Thursday, March 08, 2007

Travelgator profile

I had a great opportunity recently to chat for 45 minutes or so with Travelgator CEO Chris DeBrusk. Travelgator are trying to fill the new need I discussed this earlier post to help online travel consumers answer the question - "where do I go next, what do I do next". Site is just out of beta.

I like the functionality of Travelgator. It lets you save ideas, articles, deals and offers in the one place - called a Travelplan - without locking you into a purchase path. Future product plans hope to expand this feature with plug ins that would enable you to draw in content, deals etc from other sites. In effect adding a targetted tagging/ style functionality. Of course there will be user generated content but also in-house content from a paid editor (claim more than 1,000 articles so far). All of this can be shared and have communities built up around it.

On product they want to stay out of the meta-search price comparison game. Mainly because they feel that Kayak and Sidestep are too far ahead in functionality to catch. But recognising the need for a engine have partnered with one of them (in this case Sidestep). The business model therefore comes back to good old fashioned targeted advertising campaigns. Claim to already have 30 click through deals in place.

As I say, I like what I see and Chris knows the market. I see two main challenges for him and his team to make the business work:
  • Obtaining traffic - Search engines and word of mouth are the two main (possibly only) sources of traffic. Travelgator are going to be competing with three different types of businesses for eyeballs (to different degrees). Content behemoths like TripAdvisor, membership powerhouses like WAYN and USG/blogging post companies like Travelpost (now owned by Sidestep); and
  • Focus - as per my previous post there comes a point in UGC, community based and targeted sites where too much choice is offered to consumers. They either become confused, frustrated and leave or you have targeted so tightly that the addressable audience is always too small.
To mitigate against these Travelgator has to find a delicate balance between picking their markets to be able to compete against the bigger (read better funded) competitors while ensuring that the focus is neither too tight nor the options too broad.

Sounds hard - well it is, not just for Travelgator but all of the new wave of online travel content and search players. Travelgator have made a very good start.

Funding to date is all private and angel. Clear to them that a travel provider is the only real exit. They need to build up the traffic and product to create a story around a critical and unique feature that a travel provider can only obtain through acquisition.

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