IN-DEPTH: As the social graph matures and becomes as robust as it has, everyone’s becoming very interested in getting more utility and value out of it. With travel being so inherently social, it’s a key space to create elegant applications that combine the robust social graph and people’s natural desire for travel to be social, says J.R. Johnson, founder and CEO, Trippy.
By Ritesh Gupta
Making the most of knowledge and experiences about destinations, hotels and any travel-related activity by sourcing recommendations, comments and tips from “friends” or known people is gaining prominence and is also reflecting in what a spate of new travel ventures are promising at this juncture.
It is being highlighted that friends and connections can prove to be a better source of inspiration.
Several new start-ups are promising to offer a personalised social travel experience. And in doing so they are lending a new dimension to the travel industry by sorting out the long-standing problem of irrelevant travel content.
Among the new ventures which have been in news of late, Trippy, an offering which is being described as the first web and mobile app entirely designed to let your friends help plan your trip, has raised $1.75M in seed funding.
According to the company, Trippy is a “friend-sourced solution to the long-standing problem of untrustworthy and irrelevant travel content”. Trippy ties into social sites like Facebook to find users’ friends who know about where one is traveling to and who already know users’ personal details. Users can have a “friend-sourced” itinerary made in real-time. The offering can also help users in checking rates or in booking the trip.
Trippy was founded by J.R. Johnson, who previously launched VirtualTourist (acquired by Expedia in 2008).
Johnson, CEO of Trippy.com, spoke to EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta about the new venture. Excerpts:
How do you think the online travel industry progressed on the whole in 2011? What according to you were the developments that are going to shape the travel planning process in a new way from here on?
We’ve seen a lot more emphasis on the industry's understanding of social’s role in innovation. Take AirBnB as an example of how the heightened focus on social is developing. You could make the argument that AirBnb wouldn't have been possible in a pre-Facebook world, prior to people having so much trust and comfort in a social setting. Now, as the trend evolves further, we're starting to see the early steps in the social graph providing real utility when it comes to helping people plan and take trips.
How do you assess the timing of your venture from the travel industry’s perspective? Which gaps/ opportunities are you trying to address through your offering?
People have spent a lot of time and energy building out the social graph. As the social graph matures and becomes as robust as it has, everyone's becoming very interested in getting more utility and value out of it. With travel being so inherently social, it's a key space to create elegant applications that combine the robust social graph and people's natural desire for travel to be social.
How do you think your offering is going to set a new benchmark in the travel industry?
In another five years, we'll look back and wonder how anyone booked trips without using Trippy's friend-sourced approach, much as we've come to rely so heavily on user generated content in the last decade.
A company recently launched its travel network on Facebook to let users tap into their friend network to find real people on the ground wherever they travel. There are other sites that are serving ideas based on “friends” or connections from Facebook. How do you assess the utility of such offerings?
Yes, some sites are about connecting to people when you're traveling, but that's not Trippy's space. We are offering a simple, friend-sourced solution that's focused on having a great utility to help make your trip better -- before you go, and then during your trip as you share back with the friends who helped make your trip great.
It is also pointed out that the overlap between a prospective traveller’s social graph and the travel options in consideration set is actually pretty thin. What do you make of so called limitations for such ventures?
The overlap is actually not that thin at all. While people are drawn to the idea of finding some random, obscure destination in theory - most actually draw inspiration from where their friends and family travel. It's just the most common and natural discovery process.
Social networking and user-generated content are now de facto components in the travel research and trip booking process for consumers. In media- and content-focused channels, they are tools for engaging customers around a brand, building community and sharing information. In transactional channels, where the booking of travel actually takes place, user-generated content is getting to be more and more influential in the purchase decision and conversion. From consumers’ perspective, how do you think they perceive content based on “friends or their connections” vis-à-vis content they read on OTAs/ hotels’/ review sites?
Research shows that 85 percent of travellers find recommendations from friends and family the most trusted source - compared to 53 percent trusting sources of a traditional OTA or advisory site. For people who want anonymous information from people they don’t know, Trippy’s not a fit. For the 85 percent though, they're looking for the friend-sourced offering we provide.
Travel companies are now themselves opening avenues and letting consumers post content on their sites. How do you assess such developments?
Essentially, it’s the more the merrier. Anything that gets more people engaged in sharing and contributing content is a plus. Even posting to review sites or ecommerce sites is a great first step for people.
How do you assess the developments in the hospitality industry pertaining to integration of review systems with Facebook, which enable hotels to collect and share their guest reviews right from their hotel Facebook pages?
It’s great if hotels are getting involved. The timing will just be a challenge, as the review space is so mature and they’re competing to take market share from TripAdvisor, who dominates the anonymous UGC space.
Delivering a customer experience that targets the always-online consumer in a way that drives loyalty is the ultimate goal for travel companies. The way technology is evolving today means that is increasingly possible, if you choose wisely.
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