Are travel inspiration and the new travel search the same thing?
With so much being written on the topics of travel inspiration and how travel search is evolving, I’ve come to the conclusion that the differences are really much less than what makes them similar.
Indeed, both are primarily focussed on influencing the undecided purchaser of travel content.
Taking the lead from Dr Suess, my strong belief is that a difference of opinion in nomenclature is immaterial for the purpose understanding what it takes to win in this space.
In the early days of online travel a lot of effort was put into improving the shopping function for travelers who knew exactly when and where they wanted to travel. Displaying availability and price on the one page was a major step forward, but one that today we all take for granted.
Then the calendar display was added, and travelers were also shown the lowest price one or two days either side of their preferred date of travel.
Over time the calendar has grown to a month or more, and therefore the shopping experience has improved for those travelers willing to show some flexibility; but at its heart search has still required a known destination and an approximate known date of travel.
This is now changing, and changing in a major way.
The second thing that is changing is that travel inspiration is not far behind mobile, and maybe even close to social when we are talking 2010 buzz words.
A lot of airlines and other travel suppliers plus intermediaries are spending serious time and money trying to make their websites more appealing to the undecided holiday maker.
At the same time, many independent companies are also trying to carve out a meaningful role for themselves by being the destination site to influence the undecideds – those leisure travelers yet to commit to a destination.
But are these two really that different? Once the calendar gets to a certain size thereby eliminating the need to commence the search by inputting dates of travel, and especially once the requirement to start a search with a fixed destination is removed, then we have moved into a new realm of open ended search that is continually refined by the user. If the old search was iterative (start, stop, go back to start again), the new search is more of a sifting process.
When you think about it, how do we generally reach conclusions in any matter of uncertainty?
We typically start by gathering a set of known facts, asking around to supplement this information, and then we sift through all the information discarding pieces along the way until we reach a decision that we consider appropriate – travel technology is now starting to replicate this process.
If what I have written above is correct, then it stands to reason that reinventing travel search along these lines cannot be separated from the current quest to own travel inspiration.
If search and inspiration as categories are being condensed, where is the big outstanding question? In my opinion, the question yet to be answered is this:
Does the search component of travel inspiration require more technological muscle and grunt, or is it social over science and personal contacts over proprietary cache?
Or to put it another way, is technology in and of itself, the entire answer for inspiration?
To illustrate the point, I’ll use two very different approaches launched recently by major players in travel who have both come at the search part of inspiration from different corners.
The first example, and one that launched in May, is Kayak Explore. Rather than rely on using the TripAdvisor approach (detailed below), they have gone for a more technology driven solution that turns search upside down by obliterating the need to have a destination in mind prior to commencing the shopping.
By loading more data into the browser, and incorporating the use of sliders into the user interface, the intention is to create a kind of playground or sand box where the results are continually narrowed down until seeking inspiration leads to action, hopefully an intent to purchase.
TripAdvisor recently launched Trip Friends using the Social Graph from Facebook. This definitely uses a more social approach to search, as it relies partly on what Bob Offutt from PhoCusWright described to me previously as “the wisdom of crowds”.
If I start my travel search with a totally clean slate and then whittle down the options based on the experiences of my friends, then my inspiration is coming from trusted sources and I am much less reliant on marketing from suppliers or advice from less trusted sources.
I have put Kayak and TripAdvisor in different camps trying to answer the same question – where should I travel to next? But there may be a third option.
More similar to the TripAdvisor approach, but taking the wisdom of crowds one step further, it is the approach that retail sites such as Amazon have been using for years.
The cues to buy are coming not from people I personally know, but from people who the system has determined have similar tastes to me based on past purchase behaviour.
Or my search history on the site. Or any one of the increasing number of data points I have left behind in my history of online activity.
Adding this layer on top of some of the powerful computing platforms being built to support non destination driven search could be a very compelling combination. And if travel inspiration is anything like online retail, then a profitable combination also.
Using the Inspiration Footprint Matrix that was first introduced in a previous Tnooz post, I’ve plotted how the initiatives described above have potentially moved the location of TripAdvisor and Kayak insofar as it pertains to their role in travel inspiration.
When this matrix was first published there were a couple of good comments questioning the axis, amongst other things.
Based on this feedback I removed OTAs from the chart as this was way too broad, but I’ve stuck with the original axis.
Price may have merit as one of the axis as you could split inspiration websites offering high priced items versus those at the lower end, but often a trip comprises of a combination of higher priced items (the flight) with some lower priced items (transfers) so I’m not convinced this would hold up as travel search expands to cover a wider range of travel related needs.
I could write a lot more, but at this point a debate amongst readers would be much more interesting; not just on the Travel Inspiration Matrix, but also on the overall question of whether travel inspiration and new travel search are becoming almost synonymous – or are they totally different concepts that should remain separate.
Also, will the travel inspiration site of the future be more technology driven or social, and if the latter, then what will be the relative importance of friends versus strangers with similar tastes and habits when it comes to guiding purchase?
So many questions still to be answered before this topic is put to rest!
Martin Collings is a contributing Node to Tnooz and is currently employed as Vice President, Innovation Management & Commercialization at MasterCard Labs, based in Sydney. In this position he manages various mobile payments initiatives with his role covering the region of Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.
Prior to MasterCard, Martin Collings spent six years with Amadeus IT Group, based in both Madrid and Chicago in a variety of airline roles, most recently as head of airline e-commerce sales for the Americas.
During his time at Amadeus he also wrote the Shearwater Blog covering various topics of interest for airline selling via direct channels. The views of Martin Collings are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of MasterCard.