Exceptional Alien’s $1.5m raise leveraging celebrity in the fight against fake travel reviews

Exceptional Alien’s $1.5m raise leveraging celebrity in the fight against fake travel reviews

Laura Brown, investor and newly appointed Alien-at-large for Exceptional Alien

Exceptional Alien, a travel industry startup that is aiming to combat AI-generated fake reviews flooding the tourism sector globally, is raising $1.5 million to capitalise on a big year of growth.

And in a major coup for the company, it has appointed Laura Brown, the former editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine in the US, as 'Alien-at-large' while also welcoming her as an investor.

Brown, an Aussie expat who left her role at InStyle last year, is planning to use her global profile to recruit notable creatives to join the Exceptional Alien platform which is currently undertaking an equity crowdfunding raise via Birchal.

The pre-Series A capital raise, which is targeting up to $1.5 million, will be used to expand Exceptional Alien's global community of talent after a strong year that saw revenue surge more than 400 per cent to $600,000.

It also follows a content-partnership coup secured by Exceptional Alien founders Michael Canning and Justin Drape with Skyscanner, putting the Sydney-based startup in front of the booking website’s 100 million monthly users.

Canning and Drape, who both come from creative marketing backgrounds, established Exceptional Alien in 2019 with a view to enhancing the luxury travel experience. The platform essentially provides users with authentic recommendations by the world’s leading creators who Exceptional Alien says act as ‘travel guides for the cities they love’.

The appointment of Brown as Alien-at-large aligns with Exceptional Alien’s strategy of growing its profile through celebrity-backed endorsements. Among the notable personalities to feature on the Exceptional Alien platform are Mick Fanning and Collette Dinnigan, but they also include the likes of less widely known personalities such as Bondi Icebergs restaurateur Maurice Terzini and the Australian Ballet’s principal artist Ako Kondo.

Internationally, the platform has enlisted fashion designer Karen Walker, Harry Styles' band guitarist Ny Oh and senior curator of MoMA New York Paola Antonelli.

Exceptional Alien, a name that was inspired by the US working visa for ‘aliens of exceptional ability’, started out in 2019 with 10 friends ‘sharing their insights and recommendations’.

Today, it boasts a global community of more than 500 ‘exceptional talents’ that include Grammy Award winners, Academy Award nominees, Olympic gold medal athletes and industry leaders.

The free website and mobile app packages recommendations from these celebrities into engaging content and multimedia Travel Playbooks that the company likens to ‘Spotify for travel’.

Exceptional Alien is using its Birchal crowdfunding raise to grow its platform technology and recruit more ‘trusted creators’ to combat what it says is an ‘onslaught of AI-generated fake reviews now flooding online thanks to the rapid adoption of Chat GPT’.

"The sheer magnitude of fake reviews in the travel industry is staggering, with an estimated $152 billion directly impacted on global online spending,” Canning says.

“Travel Playbooks represent a paradigm shift in travel planning with recommendations you can trust, and love.

“Travellers have lost confidence in today’s travel media, with 85 per cent now believing the reviews they read online are ‘sometimes or often fake’.

“It has been reported that travellers will visit as many as 38 different touch points on their journey to search, plan, and book travel. We think this is a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Canning says TripAdvisor has already removed more than 20,000 reviews across more than 15,000 properties in 159 countries.

He also notes that TripAdvisor earlier this year reported that 4.4 per cent of total reviews in 2022 were fake, amounting to 1.3 million reviews globally.

Drape says the appointment of Laura Brown as Alien-at-large for Exceptional Alien aligns with the former InStyle editor-in-chief’s public persona.

“Her story and achievements are inspiring, and her unique style and lens on life means you can always trust her recommendations for a destination,” Drape says.

“LB's passion for travel, creativity and culture is contagious and she has a way of bringing fun to everything she does so we’re thrilled that she’s become a part of our growing global community.”

While the extent of her investment in Exceptional Alien has not been disclosed, Brown plans to create her own Travel Playbooks for ‘the cities I know and love, as well as inviting friends and notable creators to give their recommendations’.

“During my time in fashion media, I’ve travelled relentlessly and collaborated with some of the most celebrated talents in the world,” Brown says.

“My Notes app has always been packed with snippets and recommendations from people in the industry – from the best hidden bar in Lisbon to a hacienda in Oaxaca, Mexico.

“When I first heard the name Exceptional Alien, I immediately connected with it. As an Aussie working in the US for more than 20 years, I've applied for visas and had to prove that I was an ‘alien of exceptional ability’ in my creative industry so many times. 

“And that’s where the community of EA comes from – global creators who share their home cities and destinations through their unique lens.

“When I’m planning a trip, I only listen to people I trust who are in the know: people who are local, have great taste, and a truly personal connection with the destination. I don’t want to comb through random or spon-con travel guides online. I want a one-stop, shareable - and bookable - Travel Playbook I can trust.”

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