The first category I have decided to turn my attention to is "Travel Discovery & Inspiration". These are companies that help with the very first part of trip planning - coming up with the inspiration for where you want to go and what you want to do. That help the potential traveller narrow down a world of opportunities and possibilities into a basket of ideas to be explored and researched further. Another reason I want to start with this category is that I have been thinking about the general area of web supported discovery for some time now.
At WebItTravel 2008 in Singapore last October, Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright asked me to name my three favourite start ups. One of those I highlighted was not a travel company (and is not even a start-up any more). I talked to him about music social network and discovery site last.fm. Last.fm is the best product I know for discovering music. It tracks the music you listen to, then looks around for other last.fm users that listen to the same music. Then it recommends tracks to you that people listen to who like the music you like. In effect it crowd sources music recommendations based on the similarity of your music tastes with others in the network. A great manifestation of this is your ability to listen to a 'neighbours' radio station. A neighbour being someone with similar tastes to yours and their radio station being a collection of their favourite songs.
Last.fm's chief rival, Pandora, has the same aim - helping you discover new music- but instead of using crowd recommendations like last.fm Pandora has teams devoted to the genomics of music (Music Genome Project). That is breaking down a song or artist into the elements or themes ('genes') and matching to artists or songs with similar genomics.
While they approach it in different ways the concept is the same - bringing to the web and technology the power of word of mouth and trusted advice as a tool in pre-purchase discovery.
The applications to travel are clear. Helping consumers to answer questions of "where to go next?" and "help me find somewhere to go" through networking with other consumers or expert fed technology based query engines.
Triporati is a company that has really impressed me in their efforts to undertake a Travel Genome Project and build a query engine for recommending travel destinations. I first came across Triporati at PhoCusWright 2008 in LA where they participated in the Travel Innovation Summit. They made the short list of six (out of thirty two) at that conference as well as being one of my picks for a top six spot.
Triporati was launched by online travel industry founding fathers/mothers Jim Hornthal (Chairman) and Sharlene Wang (Chief Product Officer). I call them that as they were the builders of Preview Travel, who's sale to Travelocity in March 2000 (announced in Oct 1999, closed in Mar 200o) marked the beginning of online travel as a serious economic force (and temporarily consolidated Travelocity's early lead in online travel). Like Pandora did with music Hornthal and Wang have drawn from travel writers and experts to identify 62 elements of choosing a destination. A user selects (and ranks) up to ten of the elements that interest them and some other data (like home airport and number of travellers). Triporati recommends destination options. For example I chose a number of beach, swimming and snorkelling themes. Recommended for AsiaPac were Fiji, Tahiti and Queensland. For Europe Gran Canaria, Catalonia and the Italian Lakes Region. None of this is surprising but then I know the areas well and generating recommendations on sea, sun and sand is not that challenging. But in regions and search combinations that I am less familiar with I was presented with destinations and travel ideas that were new to me and intriguing. For example, selecting "Wine Tasting", "Zoo" and "Foreign Languages" I was presented with the Cuyo region in Argentina - near the border with Chile - which sounds amazing.
I have been trying to find others in the content/planning model that have followed this Travel Discovery & Inspiration path in using destination idea generation as the means for taking travellers down the trip planning (and therefore eyeball monetisation) path. There are plenty of sites using combinations of editorial and user generated content to provide advice and recommendations on what to do in a (known) destination but I have yet to come across another like Triporati which recommends destinations based on broad traveller . I did come across want2bethere.com in an email exchange last year and in 2007. They claimed to be working on technology that allowed a customer to outline the requirements they were looking for in a trip (through drag and drop), which would then be matched to recommended destinations. Unfortunately their website now seems to be down.
What do you think of my first efforts at classification? Do you know of other companies building discovery engines like Triporati (and last.fm/Pandora in the music world)?
FYI is an interview with Triporati Chairman Jim Hornthal at PhoCusWright last November.