Back in November 2007 I tried Web2.0 travel start up Tripit for the first time. The product was in the early days of its beta launch and as a non-US based traveller I had unfortunately chosen suppliers not yet set up for TripIt. As a result the product did not work for me and I gave a poor review. After coming across TripIt again at the PhoCusWright Innovation Summit I decided to give them another try.
For those who have missed the hype around TripIt, it is an itinerary consolidation and sharing tool. You send to firstname.lastname@example.org all of the itinerary emails you receive from various providers (air, car, hotel etc) and TripIt combines all of the elements into one itinerary. That itinerary can be then saved to your calendar and shared with others. When it works it allows for easier management of complicated itinerary and (most importantly) provides a central place for different people to view and interact with an itinerary (ie travel planner, spouse/partner, business colleagues, friends on the road).
Generally I like TripIt and am now making it a standard part of my travel planning. I particularly like the features that allow me to share my trip with others and have my travel arranger and I collaborate in the one place on a trip. There are still a few glitches and functionality pieces that need work but the product is useful and valuable in the time it saves me and others that wish to track my travels. There are three elements of this that I find attractive and will review – itinerary collation, itinerary management and itinerary sharing & networking.
Itinerary Collation – when it works it is seamless and makes complicated trip easier to manage. Even though I work for a large online travel agency when I book a business trip I often end up with specially negotiated itineraries for air, car and hotels (and often more than one). In the past I manually added them to my diary (no easy task with different time zones) or printed out lots of paper. There is a real “I love technology” pleasure when you simply forward all of them to one email address and an itinerary is automatically built. However I still have times when it does not work perfectly. On a recent trip to Madrid, I changed the airline to cover the London to Madrid leg of my trip. When I sent the new itinerary from my TMC to email@example.com TripIt correctly added the new London – Madrid leg to my existing itinerary but doubled up on the Sydney to London piece – meaning I had the same flight SYD to LHR listed twice in the itinerary. It is not easy to delete one because you have to delete the “right one”. I deleted the wrong" version of the SYD to LHR leg and it also deleted the London to Madrid piece. In the end I deleted both and resent the itinerary by email. The something more frustrating happened. TripIt received the itinerary and added it to the right trip but for some reason tracked the Bangkok to London leg as happening before the Sydney to Bangkok leg. Required me to manually go in and change the dates on a leg of the trip to get the trip properly aligned. This made for a frustrating 30 mins on the computer which I am sure other customers would not have persisted with. It was a shame as I know the system works and have seen it work, just in this instance I hit a glitch. One other minor annoyance is that sometimes it copied across the terminal for a flight and sometimes did not. TripIt says it is aware of both of these issues and is working on them.
Itinerary Management – TripIt makes it very easy for the combined itinerary to be downloaded to calendar or synced with mobile devices. What is best with this is that it adds to my calendar taking into account the different time zones and (in my experience) matches perfectly. Very useful feature that says me time and paper shuffling in taxis and meetings. Naturally there is an iPhone app to support all this but I am still in the Blackberry universe so have not tried it
Itinerary Sharing & Networking – as a very active business traveller I have a lot of people I want to share my travels with. My boss, travel organiser, colleagues, Madame BOOT, son and more. I also want people to be able to add things to my itinerary as things come in (such as transfer confirmations). I love this feature of TripIt. I find the traveller arranger/sharing parts of TripIt the most valuable. It allows each of the connected people that I have to be able to see the same up to date trip that I see. If I extend a day, change hotel, move a flight etc – all the people I want to see that can see it. The process is great and I will use it again but is not perfect. I gave TripIt some feedback that they should make it a little clearer what timezones are in operation and when some one is where. This is especially true with long haul flights were I can leave one place on a Friday (which is actually Saturday at the destination) but not land until Sunday (which is still Saturday at the port of origination). There are also social networking elements available for meeting up with people that are in the same place you are. TripIt call this the "Who's Close" feature. Given my busy travel schedule I find that of less interest than the travel arranger sharing so don’t have a view on how the usefulness of that feature. I can see that if a user mass the size of Linkedin develops for TripIt then this feature could expand into areas currently dominated by WAYN and Meetup.
Turning to the business of TripIt I had a chance recently to talk with TripIt VP of Business Development Scott Hintz after the launch of the TripIt API and deal with Linkedin.
He wanted to share with me some of the early successes of the API such as the launch of seven applications and registration of more than 100 developers in the first 30 days of launch. One application he particular liked was Fligth Tracker Pro.
For TripIt the application angle is all about user acquisition. In a pattern I am seeing again and again for travel application/content companies the main form of distribution is partnership based rather and search engine based. This makes sense to me. I don’t see a large number of customer’s typing in “Trip Consolidation” into Google. Therefore I agree with the strategy of focusing on deals with networks liked Linkedin and eventually travel agents and OTAs as the means for TripIt distributing their product.
I wanted to talk to him about the monetisation efforts so far. Hintz was sounding very confident about the revenue potential for TripIt especially with the success of landing Marriott’s sponsorship fo the Linkedin plugin. He is also looking into revenue share for applications based on the API. With site traffic (mobile and web) at the 250k uniques level (and growing 20-40% month on month) you can understand his optimism. That said online banner ads are being hit hard by the downturn so I will be interested to see if they turn more to other forms of monetisation. Hintz also hinted at some premium paid service offerings - I am guessing more around travel planning and corporate services. They expect these revenues to be greater than advertising.
There are still pieces being worked on but I like TripIt and am using it.
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