Zicasso is a company that has taken a unique approach to offering online travel booking. The site matches travelers who want custom vacations with travel agents who are specialists in the specific countries and types of activities that the client is looking for. The result is a bespoke travel plan that is crafted specifically with the individual's needs in mind.
Interested in biking from village to village in the Swiss Alps? Would you like to have lunch in the home of the daughter of the last princess of a Vietnamese dynasty and her historian husband? Is glacier hiking in Patagonia on your bucket list? Zicasso, along with its collection of certified travel agents, can make these experiences a reality, creating custom trips to meet just about any request.
My husband and I first discovered Zicasso not long after we snagged a couple of flights to Croatia using some of our accumulated miles. At that point, we were looking for suggestions and ideas on where to go and what to do while in the country and we thought contenting with a travel consultant would be of benefit. With that in mind, I decided to take Zicasso for a test drive and ended up being very glad that I did.
How Zicasso Planned Our Vacation in Croatia
Many good travel companies offer customized trips, but the Zicasso approach is unique in the industry. Travelers simply place a request on the company's website, and Zicasso responds by providing several travel specialists that are waiting to help plan a trip. Everything is done by humans behind the scenes, who look at your request directly and then choose travel agents who specialize in the location and type of activities you are looking for. According to Brian Tan, Zicasso's founder and CEO, it's a requirement that agents must have traveled extensively in the destination that he or she sells.
The first step of the process is to fill out a request form, outlining where you want to go and what you want to do. In our case, I simply said we had flights to Croatia, wanted to visit Dubrovnik and a few other cities, and were interested in including some adventurous activities in our itinerary.
Within two days, I received two replies from travel agents that work with Zicasso, and a third from another source. The first one via Zicasso was simply a return email outlining a "trip" that resembled a mass group tour I had already come across online. The second travel agent called me, but when asked if she had been to Croatia, she said "no." We wanted someone who had been to the country. The third travel specialist was Maja Gudelj from the Select Italy agency, which works with Zicasso. She asked us to give her a bit more information via email so she could learn more about what we really wanted to do while in Croatia before we started making any specific plans.
Maja hooked us on the first phone conversation by saying that a hotel we were looking at in the town of Split was good, but it was also located 25 minutes by car from the walled city area - possibly longer in morning rush-hour traffic. It turns out she just so happened to be from Split and had extensive first-hand knowledge of the area. Coincidentally, she was also visiting her mother while we were there, and ended up coming along on the private tour that she had arranged for us. Going above and beyond the call of duty, she then spent the rest of the day showing us even more of her city.
Adventure Activities Abound
After about three weeks, and a lot of back and forth, we had our trip arranged. It was the special activities that Maja selected that wowed us the most. We had a private 10-course gourmet dinner at Bibich Winery (mentioned in Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" TV program), after it was closed to the public. The meal was cooked by the winery owner's wife and a sommelier told us about each wine he matched with a course, along with plenty of stories about what it is like living in Croatia.
On one of the other days of the trip we embarked on a cave adventure, crawling through a tunnel using only miner's lamps on our helmets to light the way. It was a spelunker's dream, open to just a small number of people each year. Another day we visited monumental historic sites and megaliths, with a private guide who is an author, winemaker, and cosmologist. Afterward, we spent hours over lunch with our guide and his wife, talking about the history of Croatia and what it was like to live in a small village within sight of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
No Fees for Zicasso Travel Specialists
Travelers do not pay a fee to use Zicasso. More than 90 percent of Zicasso's travel consultants do not charge a consulting fee, according to Tan. They make their money off commissions from hotels, car rental agencies, and other activities they book for a client. The only exception might be when a client keeps having to change the arrangements after they have been booked, in which case the travel specialist might ask for a "good faith" non-refundable deposit. In other words, in most cases, the Zicasso service is free, with the travel agencies using their expert knowledge and industry contacts to earn their money. That's good news for travelers, as the agents are working hard to ensure they're getting the service they need.
How Zicasso Came About
CEO Tan said he "started Zicasso to solve my own problem." He was employed at an Internet networking company but loved to travel. Having difficulty finding travel specialists online, he started Zicasso "to do the homework on behalf of clients."
Real Reviews by Travelers Keep Agents Performing
After returning home, travelers are asked to write a review about their trip and rate their travel specialists. "We use a review and rating system as a quality control. The travel specialists must maintain a 4.5 out of 5 rating after receiving six reviews. So, travelers have the last word." Tan said.
For more information or to request travel specialists for vacation planning, visit Zicasso.com.
If you 're not sure if you want to purchase a travel package, plan your own trip, or choose the custumized vacation route, here are some tips to help you decide.