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May 26, 2013

From the field to Fan Travel

Brian Bulcke's Cardinal career ended with a win in the Orange Bowl, but the former Stanford defensive end is still contributing to the program. His company was recently named the preferred travel partner of Stanford football.

Bulcke is the co-founder of Fan Travel, a website designed to help groups of fans select customizable travel packages at a reasonable cost. Bulcke co-founded Fan Travel with fellow Stanford football alum, Alex Loukas, who played quarterback on The Farm from 2006-2010.

Earlier this month, nearly two years of hard work from Bulcke, Loukas and the Fan Travel team culminated in an announcement from Stanford football that Fan Travel had been selected as the preferred travel partner for Cardinal Stanford football program.

Bulcke, a native of Windsor, Ontario, which is located nearly 2,500 miles from Palo Alto, probably could have used a service like Fan Travel during his playing career to help coordinate travel for friends and family. In fact, the lack of an affordable and convenient one-stop travel shopping destination is what prompted the idea for Fan Travel in the first place.

"It's ridiculous how much time and effort and money, and it's incredible too, what parents put in to getting to every game, or as many games as they can," Bulcke said.

"It really started there. How do we help them save some money and how do we make the (travel) decisions easier?"

Fan Travel was officially incorporated on July 20, 2011.

"It just started as Alex and I figuring out the group rates and travel options with friends and family, and then we were able to find some really good things and some really great partners in the travel industry," Bulcke said

It didn't take long for Fan Travel to get up and running. Less than six months after its official start of business, the company held its first major travel event, a package for the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. One of the site's first clients happened to be the mother of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

"We had run several tests events before our flagship Fiesta Bowl trip in January 2012," Bulcke said. "Our first registered customer for that trip was the mother of one of my favorite college teammates who is now doing a pretty spectacular job at leading the Indianapolis Colts. As a company, we felt it was a good sign of things to come."

Today, Fan Travel employs nearly a dozen people, and has formed some valuable partnerships in the industry, including one with TUI Travel PLC, a global travel company which serves 30 million customers across 180 countries.

"Within our partnerships, we want to make fans feel like they have a one-stop hub for all their travel needs," Bulcke said. "Between our travel offering, booking platform, and upcoming advancements in technology, we will be able to offer a great level of service to any group of fans wishing to travel to any event."

Those partnerships - along with some of the skills that Bulcke and Loukas picked up when they were at Stanford (Bulcke graduated with a Bachleror's degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master's in Industrial Engineering, Loukas with a Bachelor's in Science, Technology and Society and a Master's in Communications) - have helped fuel Fan Travel's success.

"We took a lot of learning from school, from Silicon Valley, and applied it to the travel industry trying to do really innovative things on the web that a lot of other people haven't even started proposing," Bulcke said. "If you spend some time on the site, it's not a typical travel agency. Things are a la carte; prices are more competitive than the Kayak's, Expedia's, all those brands. What we wanted to do was create something that we would use. That's kind of what you see today."

Fan Travel already has a variety of travel options available for each game of the upcoming Stanford football season. Bulcke is most excited about Fan Travel's package for the Cardinal's game at Army.

"We've got some really exciting road trips," Bulcke said. "The first is invading New York City. I think that's pretty special because we don't get to the East Coast that much. And Stanford is kind of spread out all throughout the country, whether you're an alumni, a fan, we exist everywhere."

Fan Travel has plans to extend its business beyond the Stanford market. They're in talks with schools in and out of the Pac-12 conference, and plan to release details of travel packages for other programs in mid-June. The company also works with youth soccer leagues organizations across the U.S. to provide travel options to various tournaments, and has recently began offering its booking platform to major international sporting events like the Cricket World Cup.

Ultimately, Bulcke hopes Fan Travel will continue to grow into a travel destination for groups of any size wishing to travel to any event.

"We'd say it's the online group travel solution for events," Bulcke said. "Whether you're a group of four who want to get to the Army game in September, or you're a club of 300 people trying to find out how to get to the Pac-12's in Vegas, we want to be able to cater to any size of group. And do it well."

For more information on Fan Travel and available travel packages for the 2013 season, visit their website.


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