or destinations where we thought, okay, this is where it’s going to work and kick start with the business and leave the others behind. And that for me, I wouldn’t do it again. I would have learned about it and I would have just focused first and then replicated and jumped from city to city or country by country, as we’re doing right now. So that’s the first challenge. The second, of course, it’s how to champion this concept of sports experiences that is quite new. People encompass everything around experiences, but you will see and think about it as if you’re an expert in travel. Sports tourism is a thing, but sports experiences are a bit underrepresented. So we’re constantly with investors, with customers, etc., trying to elevate the profile of the sports experiences. And so far, so good, fortunately.

Megha McSwain: That’s good. And how does Homefans leverage technology and the local insights of a place that you’re working with to create these one-of-a-kind experiences?

Daniel Velasquez: Well, on one hand, technology helps us on both ends of the chain, let’s say for supply and demand. Typical Homefans experience. If we think about, let’s say, a sport like football, let’s say you’re going tomorrow to Madrid in Spain and you’re going to watch a Real Madrid game. It always involves obviously the local itinerary and also the ticket per se. In some cases, tech enables that because not necessarily all the hosts have access. And what we’ve done through tech is basically behind the scenes to fetch and grab all the different plugins or we plug into the different sources to funnel in the best sort of ticket opportunities, etc., so that we can have any ticket, any time. Let’s say in that case, that helps a lot with the supply on demand. And technology has helped us a lot in terms of actually building a product that suits the type of customer and the type of product. If you look at the major travel platforms around the world and I’m going to name any, they’re mostly focused on the experience based on the destination and a starting time, or between this and that time or 1 or 2 days, etc. But they’re not suitable for sports or sporting events. For instance, which club is playing or who is the rival, where is the home ground, what’s the stadium, etc. so what we’re doing through tech is to actually customize that to have a better and smoother customer experience with different search filters, so that customers that come on to the platform can really feel the sports DNA on our site. We’re doing many things ongoing because tech, we’re a tech startup, and one of the sorts of mini milestones that we’ll have for 2024 is to build our setup of supply inventory that we can create around a home funds API so that third parties can just plug in, connect and source all the inventory that we’ve amassed thanks to what we built with the marketplace.

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Daniel Velasquez: I think the main story is from Finding Love, and that’s funny. So let’s say really cool story special. But what I like the most is the friendships that we’ve built. It sounds romantic, but having a story that there’s a guy who has been to more than 35, 40 different experiences since it started, and basically, we’re there his go-to thing, and he travels solo, actually, and actually fits him really well because he always connects with not only the host, but sometimes with the other people that are he finds himself with the destination, and he’s even suggested or even worked for us in a way, new destination, so that he could go and he could meet with locals, etc. So that’s one point. I think in general, the pattern that we see is that whenever, let’s say I’m traveling tomorrow to Miami and I find a house and I’ll find a really cool, we stay in touch, and then for any reason, the guy in Miami or the host goes to the source place of that traveler, and then the roles change. And it’s happened a lot of times, a lot of bridges there and friendships. So that’s really an important thing that I want to highlight is that as a travel platform, we’re not just considering people as new sign-ups, but it’s more like a community. And maybe that’s how we’re special right now because we’re not as big as the others, but we’re coming there, and we will strive to always keep that as part of our ethos and culture.

Megha McSwain: I Like That because when you are traveling for something like this, you think, okay, maybe you’re traveling with your partner or with your family, your kids, your parents, but this is so great for people who are traveling solo.

Daniel Velasquez: As well. Yeah. Don’t underestimate the power of friends couples and families. We’ve seen, especially in Latin America, as a destination that is booming right now for a marketplace, families, and couples are becoming the top sort of customer persona because this is something to clarify with you and with every one of your audience, is that not necessarily you have to be a fan, a sports fan, to take part in a sporting experience. Because, if you’re going to a destination and you’re looking okay, what are the top things to do? What is recommended by friends, by locals, or by even media, publications, etc.? You will sometimes find yourself with sporting events or sports experiences, and we’ve seen that very nicely, especially with Americans and our North Americans, Canada, the US, and even Mexico a little bit that they sometimes don’t even know about the sport, but maybe basketball, volleyball or soccer. But they enjoy the whole experience around it like what you call the tailgating. Well, here’s that pretty much. And you go with a beer or drink and you go to different places. You eat the typical things that fans do, eat before the game. You meet with fellow fans, and then you go to the stadium and then you buy a shirt, a hat, etc. So the whole ritual that you’re immersed in and people really love it.

Megha McSwain: Well, you exactly described it to me because I know a little bit about tennis, and some basketball, but like football, and soccer, I just don’t follow it as much. But I love the experience of going to other places, then the food. I love the food. That’s probably my favorite part. So I would love to do something like this. And I don’t even think about like, oh, do I love sports? Do I not love sports? I think it sounds like a fabulous opportunity to discover so many other things besides the game.

Daniel Velasquez: Exactly. And I can tell you the gastronomic part, the cultural part, the person-to-person part is becoming more and more important rather than just where am I sitting in the stadium.

Megha McSwain: So looking into the future, what innovative ideas or expansions are you planning to further enhance the Homefans experience? Is there anything you can share?

Daniel Velasquez: We’ve just wrapped up the best year of our history. We’re early stage, but it’s grown really well. We grew 15% year on year considering COVID and the start of 2022. So that’s really great. Right now with the support of third parties, investors, existing and future or potential, what we’re intending to do is three things. One is to expand the presence of the marketplace in different geographies. Right now, we’re present in more than 95 destinations around the world, primarily Latin America, Europe and Northern Africa, and a bit of Asia. But let’s say that the model works as if in certain destinations, and those are five cities around the world, only out of the 95, we have a full presence with a full density of the marketplace, meaning that we have used different tactics to implement the playbook of acquiring supply and demand and growing the destination. We want to replicate that to more cities and that includes resources, etc. The roadmap has the intention to end in the States, so that’s where we see the perfect market for us with the multi-sport, offering a huge domestic market, think about professional sports and college sports, the ideal cherry on the pie as we label it, and we’re going to start trying to do something in a city where really high profile figures just arrived last year, and we’re going to start testing that out in the US with one sport, and then try to do it with others. I can not tell this to anybody. Then the second point is expanding into other sports because still football or soccer is our main driver. As I mentioned, 80% of our listings are still football. We’re still starting to diversify, but it’s more thanks to the supply and that they say, “Okay, actually we can do more basketball, volleyball, ice hockey, and other types of sport.” And we’re actually through tech. As I mentioned, we’re finalizing a process whereby we will fetch more than 6000 sporting events, and we’ll add it to the inventory so that it becomes fully multi-sport in that sense. The last one, just to summarize it, and it’s a bit further down the road, is that the main, the most prominent product on the marketplace is going to match with a local to have everything that we’ve just discussed, but we also are identifying and seeing and analyzing different product categories, especially VIP. VIP has become really interesting in terms of VIP not only location but VIP experiences, unique experiences, the money can’t buy, etc. that we’re liaising more with the stakeholders like clubs or federations and starting to think of “Okay, let’s do like a training session with the team, something that is really unique that you cannot just buy anywhere.” That’s one category that is starting to grow and we’re paying more attention to it, but also athlete-led experiences, which is our dream, to be honest. It’s more like, “Okay, can we do something with the athletes? Can they be part of that experience? Can they run it, or can you just be something more exclusive, etc. with them?” That’s where we see that this diversifies itself. It’s not just going to a match with a local or to an event with a local. It’s beyond that so that we can encompass the whole sports experiencing spectrum. Sorry. Lots of work to do, but we’re getting there step by step.

Megha McSwain: For those who are inspired to start a venture like this, a very niche travel market, what key advice or insights would you offer based on your own journey with Homefans?

Daniel Velasquez: Well, first I’d do it right before the Covid pandemic happens. Fortunately, we had good investors a lot of hard work, and a great team that we could work with just before everything opened up. And righteousness, I would say, I think being in this entrepreneurial world and talking to different founders and the ecosystem, I think if you face a problem and you want to address it, that’s a great start. Like if you spot a problem and you say, okay, actually, I’m feeling this, I need to find a way to solve it. And then as it happened with us, there’s no solution there. Let’s try to do it ourselves. I think that’s the first thing that would help you to really do that. Secondly, focus. Because when we started, as I mentioned beforehand, we wanted to cover everything we wanted to do all in one. And sometimes it’s best to just start really focusing. I would do it again in that sense, if you ask me that, we would just focus on one city perhaps, and one sport, and just build it and grow it until it becomes really mature and then we can replicate that into other. I would say that’s really important on top of the obvious, that is you have to create something that people want. You have to identify that people really would pay for it or that it adds value to them. So it’s a lot of conversations, feedback, etc. We started really well because we were the customers as well, so we could identify who was like us, especially Luke because he’s a bit younger than me. I’m a bit older in that sense, but that was the customer persona. So we could understand the needs, the motivation, the behaviors and then find ways to grow it. But I think if you are focused, if you face a problem and you want to solve it, and if you know your customers, it sounds easy, but it isn’t. So it’s a whole process that you have to undergo to understand better.

Megha McSwain: Well, Daniel, let our listeners know where they can learn more about Homefans, or explore the experiences and where they can get in touch with you.

Daniel Velasquez: I’m on LinkedIn. I can share it with you if you want to share my LinkedIn profile. I’m based in London, but I’m Colombian, so anyone who wants to reach out, feel free. The website is www.homefans.net. You can then find it and search for the different experiences in sports. You can find us on Instagram at Homefans as well. And yeah, happy to connect with anyone interested in having a chat. I’m always open to discussion.

Megha McSwain: Wonderful, thank you. Daniel, this has been such a wonderful conversation. I look forward myself to learning more about Homefans, and I’m not even the biggest sports fan, so that tells you something.

Daniel Velasquez: That’s the idea. That’s the idea. And that’s why we’re seeing, searching for people like you. We are just likely to go there as well for unique sports experiences. And what we’re doing is specializing in that one and accumulating as much inventory in that vertical so that we can. So unique.

Megha McSwain: Yeah, I love that. To our listeners. Thank you for joining us today and speaking with Daniel. Please remember to follow and subscribe for more stories and episodes. See you next time. You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by travelpayments.com. Make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.