It would seem that least a couple of the innovations in this year’s list of thirty-four innovators presenting at PhoCusWright’s second Travel Innovation Summit have some application to long tail travel companies.
For me, this is an important indication that perhaps the industry in general is starting to pay some attention to this important, yet highly under appreciated segment of the travel landscape.
When you first visit the Goby website, you will probably be surprised at how simple it looks.
It is definitely not like any travel website I’ve seen. It’s dramatic lack of clutter, banner and side banners, and a booking engine are refreshingly different.
What you will find is a search box with three drop down lists that ask what? where? when?
I suppose when you distill the travel experience into three questions, those are the ones that you would probably ask.
So, I gave it a try. In my example (in honour of the upcoming Twilight movie) I thought I would see if I could find any sightseeing tours in Forks, Washington.
I searched for tours in Forks and found several results. Unfortunately, none of them really fit the bill, but where there is a gap, there is an opportunity. Goby has done a nice job of creating a metasearch engine around “Things to do” product.
The fundamental problem is that unlike airline and hotel metasearch, there is no standard product display or delivery, so creating screen scrappers and aggregating scripts that can read and normalize obscure tour products is a real challenge.
Opening up Goby to tour operators to add their own products (similar to Google Local) could go a long way to feeding the index and providing tour operators with a new way to market their tours and activities while driving direct to operator bookings.
Another clear opportunity would be to work on driving some common data sharing standards around those already being developed by the OpenTravel Alliance.
The real innovation for TourAbout is its Social Marketplace system. I had the opportunity, thanks to co-founder Carl Jackson, to review the platform a few weeks ago and I was so impressed I actually included it in a presentation that I did at the Adventure Travel World Summit.
The concept is simple, and one that I have been advocating for some time; engage with potential customers by building social equity through the sharing of expertise.
The opportunity for operators is two fold: firstly, the operator gets to create a profile page that allows them to showcase their tours, their areas of expertise, and humanizes them.
Secondly, the operators get to answer questions posted by travellers that fit their areas of expertise and build relationships both passively and actively.
The social marketplace allows independent operators to overcome a major hurdle with marketing, primarily the question of credibility. By answering questions in the marketplace, the operator builds social equity and credibility.
Although, like all things, it will take time for an operator to build this equity, the benefit of the TourAbout solution is that it brings the travellers (aka customers), consolidates the messaging, and provides the operator with a single place to manage their on-line reputation and profile.
Is it likely that an operator will use TourAbout as their sole means of communicating with travellers? I doubt it, but it is, as far as I am aware, the only site of its kind that provides this level of collaboration and interactivity.
So, will either Goby or TourAbout win the “Best of Show” for the Travel Innovation Summit 2009.
As much as I would hope so, my experience has been that applications that promote emerging markets like tours and activities or independent operators are generally not “sexy” enough.
But, hey, I have been wrong before.
In my books, both of these innovations are winners because they both promote a segment of the tourism industry that never gets enough attention.