A genuine new frontier in travel – is the drive market poised to take off?

NB: This is a viewpoint from Jim Kovarik, president and co-founder of C2G, the company behind Cost2Drive, and former-general manager of AOL Travel.

Cars, cars everywhere. We go to work in them, visit family in them, act as taxi services for our kids in them.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of travel in the US is by car. However, since online reservation systems catapulted air travel to the front ranks of the travel industry, the car travel segment has played second fiddle.

This may be changing as new funding enters the sector and as newly published research highlights the enormous potential of the drive market.

Just earlier this month, RoadTrippers, a hot Cincinnati-based travel startup that helps people plan road trips, announced a $2.5 million venture funding round on top of its $625,000 seed funding.

The company also revealed eye-popping traffic data, along with claims it is now the fastest growing travel planning site in the US.

The news comes hot on the heels of a new research report on the drive market published by PhoCusWright entitled Staying Local, A Study of the US Road Traveler.

According to the report, nearly one quarter of all adults in the US (24%) took a road trip involving paid lodging in the past 12 months.

There are some compelling reasons why travel providers may want to start paying close attention to this segment:



  • The PhoCusWright study mentioned above revealed that spontaneous bookers account for one in five road travelers, and that 21% of these individuals shop for hotels on their smartphones, more than the 18% who rely on billboards or road signs.

Social media

  • A significant number of road travelers are passionate about driving. This passion can be tapped to trigger viral distribution in social media, an area in which RoadTrippers has been particularly effective.

New direction?

Given the reasons stated above it is surprising that, with the exception of AAA in North America and ViaMichelin in Europe, few travel sites are focused on serving the needs of this large audience.

This white space opportunity has not escaped the notice of major online mapping services, such as MapQuest and Google Maps, both of whom have introduced new travel features on their maps in 2013.

Other entrants, such as C2G and RoadTrippers, have emerged to fill the void, establishing an early foothold in the industry.

At C2G, we built the Galculator in 2008 to help people budget road trip costs – a concern due to high gas prices – and have since added more trip-planning features like airfare and top hotels, restaurants and attractions.

This approach has enabled us to double traffic for two consecutive years as now over 100,000 trips per month are planned on Cost2Drive.

RoadTrippers has taken a different approach. Its application helps travelers discover roadside attractions and independent hotels along a route, and in general is focused very much on tourism.

This company has experienced explosive growth in the past three months, growing from 200,000 unique visitors per month to over 750,000.

It may therefore be that the drive market is finally ready to take flight.

Is it a segment in the wider travel ecosystem that can seriously challenge the dominance of airlines? Perhaps the European marketplace (shorter distances, after all) will grow quicker than its North American counterpart?

NB: This is a viewpoint from Jim Kovarik, president and co-founder of C2G, the company behind Cost2Drive, and former-general manager of AOL Travel.

NB2: Road trip image via Shutterstock.

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A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. a.p.

    Here is complete mochup: http://i.imgur.com/HLlqPzy.png

  2. a.p.

    Here Is how much looks like an planning web startup: http://i.imgur.com/q7DN83b.png, we soon will show beta version.

    If you have some ideas please say now to start implement into our product.

  3. a.p.

    Planning is a big and complex activity so we will soon show a simple answer: http://i.imgur.com/hxRCQ9q.png

    Drag drop with easiest UI ever. Comming in september 2013.

  4. Bob Doak

    In 1982 the Hotel Coupon industry was born in Gainesville Florida. The transient traveler (corporate or leisure) who finds our guides for the first time or finds us every time they hit the road, still enjoy that tactile event of shopping for rooms along the way. Our online site and mobile apps (HotelCoupons.com) have seen tremendous growth in the last couple of years and we continually invest to improve the user experience. Being a subscription based business model helps us drive traffic to hotel websites for commission-free referrals.
    Nailing down the transient traveler is akin to nailing jello to the wall. There are so many variables in that demographic that it hardly can hardly be defined as a niche – but we have been there and we see a strong future ahead.

    • Jim

      Good callout Bob, as HotelCoupons.com has certainly been in this space for years, and anyone that’s ever stopped in a roadside restaurant or rest stop will certainly be familiar with the coupon booklets (popularly known as the ‘Green Guide’ right?).

      I was recently trying out your iPhone app and you’ve done a nice job with it. A lot of the focus in the last-minute booking space has been on HotelsTonight, but their model doesn’t really support the road traveler who will likely overnight far from a major metropolitan area. And your subscription-based model certainly sounds more hotel-friendly than the commission model (hoteliers feel free to chime in here).

  5. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Oh boy… here we go again. Take 9. I have to be skeptical. Its just been tried many times before and failed. The logic is inescapable… the practical need and desire is lacking

    Best of luck though.


    • Jim

      Hi Tim – your skepticism is well-founded, as there certainly have been plenty of failed attempts to tackle this market in the past. Having worked at AOL I saw first hand how MapQuest attempted to build a product for this audience years ago, only to eventually shutter it due to low user adoption.

      I would argue, as has James at RoadTrippers, that the challenges in the past attempts have been largely tied to overly complex UI and confusing user flows, when the majority of users really just want simplicity and speed. I’d argue that the UX is the key to cracking this audience and that the approach RoadTrippers and Cost2Drive have taken has focused primarily on delighting the user through a simple and intuitive UI, which appears to resonate with our users as many attach the word “love” to our applications.

      Just a quick update on some metrics since I wrote the post a week or so ago. It now appears RoadTrippers is well on their way to 1.5MM UVs/month. I’ll let James chime in on the numbers, but they’ve done an absolutely masterful job leveraging social media to tap into the passion behind this audience. And at the end of the day – who doesn’t love taking a road trip?

      • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

        I would argue that the market is just different and that applying airline led processes has been a big part of the problem. The inventory of hotels is also the other part. “Roadside” as a category has not actually been a possible option. Thus airport centric solutions just dont work. The total UX has to be considered and that includes the type of trips that people take. But the elephant in the room for the USA is AAA.

        Oh yes and I love road trips (just done 2 this year).



        • Jim

          “Oh yes and I love road trips (just done 2 this year).”

          thanks for fessing up 😉

          oh, and I agree AAA is the elephant…

  6. Marty Bauer

    Excellent point of view.

    Like you said: 15 years ago people booked plane tickets by calling into a call center or looking up itinerary in a catalog
    Today everyone flocks to Hipmonk, Priceline, Kayak, Booking.com etc etc etc.

    The same shift is happening with all other modes of transportation. With road travel being the backbone of our economy on multiple levels, the disruption of car transportation is just getting started.


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