I am a sucker for a new way to do online travel search.
In a recent post -Â Four types of non-destination based search and what it means for online travel – I thought I had captured the new ways to do search and discovery online.
After a conversation recently with Rachel Armitage co-founder and director of UK startup Zoombu, I discovered a new type of search: the complete end-to-end trip search.
What is Zoombu?
Zoombuâs shout above the noise of online travel search is that they provide a door-to-door vision of a trip from origin to destination, including all options â taxi, metro, shuttle bus, car hire, trains, ferry, flights with integrated timetables and pricing.
Armitage calls it âmultimodal door-to-door searchâ. Â This means a consumer can get a view of all of the different choices in getting from A to B and as well as the full cost.
I carried out a test run search on for a trip from Oxford, England to Reims in the Champagne region of France. Here are three of the results
For a car-ferry across the English Channel-car journey thje cost is ÂŁ219 and takes about 11 hours
Taking trains all the way is more expensive (ÂŁ253) and has more connections, but only takes seven or so hours
Flying is somewhere inbetween, costing ÂŁ227 but takes around the same time as the ferry (10.5 hours).
In this case taking the train is the winner (assuming I donât want/need to have my car with me).
For more refinement I can order search by time, cost and – if the Greenie in me dominates – by carbon footprint.
Zoombu is the first place I have seen this. The ability to compare cost, timing and connections using different modes of transport.
In the past, consumers have had to figure out all of the in betweens and connections for themselves.
OTAs have been offering transfers for years but have not integrated it into a full travel time line search result.
Metasearch sites have been connecting inventory that might not be available on OTAs (such as some LCCs) but they have not been showing non-air options (ferry, train).
Where did they come from?
Zoombu is a classic European start-up. Â Armitage and co-founder Alistair Hann are artificial intelligence academics that raised attention through winning an Oxford seedcamp competition.
In Dec 2009 the comany raised a funding round from the SaĂŻd Business School Venture Fund. This has provided Zoombu with runway âwell through to the end of 2010 and beyondâ, according to Armitage.
Zoombuâs six full time staff are focusing their energies on the dual challenge of building the engine and access timetable and fare information.
Armitage says the team are employing âmultiple different integration for the different modes of transportâ.
Some integration is through aggregators, some is direct and on occasion she and the team have had to go down to a individual timetable level for a single airport shuttle bus timetable (ie Hahn airport shuttle). Â Revenue model is affiliate commissions (ie CPA) but is only able to monetise part of the clicks as very few local travel options have affiliate programs.
Great start for Zoombu. They have a product that is almost unique (Travelfusion is heading down the same path) and funding to push it out. But that wonât be enough to make it.
Armitage and I talked through five challenges for the company and this type of search product:
- Speed: Getting the results fast. Kayak CEO Steve Hafner has spoken many times of his obsession with speed of Â search results. Â Armitage and Zoombu need to be similarly obsessed. Â The Zoombu challenge is that they have more data sources to search in one go than anyone else in online travel.Â In my Oxford to Reims example Zoombu needs to query at least twenty different sources. Â The full results took almost 50 seconds. Â Armitage is aware of this saying they are working on both caching and latency solutions to speed up results and âways to keep the user interested while waitingâ to reduce user frustration.
- Distribution: Getting the customers to visit the site. Â Marketing costs in online travel are out of control. Â The battle in search for buying clicks, on meta and research site for referrals and on established sites for customers is out of control. Â Zoombu is joining a ferocious take no prisoners battle for eyeballs. Â Armitage is also aware of this too â admitting that it is âvery hard to build a brand on popular [search] terms such as âcheap flightsââ. Â She says the Zoombu plan to target natural search in the long tail, betting on the increasing volume of search traffic around how to get from point A to point B. She is also planning to make a significant push into affiliate sales but via supporting the incredibly large number of independent properties across Europe that would benefit from a âhow to get to usâ link on their site. Â The affiliate push is now a common story among search innovators.
- Accuracy and reliance: Getting the data right all the time. The most complex result of my Reims example has more than 10 components. Â The risk for Zoombu is that in this search and searches like it that one of the links in the chain is wrong and disrupts (or even kills) the whole trip. Â Customers will not be forgiving.
- Coverage: Â Getting the destinations loaded. Not as critical as the first three challenges but Armitage and Zoombu are planning further expansion in destinations. Currently strong in UK, France and Spain. Â Looking to move further across Europe and beyond.
- Booking and tracking: Getting the booking process to be as easy as the search process. Â Currently bookings are done click by click with each of the individual providers. Â The future potential here is to link to a TripIt or Traxo like functionality for at least storing the whole trip in one place, maybe even booking it all in one place.
This product excites me. Â The ability to see all of options for Euro travel is a breakthrough in online travel. Â It opens up online travel to non-capital/big city destinations in a way I have not seen before. Â But there are five challenges for Zoombu to meet to make it a success, and three of them are big ones (speed, accuracy and distribution).
Have a play with Zoombu and let me know your thoughts.