unhappy smiley
382 days ago
 

Social travel sites are screaming for attention – but industry and consumers are not really listening

For years we have watched as startup after startup has attempted to marry social media and travel into a profitable, or even just a revenue-generating business model.

But maybe it’s time that entrepreneurs look elsewhere for their startup glory.

PhoCusWright recently released an infographic showing how US travelers use social media and the data leads me to conclude that travel-specific social media just isn’t doing much to drive bottom line revenues for travel companies.

Take a look at the chart:

Before I jump into my analysis, let me clarify first of all that I am referring to social media where travel is the primary focus. These include social trip planning sites and social trip sharing sites.

I am not including travel communities like Travellerspoint and Bootsnall or travel blogs, since they are primarily content focused. In addition, based on the infographic you may question my conclusion that bottom line revenue is related to traffic from social media sites.

Since I don’t know the conversion rates of social media referrals versus direct traffic to a travel website, I cannot definitively conclude that the two are related.

If, however, we assume that the mean conversion rates apply to referral traffic, than I think it is reasonable to conclude that the revenue generated by the referral traffic would be proportional based on the overall traffic to the website.

Okay, so now that I have prefaced my argument with some assumptions and caveats, let’s continue.

How are travelers using social media?

According to the research, 22% of travellers who use social media are looking for deals in relation to travel compared to 65% who look for deals in general.

There is no clear indication what type of deals these travellers are looking for specifically, but I would speculate that they are air and hotel deals.

What is surprising though is that if this is true, it seems that users are either not finding deals or are not converting on those deals through the social networks.

Again, purely speculative on my part but given that only around 3.5% of referring traffic to travel websites is coming from social networks in general, it would seem reasonable to assume that these deals are not converting into significant traffic to travel websites.

While travelling, it appears that people are using social media to share their experiences with their friends and family on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

It is interesting to note that this behaviour seems to be more impulse driven, since the propensity to share is higher DURING travel than AFTER travel.

So, it’s fair to say that people like to use social media in order to share their experiences while travelling.

But the social networks that are included in the research are all established social networks and are not specific to travel. When I asked for more clarification on whether those surveyed were using travel specific social networks to share, the results were so small that they didn’t even register as a rounding error.

I repeat: not even a rounding error.

So even the largest travel specific social networks like Gogobot and WAYN combined are insignificant in terms of overall use around both searching and sharing when compared to the behemoths of social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Show me the traffic

Most of the social travel sites I can think of list their revenue models as affiliate links or booking links to travel websites. They provide a forum for users to interact, plan their trips together, and then send them off to a travel website to complete the booking.

In the process, the social network gets a commission for referring the sale. This sounds great, except that it doesn’t really seem to be happening.

Again, according to the report, about 3.5% of traffic to travel websites (both OTAs and hotels) comes from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

That means that the referred traffic from travel specific social networks are, as mentioned earlier, not even significant enough to be considered a rounding error.

But what about ad revenue? Surely these sites are driving PPC or some other ad campaigns to generate traffic and revenue for their partners?

They could be, but when I asked PhoCusWright about this, I was informed that the traffic includes all referred traffic from the social networks. This would indicate that regardless of how the social networks are driving the traffic to travel websites, the bottom line is that they are sending very little in the grand scheme of things.

Do we need travel specific social networks?

Given that social media in general generates so little traffic to travel websites, do we need dedicated social media sites for travel? I don’t think so.

I don’t see myself as particularly different from the average person, except of course that I have to try every new thing that I see. That said, if something has utility I tend to use it… if it does not, then I don’t. Simple.

When I look at the numbers that PhoCusWright has published with regards to how social media users interact with travel brands, I am pretty average.

In fact, in many cases, I use social media even less than than the average in most cases. From my analysis, travel social media sites try to solve problems that, for me, are not painful enough for me to commit to a new platform.

It has taken time and effort to build, curate, and cultivate my relationships on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These are platforms that provide daily utility and benefit.

To put that much effort into a platform that I might use once a year to plan a family vacation seems unreasonable, no matter how amazing my trip will be.

Some try to overcome this obvious drawback by integrating with existing social networks like Facebook or Twitter. But really, what’s the point? If the new platform is just going to publish my photos and share my updates on Facebook anyway, why would I bother using a separate service for that?

Oh and, dare I say, I enjoy the trip planning process. I have not found a single social trip planning tool that has reduced my trip planning pain.

Why? Because, for me, there is no pain.

Another popular travel social network theme is the sharing site. According to PhoCusWright, about 50% of users posted trip related updates via a mobile device.

This seems like a reasonable thing to do since most travellers no longer travel with their laptops. This is compared to 31% of users who update their social networks in general while on a trip.

Keep in mind, these are people who are updating friends and family on an existing or more established social network like Facebook or Twitter.

Where is the gold?

If you’re like me, then you are probably wondering why so many startups have popped up and continue to get funding to solve problems that a) don’t exist and b) are not revenue generating.

Where IS the social travel sweet spot?

If you take the PhoCusWright results at face value, it would appear that the gold is on the mobile sharing side since that seems to be the activity with the highest engagement with travelers.

The issue remains, however, whether there is enough gold to split between the behemoths of social media and some unknown startups.

Add on the extra complexity of having to market an app in the haystack that is the Apple iTunes or Google Play app stores and you can see that playing in the mobile social travel space becomes a complicated endeavour.

If you look a little deeper you may see that the lack of traffic to travel websites may be where the gold actually lies.

If someone can figure out how to drive significantly more traffic to travel websites from social networks, be it Facebook or a dedicated social travel site, then that traffic can be monetized more effectively. But building traffic on that scale is expensive and time consuming.

For now, and from my point of view, status updates, asking questions, posting photos, and sharing trip experiences are all activities that are covered well by the existing social network incumbents.

For a new travel social network to be successful, it’s going to have to provide something that is significantly different from the incumbents AND it is going to have to solve some real pain for travelers.

Being social should be a feature of a larger travel ecosystem rather than a business in and of itself. This is a wheel that does not need re-inventing.

What do you think? Am I just being pessimistic? And IS there a REAL opportunity for travel specific social media?

NB: Unhappy smiley and pot of gold images via Shutterstock.

 
 
Stephen Joyce

About the Writer :: Stephen Joyce

Stephen Joyce is a contributing Node to Tnooz and has been working as a travel and tourism technology consultant since 1995. Stephen is the CEO of Rezgo.com, a cloud based software as a service reservation and booking platform for tour and activity providers.

Stephen is the Past Board Chair of the OpenTravel Alliance.

Stephen is a graduate of Capilano University, is a certified commercial pilot, and holds a certificate in IT Management.

 

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  1. Marc Preston

    Just thought I would add in our mobile app that is very specific to this article. We have an amazing revenue model and believe that we will be the company that will prove these metrics wrong.

    We will be launching an app called HelloTel App http://www.HelloTelApp.com in just a few weeks.

    HelloTel is a mobile app that turns any hotel check-in into a rich social network. Create a profile automatically by connecting to Facebook or Linkedin. We will never publish your data back to any social network. Populate your profile with a simple touch and check-in to a hotel nearby. Scroll though a custom social feed of everyone else checked into your hotel, interact, post pictures, and even private message other guests instantly.

    Would love everyone’s thoughts?

    Thanks,

    Marc

     
    • Drew Meyers

      Do you believe a big percentage of hotel travelers actually want to interact with others at the hotel? Why not just go to the hotel bar instead?

       
      • Marc Preston

        Hi Drew,

        Thanks for your response. To answer your question, yes our pre-goto-market research is in favor of idea. Its funny that you mention the hotel bar. This idea came to me at last year’s CES in Las Vegas. I travel a lot and was actually sitting at one of the Caesars hotel bars when I started outlining the idea on a bar napkin. There were numerous other “suits” around me at the bar and staying at the same hotel. My thought was wouldn’t it be great if I could easily see what / why others were at that hotel and do a little business networking on the side during my down time. Additionally when I travel for business I usually have free time starting around 5pm after meetings are over and nothing to do until the morning’s meetings. Well… I guess sleep is in there somewhere.

        With the HelloTel App users can easily create a profile in one click and our algorithm will begin searching for hotels in their immediate area to check-in to. Once checked in they can interact with others and easily toggle the social feeds between “business” and “social”. For instance if you were at CES in Vegas and checked into your hotel on business, you might decide to just use the business social feed. In that screen you will only see content from other users, checked into your hotel or hotels around you, and be able to start networking in a niche social environment. Additionally business users will be able to add their occupation next to their name. That way if you are sitting at the hotel bar and want to pick the right person to network with, you can load up the app and sort through the business feed or search “Around Me” (these are users in your general vicinity) to find someone with similar business or personal interests.

        Now, lets just assume that we have a killer app that gets published to Google Play and the App Store in the next few weeks. What about the user base? This is where niche social networking apps fail all the time. They might have the best app out there but if nobody is using it, your active user base falls off to nil. This is where my past experience with the other companies I own comes into play. I also own a company called Social Media 180 that does custom Facebook promotions, contests, high level custom websites, and trackable ROI campaigns for Fortune 500s, celebrities, and movie studios. We have a ton of experience in creating relevant user bases for our clients via targeted Cost Per Install campaigns, PR, and social media. That being said, I can guarantee you that 30 – 45 days after launch we will have 300k+ demographically targeted users on the app and we will be able to hold the app in the Top 25 of both app stores for the duration of that campaign.

        With all those components working together, we think we have an app that is highly relevant to both the general vacationer and business traveler.

        Would love to hear your thoughts?

        Thanks,

        Marc

         
        • Drew Meyers

          Doesn’t seem like a pain point. Just a “nice to have”. Which, if it’s at critical mass and you can find people in every hotel, anywhere in the world, sure…it could work. But how do you get it to that level? Any ideas/plans on how to incentivize hotels to push this to their guests?

           
        • Marc Preston

          Critical mass is the holy grail of apps. With the proper marketing strategy and a decent budget you can tackle this topic with very successful results. Our marketing plan takes into account all the best practices we have implemented and created over the last 8 years for large Fortunes etc.

          Yes, we have a tried and true plan to take it to that level that has been vetted many times.

          Regarding the hotels, yes our solution to monetize is baked into the hotel side and not the forward facing HelloTel App user side. As it stands now, we have no plans on utilizing “ads” in the content feeds of our user base which will lead to a much happier user base.

          Would love to take this conversation to email so I can really go over some strategies that might help in your business endeavors. Is there a way to put an email address in these comments or a private message feature to this site?

          Thanks,

          Marc

           
        • Drew Meyers

          drew at horizonapp co

           
  2. Jayesh Pau

    currently travel companies are very active on social media platforms and travellers can easily connect with any company to get the best deals, read reviews and finalize travel plans, there are also other popular sites like Travbuddy, Tripatini, WAYN in travel social networking.

     
  3. Ramesh Raje

    Hey really nice info and good explanation. thanks for sharing

    Regards
    Ramesh
    http://www.indiatoursandholidays.com

     
  4. Nathan Easom

    The point that “sites like WAYN.com” (my employer) don’t drive much traffic to travel webites is redundant for two reasons.

    1) Social sites, like ours, are places where users hang out. For that reason, we are quite clear with our clients/partners that it is better for the brand to “join the conversation” rather than focus on driving users away to their website. We have multiple case studies that show that when a brand focuses on engaging the community, then ROI (and, yes, even bookings) will follow. Facebook has a similar recommendation (which is why they charge you more to drive traffic to an external site than to a Facebook Fan page). [However, as a further qualification, we have tons of case studies where an advertiser has wanted us to drive traffic to a 3rd party site and we have outperformed other 'traditional' travel publishers and even massive sites like Facebook].

    2) WAYN does not have an ‘open door’ policy like FB where any company and brand can create a profile and drive traffic. This is partly to reduce the amount of “noise” commercial partners have to fight against; partly, because of our business model. You won’t find lots of links going to external sites, except where we are working with a commercial partner/advertiser. So it’s not surprising that WAYN doesn’t appear here – because we are not actively trying to drive lots of users to 3rd party sites at this time.

    However, the article is interesting and makes a valid point which is that no-one has got it right yet. We recognize that and are constantly looking to improve the user experience.

    That said – and for the record – if “sites like WAYN” aren’t appearing to drive traffic to 3rd party sites then a) companies that work with us probably weren’t consulted in the survey and b) even if they were, the agreed strategy probably focuses on engagement within the community, rather than traffic driving.

    Happy to pick up the discussion offline if anyone wants to find out more from us directly.

     
  5. Douglas Quinby

    Quite an amazing post and discussion here. I would like to offer some clarification on the data in the infographic, as well as around some of comments:

    Traveler data: this is based on a survey of U.S. online travelers, in which we ask if the traveler has done something related to travel, such as post comments or viewed posts from friends or companies, on a social network, such as Facebook or Twitter. In this case, survey respondents will base their answers on their past behavior on a social network, which would most likely be one of the most widely used social networks.

    Traffic data: this is based on data from Experian Hitwise. We grouped social networking sites as well as hotel and OTA websites, and examined the traffic trends from the social category as a whole to hotel websites and OTAs as a whole. The objective of this was to measure the downstream impact of social networks as a distinct group. So we decided not to include TripAdvisor and similar traveler review and UGC sites, where the main intent and feature set is different from a social networking site, even though TripAdvisor, like so many travel sites, is becoming increasingly socialized.

    The reports referenced in the bottom of the infographic included a complete discussion of the methodology, and I’m happy to address any questions on the research and our methods.

    I hope this helps clear up some misconceptions!

    Douglas

     
    • Charlie Osmond

      Thanks Douglas,
      So in effect this post argues about traffic data from “social travel sites” but your research was about “social networking sites” specifically omitting social travel sites.

      I imagine some of the conclusions may hold, but this is a cautionary tale about statistics and infographics – a scourge upon the research industry.
      Charlie

       
      • Douglas Quinby

        Stephen and I did have some email exchanges about this prior to his post. Social travel networking sites were not specifically excluded, but they were immaterial at the time we conducted this research in 2012. In another effort, not specifically referenced in the infographic but included in one of the cited reports, we compiled a list of more than 130 websites including traveler review sites, trip planning and inspiration sites with strong social and sharing components. The overwhelming majority were startups, but we also included older sites. Yes – we included TripAdvisor here as well. Fewer than 20 sites had any statistically measurable traffic through our data partner (Experian Hitwise), and TripAdvisor and Virtual Tourist together accounted for well over 90%. In terms of both absolute numbers and on a traffic share perspective, visits to social travel networks and (and hence downstream traffic from them) were negligible.

        You make a very fair point about research “soundbites.” I wish we could include in each press release or quote to a reporter the in-depth methodology we publish with each report. What could we have done better here?

         
        • Charlie Osmond

          Nothing. Please don’t take my comments as a criticism of what you’ve done.

          To get research into people’s heads we need to put it into soundbites. This will always create interpretive challenges. I’m delighted (and impressed) you’ve joined the post-analysis debate. There’s nothing more that could have been done.
          Charlie

           
        • Stephen Joyce

          Stephen Joyce

          Thank you for the clarification Douglas and for commenting on the post. The infographic raised several questions for me as well, which is why we discussed some of the context before I wrote the post. Even then, much of the debate in the comments is based on opinions and interpretations of the information represented in the infographic. At the end of the day, the analysis is my own interpretation and, like anything, is open to scrutinity. I think the interest and conversations that the post has spurred has been illuminating. My purpose was to open the discussion… the rest I leave to the commenters. :-)

           
        • John Pope

          Considering the door has been opened, don’t mind if I do step inside to stoke the flames a little more.

          You asked Charlie: “What could we have done better here?”

          It just so happens that I have a few suggestions, Douglas, both in general about your research, and how it specifically relates to this article.

          1) Collect “Qualitative Data” in addition to “Quantitative Data” – i.e. what were the conversion rates of all traffic? Specifically between general social networking and travel related social networking, or else you’re really just comparing apples to oranges.

          2) Transparently provide all of the parameters and variables of everything measured, including sample sizes and its related margin of error, a listing of all sites measured to provide context – both on the Social side and Travel/OTA side.

          Without providing this “methodology” information, no reasonable or educated conclusions can be drawn – or more specifically, any conclusion could be drawn, depending on the preconceived perception of the audience member.

          Were there 10 sites measured on either side? Or 20, or 30, or 100? Because there are an awful lot of “socially” injected or characterized travel sites out there, these days (as well as OTAs) – and the number social sites is growing steadily. And what sites were they? As mentioned previously, “SOCIAL” is a characteristic of many websites these days, both in and out of travel.

          3) Collect data from both “Specific Social Travel Sites” individually, and then compare those results from “General Social Media Sites” to then ascertain whether travel specific context demonstrates a difference in the quality and quantity (as a ratio or percentage of downstream traffic, not total numbers) of traffic going to travel booking sites. That measurement would actually be the most important indicator of whether more travel-specific social networks or sites should be built, going forward. Which was the original gist of this specific article, after all.

          4) Do you think the fact that the survey for the study was completed sometime in 2012, will have any material impact, or takes into consideration that, after a further year of maturity, in a relatively young category (travel social sites) the numbers would say anything different?

          Gogobot, for example, is just two and one half years old now – surely 40% more time to mature at a young age will result in significant growth metrics, and could very well change the “immaterial findings” of the study a year or more, ago. No?

          And with respect to WAYN, it is really not an American centric site, as I have heard from on its VCs, firsthand, that much of is audience (~90%) is in Europe and South America, again, not very relevant to an American centric study.

          Also with respect to “general” social networking sites, do you not also think the numbers would change considering the fact that even the mainstream social sites have only really started on a path to be commercial lead-generation channels, not only for travel, but for all eCommerce categories? In 2012, it was even earlier of early days for the category, and had not nearly had the amount of time to mature like search, or other leading upstream digital categories. Again, to draw conclusions from an apple to oranges comparison seems futile, to me.

          I’m not saying that the study was worthless, however, it also has to be considered from the perspective of all the parameters I’ve just mentioned being measure, or else its findings are also immature.

          With the author of this article coming to such a demonstrative conclusion and hypothesis, it’s only fair that the study, which his opinions are based upon, be scrutinized with the utmost critically skeptical perspective.

          After all, there are plenty of people who might be persuaded, one way or another, by such a revered industry institution such as PhocusWright, and then disseminated via one of the leading industry media outlets. And perhaps persuaded falsely or incorrectly – accuracy matters when such high stakes are in question; especially when somebody’s dream and hard work are being considered and evaluated. The veracity of such research, and its subsequent conclusions, must be put in the proper perspective.

          To have these conclusions go unchallenged would not be doing any side, any justice.

          Sorry, no offense, Douglas, but I happen to have a pesky little habit of wanting to find truth, in all matters.

          Or, as the editor of this fine establishment would say, “I’m just a sucker for a good conspiracy theory.”

          Finally, what is your personal opinion on the substance of this debate: Should more travel-specific social networks be built? Is there, indeed, “a huge opportunity for travel companies” to take advantage of? And, why or why not?

          “Enquiring minds would like to know” your take on the issue.

          L’chaim.

           
  6. Matt Zito

    Stephen, nice analysis.

    I personally use LinkedIn #1 and Facebook #2 as my core social networks. I’ve tried a few trip planning aka social travel sites but did not find them useful for me personally. I do believe the younger generations 18-25 are highly active on the social travel sites. It’s just an extension of their heavy use on the major networks.

    I agree with Travis that there is a misconception in the travel industry regarding a social network and social sharing features. Social features especially sharing are being embedded into every industry. Social is the future of the Internet.

    I believe the social travel sites will make their money by selling their data not on bookings or transactions.

    You mention utility in your article. I am similar to you in how I use the web. If I don’t find a utility right away I abandon the website quickly.

    Is social a utility?
    I am not sure and I think this in lies the difference with how you and I use the web.

    My best friend posts 5 times a day on Facebook and uses Gogobot. For him it’s not about utility but about fun and sharing his life and experiences with others. The social travel sites provide that platform for my friend, Expedia doesn’t.

    The data from the Phocuswright study shows that only 3.5% of traffic comes from the social travel sites. This makes sense since my friend isn’t at these sites to book travel (a utility).

    I took a peak at Gogobot’s Compete.com ranking and saw that its monthly views have been seriously growing from January to last month. Comscore July data had Gogobot at 501,000 unique visitors in the USA more than AirBnB and Hipmonk.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/gogobot-travel-site-grows-fast-2013-8

     
    • David Urmann

      Hi Matt
      Interesting data from Compete.com regarding Gogobot’s traffic. Touristlink is seeing similar growth and similar traffic although the geographic distribution is different. Since travel is something we dont do every day I think one has to engage the traveler in a different way. At least the utility of the site needs to stand out in the users mind so he returns even if its just a few times a year. I believe for a social travel platform to be successful you have to pull the business community in and connect them in a relevant way to the traveler (Tripadvisor does this with hotels and Airbnb with its providers). These members of the community are the ones who have a continual presence and generate a lot of the activity. As a final thought its also how you measure success. Couchsurfing may not be generating a lot of bookings but it is certainly a success story thats social in travel.

       
  7. From Asia with Life

    Great thread indeed.

    Thanks everyone for very strong opinions, which makes the debate interesting. Clearly this shows there is something big happening in the online travel world. But what exactly? Time will tell.

    On that note here is a funny video on using social media as a guide: http://youtu.be/6E9bASFjmK8

    Enjoy!

     
  8. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    @ALL

    (desperately) looking for a conspiracy, some seem to think the cropping of the infographic was deliberate to mask a point.

    Sorry, folks, no Watergate – I (yes, blame SJ’s editor) cropped it simply for space.

    Anyway, for fear of triggering more 1,800-word comments on the subject, I’ve replaced the infograf with the original.

    Thanks.

     
    • John Pope

      Double 0,

      Apologies for the delay in responding to your pithy, yet biting remarks; I’ve been busy trying to sort out, once and for all, whether the Cubans or Sam “The Cigar” Giancana wacked JFK – but now I reckon there might also be a third case to make for connecting Nixon, and his “head plumber” G Gordon Liddy, mostly because of your seemingly innocuous, yet curiously suspicious Watergate reference. Nixon always had it in for the Kennedy’s.

      Your comment reeks of being more than coincidence, and comes across as very, very fishy to me, to just let it go willy-nilly.

      Do you happen to know something you’re not telling us about the Kennedy assassination? Where were you on November 22, 1963? Were you in Dallas? Were you on the grassy knoll? The School Book Depository? Would you like to finally come clean? Were you pretending to be a journalist then, too? I wonder…

      Also, with respect to your deviously subliminal Watergate remark, there’s now a thought stirring in my head that you might actually be related to G. Gordon Liddy, himself. It only makes sense, after all, you have the same haircut as Liddy – coincidence, again? I think not.

      Would you be willing to submit to a DNA test to confirm one way or another? Or will you just simply confess to being Liddy’s offspring? I mean, put a mustache on you, and you’d be able to use Liddy’s passport tomorrow.

      And just to remind the audience, it was you who actually did the dastardly deed of cropping the Infographic in question. That’s a pure Liddy tactical obfuscation maneuver, to the core. (Yes, Timothy, there is such a thing as “pure” Liddy, too – just in case you wanted to be incorrectly pedantic, again)

      The “simply for space” justification sounds way too convenient; what was the real reason you did it? Are you a corporate spy and covert agent for Google or Facebook? Which one of them gave you your “Double O” status? It’s becoming pretty obvious – to this audience member living in his parent’s basement – that you’re working “the long con” for one of them.

      It’s about time you came clean, Kevin – if that’s actually your real name. ;-) Your cover as a lowly travel industry digital media editor can’t last forever – you’re not fooling yours truly, anymore.

      And the fact that you cut your teeth as a cub reporter at Scotland Yard, only adds to the ever-mounting questions of who you actually are? That is genuine spook training, if I’ve ever seen it.

      Finally, and on a more serious note (as if it could be less serious), I love the ironic appropriateness of you using “Watergate” as an example of a “conspiracy” when, as we all know now, it did actually happen – the conspiracy proved to be true.

      More coincidence? A Freudian slip, perhaps?

      Only you, your subconscious Id and your maker knows the answer to that one…

      Any-woo, I’m glad you, Timothy and others in the audience enjoyed the thoroughness of my conviction(s); I do what I can to leave no stone unturned. You can call me “Captain Dialectain” – Commander of Truth and Righteousness – from now on.

      Or “Rabbit”, to your “Papa Doc”, if that’s easier and makes more sense. Your choice.

      Happy (belated) Labor Day, everybody! Don’t forget to smile today. :-D

      Now get back to work! There’s profits to be made!

      Back to 8 Mile, I go…

      Peace.

       
  9. John Pope

    Props to Travis, Charlie, BJ & Elisabeth – their insights were well-reasoned, credible and forward thinking.

    To echo one of Travis’ points, “social” is merely a characteristic or feature of any decent site today, let alone a travel specific site. Social must surely be woven into the fabric of all sites, if they plan to have a sustainable future.

    TripAdvisor (TA), the single most visited travel related website on the Internet is PURE SOCIAL, and is becoming more so, as time goes by – what could possibly be more social than sharing an opinion (review) about a place one’s visited to a larger community?

    In a travel/hospitality context, TripAdvisor has THE deepest and most relevant sentiment data of any other existing travel site. And sentiment about a place is the most valuable social signal or indicator of relevance to any given user. There should be no debate about that. It’s like saying a site is only “social” if it has a news feed or sharing widget integrated on every other website across the Internet – WRONG.

    As an example, Gogobot – who were obviously part of the social travel site cohort in question, forming the basis of this article’s argument – also looks to achieve similar objectives to TripAdvisor: first by understanding user sentiment about a place, then providing comparable utility to TA by making relevant recommendations to its audience, trying to facilitate the booking process in some way, and finally completing the loop by delivering a reciprocal opportunity to share an opinion, recommendation or review with the wider community – albeit with a different user experience and interface.

    The fact that Gogobot uses FB’s social graph data as another signal to deliver relevance to its audience is also no different than TA’s strategy. So, again, why isn’t TA part of the social travel site cohort used by the author and PCW?

    As an aside, Gogobot may not have the same level of traction as TripAdvisor yet, but let’s be honest, who among us here wouldn’t absolutely love to have Travis’ “lower” than TripAdvisor’s traffic problem? Relatively speaking, I also think it’s safe to say that Travis is likely THE authority on the topic in this particular quorum.

    In addition, the fact that Charlie, his app and brand are mentioned by social media and marketing guru Seth Godin in his recent book, “The Icarus Deception” – not to mention his experience as a professional analyst – is also enough of a credibility indicator to this less-than-humble observer.

    Equally, BJ’s and Elisabeth’s vision of an ideal future travel site, also rings true in my ears; it only makes sense that in order to maximise traction and attract a large global travel audience, a “one-stop shop” of travel – including a strong social component – is the best way forward. I’d bet the farm on it.

    Almost every industry-leading, or bench-marked digital media property thriving today has a very vibrant social element, or “community-based” DNA – The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, YouTube, TechCrunch (and nearly every popular technology news site), Amazon, and even this humble travel industry media outlet, ALL have very strong social or community-based foundations to them. Arguably, the “social” element is the ingredient that makes them all really engaging.

    And Charlie’s revelation about the omission in the article of PCW’s conclusion from the Infographic is also revealing, as to the veracity of the article’s arguments and conclusions. Not to mention the wisdom of including a compelling social component, for future brands and applications.

    Why would the top of the Infographic, including its title be cropped off, if not to obfuscate or fit the pre-determined conclusions of the author? It was, after all, important enough to the researchers at PCW to include at the top of the Infographic, next to the title, as follows:

    “Travellers’ heavy engagement with social indicated a huge opportunity… but so far it is largely untapped.”

    So, even though the numbers from social sites to other travel sites, as a percentage of total traffic, weren’t overwhelming at this point in time, the researchers at PCW did indeed conclude that there was plenty of upside or “a huge opportunity” for social travel to make inroads, in the future.

    An argument FOR SOCIAL couldn’t be clearer from PCW. Quite different to the author’s argument and conclusion: “Given that social media in general generates so little traffic to travel websites, do we need dedicated social media sites for travel? I don’t think so.”

    And, at the risk of continually beating a dead horse, if TripAdvisor, in fact, wasn’t considered a “travel social site” by PCW, then their criteria was definitely flawed. When you consider that the large majority of TripAdvisor’s down-stream traffic will go to other travel sites of some kind, it further waters down the article’s opinions and conclusions to the point of being less than credible, if not completely irrelevant.

    In order to substantiate the arguments and conclusions of social travel relevance in a truly dialectic method, you’d also have to measure the quality of traffic – i.e. the conversion rate – from travel specific social sites compared to general social sites, just as much as you consider the quantity of traffic, in the same way. And then you’d need to further measure that data – both quantity and quality – against other types of traffic sources – e.g. search, news, content/info, meta, etc.

    For instance, measuring numbers from Facebook, Twitter and other popular general social media sites would be as relevant as aggregating data from RottenTomatoes.com, or other general review sites, along with TripAdvisor to then reach a total metric from review sites – that would actually be an apples to apples comparison. Although the quantity of traffic to travel sites may be higher from other sources, what does the qualitative data say? And what is the context of the sample sites measured?

    Simply put, the Infographic proves nothing that has to do with the author’s main arguments, opinions or hypothesis.

    Clearly, the quality of audience or traffic referred to other travel related sites is going to be far more relevant or be a higher qualified lead – and most likely have higher conversion rates – from sites like Gogobot compared to other social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, because Gogobot has far more travel-specific context than the existing general social sites. CONTEXT IS KEY, and is why vertical-specific social sites – just like vertical-specific search engines – will have far more relevance, CONTRARY to the author’s assumption that conversion rates of social travel sites would be similar to that from general social media traffic.

    Because there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of upstream traffic to other travel brands from ALL social media sites to date, is merely an indicator of a lack of relevance or context coming from the most popular, dominant and mainstream social sites to travel eCommerce sites – NOT THAT “TRAVEL SPECIFIC SOCIAL SITES” AREN’T NECESSARY AND THAT MORE SHOULD NOT BE BUILT IN FUTURE, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT EFFECTIVE IN DELIVERING RELEVANT TRAFFIC. Just the opposite, in fact – the Infographic is more likely an indicator that MORE TRAVEL SPECIFIC SITES “SHOULD” BE CREATED. Again, CONTEXT is king.

    In summary, it is simply way too early in the game to decide for certain, one way or another, whether their is no need for ANY travel “specific” social sites – because it’s likely in future, MOST HIGH TRAFFIC WEBSITES WILL BE SOCIAL.

    The present lack of “social” traffic numbers to travel eCommerce sites is only an indicator that the travel social sites currently existing today, or in the recent past haven’t had enough time to mature, – although with the TripAdvisor example, you could argue it already has – and haven’t resonated to a sufficient degree to command regular engagement with a large mainstream audience, yet.

    That is all.

    Finally, in the rapidly evolving world of digital media and technology, just because something hasn’t happened on a grand scale in the past, certainly doesn’t mean it won’t happen, in future.

    That’s simply the undeniable nature of innovation in technology and digital media.

    ***P.S. Just to be clear, my primary motivation and conviction in refuting the author’s analysis and conclusions are because I don’t want the next young travel start-up or entrepreneur who intends to build something primarily social; then fails to build it, or pivots far away from it, because they take the sentiment of this pundit’s opinion to heart. Don’t make that mistake.

    The truth is, nobody knows what’s going to happen in future. NOBODY.

    Not me, not the author, not venture capitalists, and not any other wannabe with a “so-called” expert opinion. Create the vision that you have in your heart and mind’s eye. The seemingly stupidest idea is often called so because nobody has ever done it yet. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

    As Mark Twain wrote: “A person with a new idea is just a crank, until that idea succeeds.”

    Don’t ever be afraid of failure; failure is a characteristic of the creative and the strong and, most importantly, repeated failure is the best indicator of people who will be successful, in future. Because people who continually fail have the courage to repeatedly stand up with enough confidence, and oftentimes are the ones to make the impossible, possible. People who don’t fail, sit on the sidelines, and toss insults at, or condemn, those who choose to stand up and be heard, or be different – the followers, the ones who admire the status quo are the actual cowards.

    As Winston Churchill said: “Success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm.”

    And one last piece of advice, especially don’t listen to me, if you think I’m wrong, too. Because I’m definitely a crank, and I never know what I’m talking about; just ask the majority of people here, they’ll confirm it.

    Discover the future for yourself.

    It’s the only way to fly.

    And finally, in the voice of Steve Jobs, repeat after me:

    “Here’s to the crazy ones – the misfits – the rebels – the trouble-makers – the round-pegs-in-square-holes – the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.

    You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward.

    And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius; because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world… are the ones who do.”

    Believe that. ;-)

    Over, and out.

     
    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Mr Pope.

      I will call you out on that.

      Your statement:
      “TripAdvisor (TA), the single most visited travel related website on the Internet is PURE SOCIAL”

      Nothing is pure social – so sadly your statement is inaccurate by any measurement. Going back to Stephen’s premise in his original post he addresses that. This screed is misleading and off point.

      Please stick to the point and try and give an answer in – oh lets say 100 words or less.

      Cheers

      Timothy

       
      • John Pope

        Exactly my point,

        Thank you.

         
      • Kevin May

        Kevin May

        @TOD

        maybe that’s the “Holy Grail” of travel… discussion threads which never have more than 100 words per comment.

         
        • Charlie Osmond

          It certainly put a smile on my face this morning.

          A courageous rampage of a thread. Unrelenting cut and thrust. Heroes and villains. Marvellous.
          Charlie

           
        • BJ Sangwan

          Hey Kevin, naive question, but how does one upload a profile pic (step by step if possible) on this forum?

           
          • Kevin May

            Kevin May

            @BJ – we use Gravatar.com to automatically feed in profile images of those commenting. Register there an make sure you always use the email address associated with the registration and your pic will be use.

             
  10. Elisabeth Bertrand

    OK! I started in Travel in 1997 and Internet & Travel from 1999, I ‘ve seen every single fad come and go, I’ve seen really clever apps and great utilities but very few travel sites have that unique combination that makes a consumer excited to get booking their holiday.

    A great travel site has to have a bit of everything, social, transactional, great editorial and of course great products . No way you can make it anymore doing just one of the above. Consumers are spoiled all they want is from one side convenience, low prices and the other trust and guarantees. If the travel section of the The Guardian sold their own travel products at the lowest price guaranteed everybody would book there.
    The last travel site I built only caters for one destination but its depth of professional travel information written by journalists, a strong brand identity and great products produced by creative travel product managers that make it successful.
    .

     
  11. Charlie Osmond

    Hi Stephen,
    I have a general rule never to read too much into infographics created for PR purposes. I spent a decade running a research consultancy and I find that infographics tend to misrepresent the research methods and results upon which they claim to be based. One reason for this is they frequently pull in data from multiple sources and present them to the reader as if they were the output of a single uniform study against a consistent population.

    I did try to look at the specific research methodologies applied here, sadly they are not available on the PW website. Caveat emptor.

    That aside, I think their conclusion (which I think you cropped off the infographic) is correct: “Travellers’ heavy engagement with social indicated a huge opportunity .. but so far it is largely untapped”.

    It does not surprise me that an Instagram photo of a hotel, despite being shared, fails to convert. Nor that two hundred photos uploaded to Facebook without links to the travel agent, don’t convert.

    What might be the solution?
    - We know people love sharing travel content (it is shared to timeline more than any other content type).
    - And we know that user generated content, when in the form of reviews surrounded by calls to action (Tripadvisor) have a big impact on conversion.

    That’s why I think the solution lies in generating the ‘right kind’ of sharable content. Content that has the ability to drive purchase – review-like, yet sociable and always with a link to where that trip can be booked.

    Will it work? Give me a six months and I’ll let you know.

     
    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Charlie,

      I will challenge your proposition.

      Agreed people like to share travel content. Mostly in direct time (as we are all sharing stuff) and then perhaps curated (the dreaded slide show) afterwards.

      I join Stephen in thinking that there is no singularity of value that will see someone going to a platform other than what the consumers use in their daily lives ALREADY that makes such a new idea viable. I will grant that there is infinite possibilities but practical viable and sustainable? This is where I struggle to find a path.

      I will add another reason to the debate.

      Information overload aka saturation

      We are all assaulted with too much information (I should call it data because its not really in a usable form) largely unfettered. We have people moving off FB and G+ in mature markets because they are simply tired with it all. And there are more important things in life. So while there is long term residual value to FB et al the site has reached that point where the non-utility value drops off. Think 2nd Life, Zynga, Groupon etc. The reason RB works in my opinion is that it has utility value as a communications device. The dedicated platforms will not be able to replicate that.

      In my opinion so far no one has cracked it and I remain skeptical that anyone can crack it in a sustainable way. There are exceptions and possible paths but frankly the sustainability of the idea is the biggest obstacle. Unabashed enthusiasts will probably violently disagree but the rest of us – well while I would like to think I am an optimist – this one just doesn’t seem to have the legs it could have.

      I will grant that if we were speaking on this topic in about 2003 this would have much better chance of success. But I believe that the behemoths of social make the possibility of a dedicated or even partial solution platform unlikely.

      Stephen’s initial premise I think stands up under scrutiny.

      Cheers and thanks

      Timothy

       
    • BJ Sangwan

      Actually, Charlie makes a good point, in that the solution lies in the “right kind” of shareable content. ALL the social startups in this space have failed to offer that singular and most fundamental of commodities. They’ve largely offered a sharing platform in direct competition with FB et al and sprinkled some travel confetti on it. That’s hardly a recipe for success. Where’s the draw? Where’s the anchor?

      A social travel network cannot emulate FB, for FB is a pure-play social interaction network which has left no room for startups. What differentiates a travel social network from a social network (sans travel) is the informative quality – specifically travel information – which FB doesn’t have to offer. Thus the “right kind” of shareable content quotient: an anchor.

      And no, there is no information saturation or overload, just the opposite. There is the perception of overload, created by the myriad startups offering fragmented bits of this and assorted bits of that to cumulatively serve up a mishmash that is overwhelming and daunting. But there is no reliable, trustworthy repository of travel information that users can tap into. I mean, if I have Barcelona on my mind, it’s unlikely I’d be interested in Bill’s snaps of Madagascar or Bob’s “finds” in Nova Scotia, or even Joe’s one-sentence take on Barcelona. Thus the travel social network, in its current form, offers no guarantee of information or connection to anyone who’d share my interests and add to my knowledge. Bottom line: I’m outta there! Zero utility, zero value.

      About a year ago, Google bought Frommer’s, ostensibly for content value, but has since jettisoned it (at least that’s my understanding). That move was the wrong direction, back to front, which is what plagues the travel social network startups. Now, if Frommer’s, with its travel authority and anchor content, rather than putting itself up for acquisition, were to take the bull by the horns, compartmentalize, curate and optimize its huge trove of travel content for the Internet and open it up to users, integrate metasearch, implement an FB-style sharing platform, and possibly add some of the features of Matador to build community equity, you’d have a viable entity that could conceivably galvanize the entire travel community.

      So, essentially, the sum of all parts, a one-stop shop. How else would you succeed with travel social network other than in a grand, sweeping play?

       
  12. Dave

    I’ve yet to see any site truely integrate social with travel & make it useful. Aside from forums social remains isolated within respective spheres.

    More to the point of usefulness hotel reviews from socially linked networks add authority.

    Destination places less so – a mix of tour, independent, weather, time of year & preference makes this less tangible. Whereas a hotel review with social backing is by proxy easier to digest.

    Google search is getting painfully close to merging all. It’s focusing in g+ but if it merges FB, Twitter, instagram etc into everything then it will overcome a lot eg search Bangkok = 6 fb friends stayed here, visited this, talked about this. Tweeted this, took these photos, list of reviews & tips. That would merge social into something useful

     
    • Charlie Osmond

      Dave,
      I am glad you mention G+.

      I think Google+ Local is definitely one to watch in this space. NB the clever bit of G+ was that it never needed to become a ‘social network’ to bring authority and social content into everybody’s search in a powerful way.
      Charlie

       
  13. Alex Kremer

    Facebook displays a nice big dropdown of Maui hotels when I type “hotels in maui”.

    Also, to Google, “hotels near maui” and “hotels in maui” is the same unless you are searching with quotes. So at 66,000+ per month, that’s a bit more common, don’t you think?

    PS: That Google experience is pretty good, too. Photos, pricing, and reviews…

     
  14. Travis Katz

    I think you are wrong in on a couple points, Alex. First, the value in the Facebook API is that companies like Gogobot can be agnostic about whether your friends are sharing content on Facebook or directly on another service. At Gogobot, we actually integrate data from Facebook, Foursquare and combine this intelligently with reviews and photos shared by our own community. Its not a zero sum game. In a similar way, while you could argue that in the OTA space the “real value” lies in the “true data generators,” e.g. the GDSs, however we have seen the OTAs take this commodity data and build real value on top of it, as we have seen companies like Kayak build real value on top of ITAs API. Notably, in the latter case, while ITA had a nice exit at $700MM, Kayak, which built a brand and a service around ITAs data, sold for $1.8B.

    On your second point, the case you are describing is one that Facebook could theoretically build, but it is certainly not the reality today. As you know, doing travel right takes focus, and to date Facebook’s focus is not on travel. I would challenge you to use Facebook’s search to plan a trip to Maui (or even find a list of hotels in Maui on Facebook) to get a better sense of how far they need to go if they wanted to build a compelling experience there. Certainly if they decided it was a priority, they have the data and the engineering chops to become a formidable player over time. But we are a long way from that moment, and making inroads there would require both significant product advances, and, more significantly, changing users’ perception of what they should use Facebook for.

     
    • Alex Kremer

      I’d recommend you play with Graph Search some more. Try “hotels near maui, hawaii my friends visited” or even just “hotels near maui, hawaii”… http://imgur.com/SUwVbb9

       
      • Travis Katz

        Correct. The next question is how many people would actually type the phrase “Hotels near Maui,” as opposed to “hotels in Maui”? According to Google, the answer is approximately 10 people, worldwide, in the last month. Type a more natural query like “Hotels in Maui” or any other combination and you get a totally different experience. And if you do find a hotel, you will not find an experience that is focused around helping me to make a booking decision. It is the hotel’s timeline, populated mostly by whomever the hotel’s social media manager feels like posting – and little objective data about whether people like this place. I stick by my assertion that FB has a long way to go to becoming a useful tool for someone planning a trip (which I think was the point of the original infographic).

         
    • Drew Meyers

      “more significantly, changing users’ perception of what they should use Facebook for.”

      That’s the meat of this issue. There is no way people are going to put Facebook & Travel together in the same sentence anytime in the next 5+ years. I laugh when people tell me “the facebook of travel is facebook” (wrote about it a few months ago here – http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/2013/04/03/why-the-facebook-of-travel-is-not-facebook/)

       
  15. Fraser Campbell

    Stephen great analysis. I liked the distinctions between social and content sites. It is only recently that gogobot decided to start writing their own content, in the past they just borrowed it from the true content sites.

     
  16. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    I would disagree. The current crop has failed to show any traction. Any investor worth his salt will ask the same questions Stephen has. And be prepared for the answers however unsavory they might be.

    There is of course an old adage about a fool and his money.

    Cheers

    Timothy

     
  17. BJ Sangwan

    The fact that travel-specific social network startups continue to attract funding, suggests that there is confidence in the VC community that the travel network is a viable proposition. But so far those in the fray have failed to put all the pieces together, offering little more than, say, “thorntree” with a few more sharing tools or Facebook-lite with all the non travel stripped out of it.

    To succeed, a travel-specific social network would have to play out on a much grander scale, drawing from travel forums and communities across the web. And what ultimately brings all those users to the network is akin to a quest for the Holy Grail. Possibly destination-specific silos to enhance the exposure to any desired travel destination?

    At any rate, I do believe it’s only a matter of time…

     
  18. Travis Katz

    I think this article highlights some common misconceptions in the travel industry (PCW included) about what social media is and how users use it. There is a difference between a pure play “social network,” like Facebook, Twitter and WAYN, and a site that incorporates social features (like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Gogobot, YouTube and even Expedia).

    A social network is a platform whose primary purpose is communication and social interactions with others. Facebook and Twitter are the biggest examples of these, although newer companies like Instagram, Line and Path have made significant inroads.

    However the boundary of social does not stop there. Social features have crept into almost every corner of the web, and brands are increasingly experimenting with how to leverage these features. Facebook’s API has been a major driver of this change, unleashing social data and tools to help transform their experiences. The simplest use of these tools has to do with sharing. But there are more sophisticated use cases where we believe the value creation can be much higher. In the case of Gogobot, that use case is around personalization and social intelligence – harvesting social data and other signals to help us suggest hotels, restaurants and attractions we think you may be interested it. In your case, Stephen, I can highlight 24 hotels and 30 restaurants in New York where your friends have been, then show you reviews, photos and real time prices so you can make a decision whether or not you want to say there. That is not a “social” experience, is a personal one, aimed at saving you time and helping you make smarter decisions. Pandora does a similar thing to help you find music you might enjoy listening to.

    Many of the big players in travel understand this distinction. Expedia, in its most recent mobile app, introduced a cool itinerary feature to save your details and get updates. By default they ask you to sign in with Facebook. Its not because they are trying to be a “travel social network” – its because they are trying to build smarter, more personalized experiences.

    This is a trend being driven by consumers, not startups, who increasingly expect their services to know who they are and not waste their time with information that is not useful. As the industry gets smarter about the difference between building a social network and building social intelligence into their applications, I expect we will see more and smarter applications of social technologies in travel, not less.

     
    • Alex Kremer

      To Stephen’s point and as you realize, the issue is that consumers have and will share the data you talked about with Facebook, not social trip tools. In other words, the existing social behemoths are the true data generators — where the value lies.

      As for social applications: In your example about hotels my friends have visited, I can enter that exact query into Facebook’s graph search and get a list including reviews, photos, etc. These features are becoming ubiquitous, even on the non-travel-specific platforms. Is there a need for a ton of startups recycling the same social data everyone else has with different UIs? Probably not. People will revert to their ingrained choice of booking channel once they’ve made their decision, unless the experience is significantly greater and different than on one of the established brands.

      So far, just having social features hasn’t proven that tear-away effect for any startup. Not saying it’s not possible, but it’s darn hard.

       
      • Greg Solovyev

        I think what we are still waiting for is for someone to figure out how to use that social data to produce meaningful recommendations.

         
    • Greg Solovyev

      Travis, personalization through data harvesting is the holy grail – you guys at Gogobot are right about that. However, are you certain that social graph is the main source of data for personalization? I used to believe in that, but recently I doubt that quite a bit.

      If someone in my social network stayed in some hotel and didn’t say anything about how they liked it or just said something short like “nice and clean” or “great views, but noisy” – that’s unlikely to be the basis of my decision about booking that hotel. At the same time, when I read hotel reviews on TA and I see mentions of qualities that are important to me in the context of a specific trip – that’s the basis for my decision about booking a hotel. It’s more important to bubble up the relevant information, not just information from connected sources. The fact that my friends have been to some restaurants and hotels at the destination only matters if they shared opinions about qualities that matter to me in the context of the trip I am planning. You may extrapolate that people in my social network are more likely to care about the same things that I care about… I am skeptical about that now that everyone’s FB networks include plenty of random and irrelevant connections.

       
      • Travis Katz

        Good question, Greg. At Gogobot our belief has always been that social relevance is just one of several factors that are important to users in making a decision. Obviously for things like hotels, price is very important, but users are also influenced by location, amenities, photos and reviews and other factors. Social data compliments those other factors, it is not a substitute. And what we have seen is that it does increase conversions in a way that might surprise you. But don’t take my word for it. Go log in and take a look at a city you know like San Francisco – see whether the restaurants you see, for example, look like places you might actually go.

         
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Thanks for the response Travis. I understand that Gogobot is more of a review site, although when I had signed up and subsequently deleted my profile a while ago, it seemed to me to be more about giving and receiving recommendations to people in my Gogobot network. Is that not the case anymore?

      That said, you’ve obviously done a bang up job of building your community. But the point is that social media sites (Gogobot included) are not driving significant traffic to other travel websites. So what are your users doing to drive revenues for travel partners? Or does this even matter?

       
  19. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Stephen – as usual an insightful piece.

    I would say that ideation and inspiration are both very complex processes and more random than those who would have us think that all this “stuff” can be corralled into a single environment called “social travel”. I turned off WAYN after all those nice ladies from Brazil and Slovenia kept trying to become my new best friend. One or 2 OK but the numbers were a bit disconcerting and none of them seemed to be travellers.

    I travel a lot and I get inspiration at different times and in a vast array of different ways. A picture, a painting, a song, even a colour. Online AND Offline.

    There is the joy of serendipity and accidental discovery. Actually the joy of discovery is part of the wonderment of travel.

    So let’s not try to force things. There is a natural way and that would seem to defy these attempts at building a “social travel” platform. And if I hear one more person tell me how they have solved this problem in a perfect way because they and (insert significant other) uniquely discovered the secret to life – I think I will scream…

    Thanks

    Timothy

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Thanks Timonthy. I couldn’t agree more with your point…

      “I travel a lot and I get inspiration at different times and in a vast array of different ways. A picture, a painting, a song, even a colour. Online AND Offline.”

      In the pre-Internet days, it was cuttings from magazines or scenes from movies that inspired me. James Bond movies were my biggest influence growing up. Again, however, depending on my persona at the time, my trip planning requirements and motivations will be different. These are things that can’t be forced or contrived.

       
  20. Heidi Brown

    My friends and I all agree that travel specific social sites would be more appealing if we were able to travel more frequently. Working in the US we are lucky to take off a scant few weeks per year which means learning a new platform just isn’t worth it when we are all on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram anyway. My favorite part of your article Stephen was your admission to loving travel planning. Me too! Unlike you I had a major pain point and that was when the price of my flight increased during the planning phase. I finally created my own solution that allows me to lock in the price of my flight for days or even weeks. Now I can really enjoy the research and planning stage, knowing that if I do decide to go I have a great flight held. Once I do buy an option on a flight I feel like I have something really worthy to share on my social sites.This start-up has been a tech-heavy adventure, but we are now launched and getting great response. Check out Options Away and let me know what you think.

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      I would agree that the fluctuating (and seemingly random) price changes for airline tickets can be a pain point when planning a trip. It’s a bit of a sport sometimes trying to figure out when the best time to purchase will be. :-)

       
  21. Billy Cripe

    Spot on article and analysis Stephen!
    Your findings prove out analysis I did in 2011 on the State of Social in the Cruise Industry. Most people are engaging and sharing during their trip and ramping up to an trip with aspiration themed posts on established social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

    My advice to the travel industries is to tap into engagement there rather than trying to redirect/reengineer the buying behavior. My full report is here (PDF) and it’s free. There are also Social Infographics for the Cruise Industry on the sidebar of my website (above)
    http://billycripe.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/wishyouwerehere_bloomthink_whitepaper_oct2011_final.pdf

     
  22. Bill Almonte

    Stephen, excellent post. It amazes me as well that dozens of these new travel start-ups continue to receive millions of dollars in VC funding. Many, if not most, of these solutions do not solve any real trip planning problem and the vast majority of them base their business model and financial dreams on obtaining affiliate clicks and revenue. As you mention, this concept sounds great in theory, except these start-ups never reach the traffic necessary for this to be a sustainable business model – most pivot or wither away and die a slow death shortly thereafter.

    I completely agree with your comments “For now, and from my point of view, status updates, asking questions, posting photos, and sharing trip experiences are all activities that are covered well by the existing social network incumbents.”

    However, I do believe there absolutely is a need for a travel/activity specific social network. I believe that people are starting to get bored of the generalized social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. I know I am. If I have to spend another day wishing five friends happy birthday, reviewing 20 “funny” postcards or reviewing a log of every single food item and workout rep a friend does for the day – I’m not sure what I will do.

    There are many niche web and mobile social networks/marketplaces getting good traction and revenue in other industries or verticals including jobs, kids, real estate, photography, cooking, dating, investing and many others. Millions of people around the world love to travel so it seems to reason that a travel specific social network would be of use to people.

    The main reason you have not seen any successful travel social networks (other than TripAdvisor) is because no one has done it correctly yet with the right business model and the right set of features/benefits for both travelers and the businesses that service them.

    For a travel specific social network to be successful for the long term it must accomplish two very important things. You touched on some of this in your post above.

    1) Provide daily, weekly or at least monthly utility and benefit to the end user. This can only be done by combining local activities, deals, events, photo sharing, journal posts etc. with the more in-frequent travel planning options. In other words, the “travel specific social network” can’t be one at all. It must provide other related benefits to the user that they can utilize on a more frequent basis.

    2) Secondly, and most important, the business model MUST NOT solely be based on directing users to affiliate booking links or generating advertising revenue. The revenue must come from the travel and hospitality companies on the B2B side. In other words, the social network should be able to sustain itself without any revenue generated from affiliate links, bookings, traveler leads, advertising etc. The social network must provide some benefit to businesses and industry professionals that they are willing to pay for on a reoccurring basis.

    Stephen, I see that you signed up for private beta access at http://www.tripflock.com a while back. Sorry for the delay. We will be opening up access to more users shortly and I will be sure to activate your account.

    At TripFlock, we have be working diligently on a travel platform that tackles many of the issues you mentioned above.

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      1. I don’t see how a travel related anything can provide that kind of utility. For general consumers, unless you are frequent traveler, there is just no recurring utility in a travel specific tool of any kind. I’m not sure you can expect that much commitment for general consumers.

      2. I agree the revenue model needs to be diverse, but are you talking about ads, sponsorship, content? At the end of the day what are these companies paying for? Bookings? Traffic to their sites? It’s pretty clear that there is a disconnect between in terms of perceived and actual value for travel websites.

       
  23. Julian Green

    Absolutely right that no travel specific social site has broken through yet. Absolutely wrong that travelers don’t have a pain point and aren’t interested in social solutions that work for travel. Travel industry professionals turn out to be bad proxies for consumers. The only question is whether a startup will provide it, or whether travelers will get it from more travel-friendly social experiences on established players including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Google, or even TripAdvisor.
    To declare my interest, Jetpac provides travel recommendations and inspiration based on analysis of massive amounts of shared social data of who goes where, and your friends’ photos.

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Not sure I agree that travel industry professionals are bad proxies for consumers. We ARE consumers. In my real-life community I am probably the person that travels the most and as a result my family also travels more than most. These are people that take one or maybe two trips a year to places like Mexico or Hawaii. I would be surprised if anyone knew about Gogobot or WAYN, but I can guarantee you that most of them are on Facebook and know how to do a Google search. If anything, travel professionals are the early adopters, the beta testers, the Guinea pigs. If you can’t get a frequent traveler to use your tool what luck do you have with a general consumer?

       
  24. Nadav Gur

    The problem with “social travel” is that this is the basic thesis:

    => I need to go somewhere and I need information on where to stay, what to do etc.
    => My friends probably know it – that’s the axiom
    => I’ll use the social travel site to see if my friends already posted it. If they didn’t – I’ll use it to ask them
    => I’ll get the info and plan my trip!

    The problems are:

    1. There is just too much information in the travel domain for even all of my friends and friends’ friends in aggregate to know. They may know all of the restaurants in the town where we live, but in aggregate they don’t know even 10% of the hotels in Hawaii, London or Antalya, let alone the activities, attractions etc.

    2. Even what they do know – they probably still haven’t posted on social site X. And assuming I’m willing to ask and wait for answers (not likely) – I’ll get them quicker on Facebook than on a specialized site – cause more of my friends are there to listen and respond.

    3. If you start looking at friends of friends of friends – well that’s directly equivalent to total strangers (six degrees from Kevin Bacon anyone?). So I’ll just read it on TripAdvisor.

    ..and re in-trip / post-trip – most of that is about bragging rights. And if you’re gonna brag, you might as well do it where there’s many people you know who’ll see it. That’s Facebook / Pinterest again

    I have to say the people who have the real use-case in my mind are WAYN… cause in their case it’s not really about my current friends but rather the friends I want to have while traveling… friends with benefits…

    Having said that – the actual social players – Facebook mostly, in my mind – have a huge monetization opportunity in harvesting all that banter, organizing it around places, and using it to generate answers and leads. Facebook Open Graph Search combined with Facebook Places is a powerful vehicle to deliver this.

     
    • Greg Solovyev

      Spot on! The whole thesis of social networks focused on travel breaks down because none of the premises survive the reality check. Point #3 especially resonates with me when I think of my experience with Gogobot.
      “Social” travel recommendations just add noise to an already overwhelming space of information that one has to sort through. For all the content farms out there – the problem isn’t lack of content, but finding relevant and high quality content in the information sewer we call “the internet”.

       
      • Stephen Joyce

        Stephen Joyce

        Since all my friends are on Facebook already, wouldn’t I just ask the question in an update? Something like… “Hey I’m going to Sydney in a week. Any recommendations for things to do or good restaurants?” I’m pretty sure I’d get a lot of responses. If I didn’t, then I’d hit Google.

         
        • Drew Meyers

          I think the industry often forgets that the average person doesn’t have a network broad enough, or well traveled enough, to give them great advice about a given city/country by posting it on their own FB/Twitter.

          Eventually, and I have no idea when, I believe FB is going to get crushed under its own weight. They are known for one thing. Socializing with friends. That’s it. They aren’t “good” at any other use case, and travel advice is just lumped into the numerous things people use FB for. People using FB to ask “what should I do in city X” – a post that is likely relevant to less than 10% of a given users network who see it (depending on the city)….is just more noise that others are forced to tune out on their social network feeds. It wastes the time of many, in the hope that a few people see it who can actually help w/ advice. But there is currently no better way to reach X% of your friends…so people will keep doing it.

           
      • BJ Sangwan

        I agree that the problem is finding “relevant and high quality content.” There’s something to be said about those traditional travel guidebooks from some of the quality-minded publishers of yesteryear – field-researched, tested, thematic, structured… We’ve almost come full circle after all the aggregators, scrapers, user-content generators et al have taken their swipes, serving up fragmented bits but never the sum of all parts. Lonely Planet, anyone?

         
  25. Bob Dana

    The Facebook of travel is Facebook. The Pinterest of travel is Pinterest. If users want to share photos, links and text snippets, whether relating to kittens or a tour of the Roman Colosseum, existing social networks (including email) do a great job.

    There is no need for a new travel-specific network, but start-ups keep trying because they learn in Value Creation 101 that networks are valuable, and because it’s cheap to collect user-generated content and build a sharing tool — it’s a good fit with the Lean Startup model.

    However, there IS a real, large and growing need for better travel-related content and meta-content. More and more people need to plan travel with people they don’t live with, or at times of the day they are not together.

    Tripit succeeded because they allow users to create completed itineraries (POST-booking) and share them over existing networks. They create content, meta-rich itineraries, that users cannot make in email clients or in Facebook, but which can easily be shared via email, FB, etc. That’s value-add, to the tune of about $85 million plus the earn-out.

    At Tripshare, our sole mission is to help users create PRE-booking travel itineraries that are real (dates, prices, availability), update-able, meta-rich, cloud accessible, and actionable. And of course shareable via existing networks. Turns out it’s a really, really hard technology problem. It’s not well suited to the Lean Start-up model, but thankfully our investors are patient and share our vision.

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Doesn’t sound like your app is a social travel sharing site perse even though your name eludes to it. Sounds like it is a way for groups to create itineraries and share them with others for the purposes of planning a trip. More of a trip planning tool but with social elements?

       
  26. P. Jason King

    On a personal note Social Media has encompansed so much of our lives today, it is probably only being beat out by Texting, I offered many in the soical media game the $solution they needed, it was (and still available) a Ratings Patent with a proven track record in Advertising & Publishing. The Patent was developed (by me and my team) to ensure ongong audience participation all day long. At that time our audience designated was tthe Travel Industry & the Consumer. I know the reaon it was not sold was I did not have the “Right” decision maker at hand. WIth Billions being spent by the major players, it seems ridiculous to think most can still not see the forest for the trees.

     
  27. Jonathan Meiri

    @stephen great piece. I completely agree that social planning sites, while providing a valuable planning tool, have not lived up to the hype from a financial perspective. Many users can spend hours looking through pictures on Gogobot but then go to Kayak when they’ve made up their mind on where they want to go.

    Social travel sites simply never managed to implant themselves within the two step value chains that starts with paid advertising and ends with an OTA*. Almost all the online travel can be summed up with OTA arbitraging web traffic. Some players are more sophisticated than others but not much innovation throughout.

    That being said I don’t think that the game has been fully played out. Start ups that focus on leveraging data and social to reduce cost of acquisition (or reducing the cot of engagement), or identifying and acquiring unique inventory can materially chance the economics in this space.

    Superfly get 50% of our indirect traffic from our frequent flyer communities (social), furthermore access to user history (data) reduces the high cost of engagement.

    Social has not had the quick impact in the travel industry simply because Travel itself is not such a social endeavor. I’d expect both social and data to materially change the experience and the economics in this space in the near future and I’d encourage startups to keep pushing in this direction.

    * TripAdvisor with over 20M+ incoming links is the one exception

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      And TripAdvisor didn’t even factor into this data because they are considered a review site and not a social travel site.

      But to your point about travel not being social endeavor. I think you right in that it is inherently hard to be social because we all tend to have different personas when we travel. When I plan a business trip, my motivations are very different then when I plan a leisure trip with my family or even just with my wife. Unless you know what persona I am wearing at any given time during my search, the context of search will be unknown.

       
      • Jim

        “And TripAdvisor didn’t even factor into this data because they are considered a review site and not a social travel site”

        This of course being the GLARING invisible elephant in the room, as TripAdvisor got into the social network space VERY early on with their Cities I’ve Visited Facebook app, which, though more successful, was admittedly a copy of Where I’ve Been who they subsequently acquired. Early on they had also tried to create their own social network around travel (i.e., WAYN model) but then discovered it was much more effective to tap into an existing social network, which by that time meant Facebook, and thus they launched their deep integration with Facebook they called Trip Friends.

        In my opinion the key to leveraging social forces for travel is to tap into existing behaviors using technology to streamline the trip planning process thereby making it far more efficient. For travel, family and friends have always been at the top of influential forces in deciding upon a destination, but the process historically has been cumbersome and haphazard (i.e., I’m thinking of taking a trip to Europe, I wonder if any of my friends have been there? What would they recommend and how can I quickly find out?).

        The brilliance behind the Cities I’ve Visited and Where I’ve Been Facebook apps was that they took an existing behavior – people pinning locations they’ve visited to a map – and exploded it by by plugging it into the virality of the social graph. All of a sudden millions of consumers were openly publishing their entire travel histories to these apps – scale had been accomplished.

        The next challenge was pulling that information into a useful trip planning experience (yes Stephen – your comment about Utility being critical is dead on) by making it seamless for users to find out where their friends had been WITHOUT having to reach out and ask them. That is effectively what TripAdvisor did with their Trip Friends feature, and along the way TripAdvisor has learned there is an added benefit which is that these Facebook-connected users contribute twice as much content as non-connected users – as highlighted in this case study on Facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/showcase/tripadvisor/

        The daunting task for social travel startups is how do now do you now differentiate sufficiently to reach scale when TripAdvisor has effectively taken the wind out the sails behind the core value proposition?

        (Stephen – kudos for creating what is becoming an anthology on this topic)

         
 
 

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