Assessing leading-edge travel websites


The PhocusWright Conference is under way in Scottsdale, Arizona. The top executives of the online travel world have gathered to talk strategy and take a collective look at where the industry is moving in the coming year. But, before the bigwigs start noodling, a day is dedicated to new startups and companies that are breaking new ground in Internet travel.

Thirty innovators each were given 11.5 minutes on stage to present their ideas and new websites and face a gauntlet of questioners from the country’s top travel management companies and venture capital organizations.

Needless to say, tensions run high as these innovators strut their stuff on stage and then face tough inquisitors. The experts announced winners, but here are some of my initial thoughts on a handful of participants.
This company has been around for a few years. Its initial translator software won awards in previous years. This year they have added a “Slang Slider” that allows various types of responses to questions. For instance, in Italian, the slang slider will allow you to tell the waiter that the meal was good by simply saying, “Buonissimo” or, “It was so good I’m licking my mustache.” It also features flash cards for learning in advance, a link to a human translator for times when difficulties arise and voice-to- voice translations.

These guys are branching out beyond travel and selling to the likes of Home Depot to allow salespeople to speak with non-English-speaking clients. Good idea.

Amadeus Featured Results
I’m not sure I like this idea. It is based on the “Paradox of Choice.” In other words, when consumers have too many choices, they tend to shy away from making a decision. So, rather than providing 200 or so flight choices for an itinerary query, Amadeus uses an algorithm that selects only four options — the cheapest flight, fastest flight, the most popular flight and a sponsored flight.

Consumers who want more choices can click through to the normal search results, but, which has been testing this technology, says that purchase conversions have gone up 16 percent. Is less really more?
Minitime, which launched this week, is a new family-travel website that allows families to make recommendations and write reviews of destinations, attractions, restaurants and lodging based on specific ages of children.

Anyone who has traveled with kids knows that what is appropriate and enjoyable for a 3-year-old isn’t of interest to a 9-year-old. The concept is good; now we’ll see if families respond to their recommendations and, more importantly, submit their own recommendations.

This is strictly a mobile-only app-based company. Download the app and then wehostel allows travelers to make on-the-go hostel reservations with the added kicker of having a chance to connect with other travelers via the app through Facebook or find friends.

This website started life as a non-profit that connected travelers. They now have more than five million travelers listed in more than 93,000 cities around the world. It is the ultimate site for meeting locals around the planet.

When I first heard the presentation, I wasn’t sure where couchsurfing was a version of AirBnB that rented couches or simply a social network. It seems to be a blend of the two, however, the locals who participate in do not do it for the money; they do it for the experience of meeting travelers from around the world. They expect conversation, maybe the chance to dine together or share an activity and, in return, provide a unique locals’ point of view in their town and, perhaps, a couch to crash on.

Travel the world and stay with friends you haven’t yet met.

  • Anonymous

    Amadeus Sponsored Flight – what does that mean? The one that paid them the most to come up on top of the search? Isn’t that the way google does it and not the way a GDS should do it?

  • CharlieO

    Really like the idea of “couchsurfing” but I HATE having to go through Facebook to join – – so I won’t being signing up for that site.

  • Loie

    Honestly, this is the best they can do? Big yawn.

  • Charlie Leocha

    “…Amadeus uses an algorithm that selects only four options — the cheapest flight, fastest flight, the most popular flight and a sponsored flight.”
    Yes, one of the flights listed is a sponsored (advertised) flight.

  • DCTA

    Exactly Tony – as i think you know, the various GDS are not allowed to present “featured” flights or to favor any one carrier over another – by law.

    It’s funny though – Charlie doesn’t like it – Charlie, do you think Consumers are too lazy or stupid to click through and look for more options?