Another very interesting meeting I had in LA at PhoCusWright with TripWolf CEO Sebastian Heinzel. TripWolf is a German based online destination guide, social network and travel planning website. They call themselves a "social travel guide". They have already been generating a some blog buzz (Travolution examples) since their May 2008 beta launch. They have received some funding from i5invest. The part of this conversation I enjoyed the most was hearing about the unique relationship that the online Tripwolf has with the offline publishing powerhouse MairDumont. More on this below.
I have commented before on content sites, including a specific post summarising a series of travel planner sites that participating in the PhoCusWright Innovation Summit.
Tripwolf do a number of the things you would expect from a travel planning and social media site including displaying destination information, providing blogging and UGC systems and allowing travel guide printing. Functionality-wise they have the expected social networking pieces but are still to develop the itinerary aggregation functionality we have seen from players such as TripIt and fellow TechCrunch 50 allum GoPlanit.
Rather they have focused on two elements as their differentiator compared to other trip planning sites. Firstly they are European based. This provides for a different destination focus, greater breadth in language and different consumer pool to fish in.
The second is content and this is where my interest in Tripwolf was particularly engaged. The challenge that a travel planning company has (as I have discussed before) is the need for content and lots of of it. This usually requires time, patience and good marketing as the trip planning site tries to piece together its own editorial content and collect user generated content. Tripwolf has dramatically sped up the time required through a unique relationship with a large content provider - MairDumont. MairDumont (I am told) is the largest publisher of travel guides in Germany (which likely makes them number one in Europe also). It is trite to call them the "Lonely Planet" of Germany because one of MairDumont's many products is to market and translate the German editions of Lonely Planet. I am reliably told that their books, maps and publications are ubiquitous in Germany.
On their own MairDumont have followed an approach we have seen with by companies such as Lonely Planet and Frommers by launching series of sites (8) based on their various publication brands. These have been successful in their own right generating some 240 million page impressions and 36 millions visitors a year (according to Tripwolf's Heinzel).
The interesting part here is that in exchange for equity in Tripwolf and the right to sell advertising on TripWolf, MairDumont have given TripWolf access to the extensive MairDumont library of content. This means access to quality editorial information/content on more than 200,000 destinations in five European languages (press release here). It grants Tripwolf an enormous content head start but threatens MairDumont's tradditional business. This is a very bold move by MairDumont as Tripwolf is now "giving away" the content that MairDumont has been selling in books for 60 years. They are supporting a distribution mechanism that seeks to undermine the traditional publishing business that generated Euro190mm for MairDumont in 2007. Allowing their content to go online through a vehicle they have an interest in, even though it competes with the traditional business is a bold move that deserves our applause. It will cost them book revenue but it recognises that the future of content distribution for travel is going to be beyond the printed page.