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September 07, 2023 | Tom Ballard

TravL helps manage the complexities of group travel for students

Creator David Schwall calls it a Group Travel Management System that includes an interactive schedule, integrated messaging platform, a roster of individuals on the trip, and a photo gallery.

David Schwall spent 23 years in digital marketing and strategy before deciding to walk away from his longtime corporate career and strike out on his own with a group travel app that he developed.

That was in late 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He says he had several schools ready to pilot test the mobile app named TravL, but then they closed for the academic year and all student group travel was suspended.

So, what does any wise entrepreneur do? He shelved the idea for more than two years until the timing was better. By the fall of 2022, student group travel began to resume. Then, in March of this year, Schwall competed in the latest edition of the “What’s the Big Idea? Pitch Competition” organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).

While he did not win the event, his idea was well-received. Schwall also was convinced he had a winner as several schools signed-up to use the app for trips to places like Disney World, Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC. He said it was even used by the National Christian School Association to manage their week-long annual conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

So, what caused Schwall to develop the TravL App?

“I spent most of my career building tech for consumers, but I also managed my children’s soccer teams. As the team manager I used similar types of apps to connect players, coaches, and parents. That was my inspiration,” he explains.

While chaperoning a trip with his son, Schwall says he saw teachers challenged to manage all aspects of the trip including communicating between parents and chaperones while keeping everyone updated with an ever-changing schedule.

When the bus broke down, meaning the group would not arrive at 9 p.m. as scheduled but rather at a projected 11 p.m., he saw how challenging communicating that delay to anxious parents became.

That experience led to the development of TravL App, which Schwall describes as a Group Travel Management System (GTMS).

“We’re creating a new category,” he says. “It’s causing school districts, churches, and youth organizations to re-think how they currently manage student trips, from the time the bus leaves the parking lot until they return.” Most leave it up to the trip leader to find their own solution. He constantly hears, “We use a free messaging app, but it’s not really the best solution for us.”

He told us during a recent interview that “his initial market has been private schools. The reality is that practically none of the 125,000 public or private schools in the U.S. provide a standardized way to manage off-campus trips, and that’s an unnecessary risk.”

On its website, TravL App emphasizes that its solution makes it easy to organize and manage every aspect of a school’s group trip from one convenient location, freeing up your time and reducing stress.

The app has four current features: an interactive schedule, an integrated messaging platform, a roster of individuals on the trip, and a photo gallery.

“It provides peace of mind for parents,” Schwall says, adding that they can join the trip in “Parent Mode” and follow the adventure from home and know what’s going on at any time. Administrators find this feature useful, also.

As revenues grow, he plans to add additional features such as allowing for online payments, providing a GPS feature so leaders can know where everyone is, as well as adding an artificial intelligence component that would allow users to access helpful information about frequently visited sites like those in the Nation’s Capital.

TravL App offers two pricing models. One is Pay Per Trip for schools, churches and youth organizations that might take just one or two trips each year. The other is an Annual Unlimited Trip Subscription that allows his clients to use the app for an unlimited number of trips each year. Either way, most customers just add it to the price of the trip and ultimately there’s no out-of-pocket expense to the school.

As he adds new customers, Schwall says “I’m being forced to think through how to connect with those buyers.” That translates into attending conferences of school administrators and learning how to properly communicate with educators. “It’s a whole new world.”

Knox County Schools has approved TravL App to be used on trips, and Schwall is a participant in the latest edition of KEC’s “The Works” accelerator.

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