Can we get to the Holy Grail of travel?

NB: This is a viewpoint from Drew Meyers, co-founder of Oh Hey World.

There has been a lot of money thrown at the online travel industry over the years, often coming with a label that talks about making the travel experience better.

Yet no one has reached that holy grail of travel. Not even close.

When you look at the top travel sites by traffic, there is TripAdvisor — and a bunch of hotel and airline booking sites (top US sites for June).

But even TripAdvisor moved into the hotel search game, since that’s where all the money in the industry is made. It’s my belief the fact that the top sites are all booking sites is not going to stay that way forever.

There has to be a reason travel startups continue to get funded. It’s because there is a multi-billion dollar opportunity sitting out there for someone. Someone will figure out a way to bring the entire travel experience together in a way no has even imagined yet.

That brand will have the opportunity to be the authoritative brand people think of when they hear the word “travel”.

Right now, Expedia is the closest thing – but all they really do is help you book a flight. The rest of the travel experience is a fragmented mess. The experience every single traveler on the entire planet wants is pretty simple, at least in my mind.

They want a BEST FRIEND with great local knowledge of the city they are visiting.

What does a best friend provide?

  • A friendly face to greet you at the airport.
  • A ride from the airport.
  • Free accommodation.
  • Answers to your questions within seconds. No need for TripAdvisor, as they already know fun things to do/see.
  • Someone to explore the city with.
  • An “in” to experiences with other interesting people in the city – usually their friends. It should go without saying that you’re likely to get along pretty well with your best friends’ friends.
  • Access to a car.
  • Great conversation.

How do you put that entire experience into the palm of your hand, in any city in the world? Whoever does that, is going to be the one that conquers the travel vertical.

Of course, that’s where the rubber meets the road. There are thousands of destinations all over the globe, each with different languages, cultures, prices, activities, and ways of doing business.

Each destination needs a community, and localized content covering a wide variety of price ranges and interests.

What’s needed is massive, massive scale in terms of both users and content.

Any takers?

NB: This is a viewpoint from Drew Meyers, co-founder of Oh Hey World.

NB2: Holy grail image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

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. Salil Deshpande

    This is quite like the Blind Men and the Elephant, but quite an interesting discussion nevertheless.
    Do I want a ‘best friend’ in every new city I arrive in? Hell, NO!
    Do I want a ‘personalised’ experience everywhere I go? Not always.
    There are so many people travelling for so many reasons with so many expectations, it’s tough (silly) to generalise.

    I’d guess the only thing common to all travels is simplicity. Whether it’s booking tickets and hotels, or getting past security and immigration, or getting inside a museum, most travellers seek simplicity. Not ease, not convenience, just simplicity. Again, that may not be true for all, but that’s what people ask of most journeys.

    One last bit: people from the travel industry seem to romanticise the travel planning process a LOT! The avg traveller really doesn’t care much for personalisation/localisation or other such -isations.

  2. Michael Kaye

    I actually have Drew’s Holy Grail when I travel. Free accomodations and transportation. Wonderful i. knowledgeable friends who show me and introduce me around. What makes it possible for me to travel like this is that my friends are tour operators, as am I.

    The only problem I see is that if everybody was able to travel like this, me and my friends would be looking for work.

  3. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    Damn. I was hoping my comment earlier would get the discussion back on track. Heyho.

    Back to the wit and the music then.

    • John Pope

      Digital Media Rule #1 – The Web is a conversation.

      Digital Media Rule #37 – It’s the inmates who actually run the asylum.

      Digital Media Rule #194 – Ask not what your audience can do for you, ask what you can do for your audience.

      Digital Media Rule #216 – If you must choose between righteousness and peace; always, always, always refer to Digital Media Rules #1, #16 & #37.

      Digital Media Rule #319 – Grow thick skin, cause it’s a jungle out there.

      • Kevin May

        Kevin May

        @john – you missed one:

        Digital Media Rule #007 – Everyone and every platform needs an editor.

        • John Pope

          Rats, foiled again!

          You’ve out-smarted me, with your use of the “Double 0” card. These Double O’s must be an exclusive set of rules for your eyes only as I, myself, was unaware of them, previously – I’ve only ever seen the original 369 – you must surely be blessed with a golden eye, indeed. No doubt, to match your gold finger.

          Nevertheless, well played, Mr. Bond; we’ve been expecting you to share something witty with all of the intellectually-stifled readers (me) of travel serfdom for some time, rather than trite and always predictable Dr. No. In future, I’ll have to remember to simply succumb to your superior wit and devilish charms. Clearly, my Ernst Stavro Blofeld routine is no match for your literary license to kill.

          And, my humblest thank you for the digital media tip you disclosed, that’s obviously where I’ve gone wrong all these years; I’ve yet to acquire my own editor. It is, however, now on my personal “To Do” list – right after returning from an assignment with Her Majesty’s secret service.

          That’s right; QEII wants me to travel from Russia with (my) love, to learn all the newest Soviet travel technology secrets from fellow travel spooks at The Kremlin’s top-secret OTA division. How can I refuse? After all, you only live twice when Queen and country are concerned – BQ and AQ (before & after Queen).

          Due to this exciting new assignment, I figure I might as well play the part of secret agent, make the most of our journey and return home via Monte Carlo; I hear there’s a wonderful casino royale there. And if I’m lucky at the roulette wheel, perhaps my love will treat me like the man with the golden gun – in return, I’ll be able to lavish her with jewels and win her heart for all time – one can only hope that diamonds are forever.

          I can only speculate, and wonder if Putin is also on a quest to discover the Holy Grail of travel, and eventually make Ostrovok the new Expedia, and dominate the travel commerce world… Perhaps the Cold War is warming up, again, this time in pursuit of travel’s enigmatic chalice?

          If Putin is, in fact, on this divine quest, I hope I won’t be in too much danger, I’d much rather die another day, in the very distant future. However, if I am able to infiltrate the NSB’s ranks, hopefully it will be through the spy who loved me once long ago during a previous Baltic adventure, and I’m able to stay out of harms way – I’m a lover not a fighter, after all.

          Finally, I think it only prudent to introduce a new version of the holy trinity, in honor of your newly recognised, and supremely masculine Double 0 status – Honey Rider, Plenty O’Toole and Pussy Galore.

          Adieu, Mr. Bond, go enjoy the well deserved fruits of your labor – as your uniquely impressive skills will surely be called on again to quash the next digital travel industry wannabe, who dares cross your QWERTY path, again. 😉

  4. Adriana Maramo

    “How do you put that entire experience into the palm of your hand, in any city in the world?”
    Mobile apps? GLASS?

  5. Vik

    work on this holy grail and make zero profits.

    • Drew Meyers

      The whole industry makes money from the booking of accommodations. And while, yes, the holy grail of travel for me is to never pay for a place to stay — that’s not really viable. In fact, most people totally want to pay for a nice place to stay that will give them privacy. If the audience is there…then the monetization will not really be an issue.

  6. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    This is already descending into the usual barrage of quotations and everyone trying out-smart one another with their wit 😉

    At least we wouldn’t go short on a creative script if it were made into a film: “Tnooz and the Impossible Crusade”.

  7. RobertKCole

    Since we are obviously on a quest here, I’m not sure we want to seek the Holy Grail… Last I checked, there was considerable disagreement over what exactly it was, if it ever existed, and it has not been found after searching for generations.

    Instead, I propose seeking enlightenment from a Holy Trinity.

    NOTE: To be inclusive, knowing the Tnooz audience, it need not be the Christian “Father, Son & Holy Spirit.”

    If any of the following work better for you, please feel free to sublimate: “Luke, Leia & Han,” “Athos, Porthos & Aramis,” “Mario, Luigi & Yoshi,” “Richie, Buddy & Big Bopper,” “Harry, Ron & Hermione,” “Kukla, Fran & Ollie,” “Melchior, Gaspar, & Balthazar,” “Frank, Dean & Sammy,” “Beyonce, Kelly & Michelle,” “Peter, Michael & Jack,” “Morpheus, Trinity & Neo,” “Simon, Theodore & Alvin,” “Linda, Marilyn & Georgina,” “Huey, Dewey & Louie,” “Barry, Robin, & Maurice,” “Blossom, Bubbles & Buttercup,” “Chico, Harpo & Groucho,” “Kurt, Dave & Krist,” “Lucky, Dusty & Ned” “Sabrina, Jill & Kelly,” “Luciano, Placido & Jose,” “Larry, Moe & Curly,” or “Wynken, Blynken & Nod”

    These options alone give some credence to the notion that a trinity works better than a grail, but I digress…

    I hypothesize that the holy trinity of travel is an itinerary that is:

    1) Personalized – Offering an experience perfectly suited to the individual needs and interests of those comprising the travel party.

    2) Integrated – Providing end to end experience from the time one leaves their house to the time they return.

    3) Efficient – Easily searched and purchased at a reasonable price that is cost effective and profitable for all parties associated with the transaction.

    See, Kevin was right – it’s simple as pie…

    Omne trium perfectum – let us pray…

    • John Pope

      I suggest we start with “The Loud’s Prayer” then, it’s relatively non-denominational – unless you’re a hippie… 😉

      In addition to my initial “Local” assertion, I would only add to the three astutely concise observations, from the Honorable Gentleman of the Great State of Wisconsin (and sublime travel industry aficionado), the following two contributions:

      4) Decentralized – Ensuring the maximum number of industry stakeholders, destinations (and their local communities) as well as consumers/travelers all benefit from the wealth and value created by the travel industry and community. This would result in an increased number of travelers worldwide, improve the quality of travel experiences for everybody and, ultimately, make travelling more affordable and accessible for those who wish to explore the world.

      5) De-commoditized – Problem: With respect to commodities, or undifferentiated product categories, too much competition actually inflates the cost of doing business – not decreases it, as is the case with most differentiated product categories – mostly via increased marketing costs. If there are too many entities, doing the same thing, to attract the same audience; then the only eventual, and disproportionate, winners, or profitable survivors, in that system are those who sell access to their large audiences (e.g. Google, and Facebook to a lesser degree).

      ***De-commoditization is a culmination and further expansion on the previous four points; where additional value can be attached to the present version of travel retail, distribution and experience (Travel 1.0)***

      To make Travel 2.0 – “New World Order” or “The Holy Grail” of travel – a reality, certain elements of the total travel value chain (mostly technology & marketing) need to be consolidated significantly – thereby producing dramatically lower infrastructure, marketing and distribution costs for all suppliers and many service providers.

      Currently, a mix of too many vendors, middlemen and media outlets are providing too little value, and extracting too much cost out of the total travel value chain. All of these dynamics resulting in increased or inflated prices to end travel consumers, and therefore less travelers.

      Conversely – and contrary to conventional wisdom – if operating costs are lowered through consolidation, vastly superior service attributes can then be added to the value chain to produce dramatically improved experiences or increased value for many struggling stakeholders – content creators, local communities (via increased unemployment) and, most importantly, travelers – due to the lower over all cost structures for suppliers and service providers.

      The result: prices stay the same, or end up lower in many cases, yet the over all value, or quality of experience, increases dramatically – for all the constituents that actually matter, that is.

      That sounds at least like a more holistic “Holy Grail” to me… but don’t take my word for it, go and seriously consider it for your self. But for that, I suggest an “un-plugged” holiday/vacation or long walk down “the road less traveled by” – ironically, innovation almost never happens at work. You’ll have to trust me on that fact – Eureka! moments and profound ideas happen when you least expect it – like it did in a dream for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. There are plenty of other examples, if need be, for all the naysayers in the audience.

      But then again, the only constant in the world is change, itself.

      “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Heraclitus

      P.S. My personal Holy Trinity is… Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll. In no particular order.

      Amen. 😀

      • John Pope

        Have to qualify “consolidation” as being “vertically integrated consolidation” for all of the travel/econ wonks in the audience.

        Namaste. 🙂

    • Jean Dyer

      Travel IS personal.

      A “Best Friend ” does indeed help to make a trip comfortable. However truly enriching and satisfying travel is a matter of perspective, personal choice, likes and dislikes, and part of the reason we often like our Best Friends is because rather than being identical, we just “match”

      When traveling on business the criteria of a great trip is usually different from a personal one. Some prefer to vacation in a city center location close to amazing restaurants and nightlife, others seek a secluded boutique hotel with pristine countryside to explore. Personally I consider a great vacation a time to do as the mood takes me and simply soak up my surroundings – my husband prefers to be up at the crack of dawn, explore every aspect and not miss a thing.

      Don’t foget to factor in the natural disaster, or cancelled flight, missed connection, change of plans or error in booking the trip on the wrong day or to a similarly named city in the first place. That’s a PCNIC for sure ! (Problem In Chair Not In Computer!) How would the Holy Grail of Travel handle that?

      Travel expands our view, our understanding, exposes us to new experiences and forces us to think. We better appreciate our circumstances, our creativity is kick-started and we develop more confidence in our abilities and judgement skills.

      Maybe the Holy Grail of Travel is not a massive digital creation, but simply learning to correctly use the resources we already have. First employ our personal criteria to explore some of the plethora of choices on the internet. Next seek out a travel consultant who can help sift the wheat from the chaff, use their network of “best friends” and efficiently integrate our preferences with the best values available – and then we make some choices and embark on our journey to experience our own, uniquely individual style of travel.

      After all, the more we travel the more of our own”Best Friends” we’ll accumulate all over the world!

  8. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    If I may contribute to the dialogue on this.

    There is actually a solution out there that just about does these things. They have an amazing well established but incredibly complex collection of “technologies”.

    They are call humans. And the sub type are called ( a misnomer I will grant you) Travel Agents.

    Sadly these complex forms suffer from the massive massive problem. However I would hazard a guess that if someone actually DID THE MATHEMATICS – that the amount of money invested in the Travel space over the years had been invested in improving information sources for Agents – it might make for an interesting comparison to the results that consumers have today which don’t seem to fit the bill.

    Having been an agent I can assure the dear readers that its a thankless task and the true quality agents are a dying breed (just like journalists and other highly skilled information workers). Yes I still have a travel agent and I am very grateful that we have a good relationship that he does the work for me that while I know I can do myself – he does it better. He also knows that he is ONLY as good as the last trip choice he planned for me.

    So we are a long way from being able to achieve the holy grail. Frankly I would be remiss if I even thought that it was a viable option to happen. Despite I am sure a goodly number of people here who will claim that they either A) Have it or B) Will have it.



    • John Pope

      “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known.” Michel de Montaigne

      Impossible is nothing, except an excuse for the lazy.

      Work harder. Embrace your imagination.

      As some idiot once said; “Creativity is more important than knowledge.”

  9. Hrush Bhatt

    People chasing this or any other so-called “Holy Grail” of travel would do well to remember that there is a difference between what customers want and what they are willing to pay for.

    Are they willing to pay for the friendly face to come to the airport and drive them into town? And the accommodation is supposed to be free?

    Where’s the money in this Holy Grail? Or is *free* the Holy Grail?

    Everything on the above “what people want” is already available today for a price.

    • Drew Meyers

      Agree it’s all available today, at a price. I think the opportunity, is to put that experience at a price point that every traveler can afford – via a combination of a killer app that has significant scale of users & some P2P components built in to deliver services such as transportation.

      • Hrush Bhatt

        “A price point that *every* traveller can afford” is unlikely to be a price point where everyone involved profits in some way.

  10. Antoine

    The holy grail, as you describe it, is called Couchsurfing…

    Unfortunately, this article doesn’t bring anything and really look like a Press Release. A pity considering the quality of Tnooz…

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @antoine – sorry about that…

      yeah, does a read a LITTLE bit like a promo, but equally I agreed to post it because I wanted it to raise the question of what is this supposed holy grail of travel.

      Personally, I don’t think it is what Drew has outlined above.

      The Holy Grail is probably far simpler than that.

      • John Pope


        The Holy Grail of Travel is… Local.

        The logically illogical paradox of the industry.

        Strange, but true.

      • Antoine

        @Kevin – No need to be sorry, you know I’m a hard fan of Tnooz (And my contribution on this article could have been of higher quality 😉

        I don’t believe in any Holy Grail personally as everyone travels differently and has different expectations. That’s what makes this industry so lively, interesting and complex at the same time.

        Kudos on the below comment!! “This is already descending into the usual barrage of quotations and everyone trying out-smart one another with their wit”

    • Drew Meyers

      Truthfully, we’re so far away from delivering this holy grail it’s not even funny. Sure, we are working on some of the items. But so are a number of other people in the industry.

      When I travel, what I outlined is my holy grail. The goal of the article is to get people thinking on “what is the true holy grail of travel for you?”

  11. John Pope


    Be patient… it’s coming.

  12. Lucas

    Drew, You have good tips and directions for travel startups CEO. Your list is like our goals list in

    • Drew Meyers

      Yup, I imagine there are a number of startups that have a similar vision in terms of what should exist way down the line to make traveling a better experience. If people didn’t have grand visions of what “could be”, they wouldn’t be working on startups 🙂


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