7 years ago
 

Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu

I am a sucker for a new way to do online travel search.
In a recent post Four types of non-destination based search and what it means for online travel I thought I had captured all of the new ways to do search and discovery online.
After a conversation recently with Rachel Armitage co-founder and director of UK startup Zoombu, I discovered a new type of search – the complete end to end trip search.
[Tnooz first view post on Zoombu launch  is here]
What is Zoombu
Zoombu’s call above the noise of online travel search is that they provide a door to door vision of a trip from origin to destination including all options – taxi, metro, shuttle bus, car hire, trains, ferry, flights with integrated timetables and pricing.  Armitage calls it “multimodal door-to-door search”.  Means a consumer can get a view of all of the different choices in getting from A-B and as well as the full cost.
I did a test run search on Zoombu for a trip from Oxford in England to Reims in the Champagne region of France. Here are three of the results
By ferry
For a car-ferry across the English Channel-car journey thje cost is £219 and takes about 11 hours
By train
Taking trains all the way is more expensive (£253) and has more connections, but only takes seven or so hours
By plane
Flying is somewhere inbetween, costing £227 but takes around the same time as the ferry (10.5 hours).
In this case taking the train is the winner (assuming I don’t want/need to have my car with me).
For more refinement I can order search by time, cost and – if the Greenie in me dominates – by carbon footprint.
Zoombu is the first place I have seen this. The ability to compare cost, timing and connections using different modes of transport.
In the past consumers have had to figure out all of the in betweens and connections for themselves.
OTAs have been offering transfers for years but have not integrated it into a full travel time line search result.
Metasearch sites have been connecting inventory that might not be available on OTAs (such as some LCCs) but they have not been showing non-air options (ferry, train).
Where did they come from?
Zoombu is a classic European start-up.  Armitage and co-founder Alistair Hann are artificial intelligence academics that raised attention through winning an Oxford seedcamp competition.
In Dec 2009 they raised a funding round from the Saïd Business School Venture Fund. This has provided Zoombu with runway “well through to the end of 2010 and beyond”, according to Armitage.
Zoombu’s six full time staff are focusing their energies on the dual challenge of building the engine and access timetable and fare information.
Armitage says the team are employing “multiple different integration for the different modes of transport”.
Some integration is through aggregators, some is direct and on occasion she and the team have had to go down to a individual timetable level for a single airport shuttle bus timetable (ie Hahn airport shuttle).  Revenue model is affiliate commissions (ie CPA) but is only able to monetise part of the clicks as very few local travel options have affiliate programs.
Challenges
Great start for Zoombu.  They have a product that is almost unique (Travelfusion is heading down the same path) and funding to push it out. But that won’t be enough to make it.
Armitage and I talked through five challenges for the company and this type of search product:
Speed: Getting the results fast. Kayak CEO Steve Hafner has spoken many times of his obsession with speed of  search results.  Armitage and Zoombu need to be similarly obsessed.  The Zoombu challenge is that they have more data sources to search in one go than anyone else in online travel.
In my Oxford to Reims example Zoombu needs to query at least twenty different sources.  The full results took almost 50 seconds.  Armitage is aware of this saying they are working on both caching and latency solutions to speed up results and “ways to keep the user interested while waiting” to reduce user frustration.
Distribution: Getting the customers to visit the site.  Marketing costs in online travel are out of control.  The battle in search for buying clicks, on meta and research site for referrals and on established sites for customers is out of control.  Zoombu is joining a ferocious take no prisoners battle for eyeballs.  Armitage is also aware of this too – admitting that it is “very hard to build a brand on popular terms such as ‘cheap flights’“.  She says the Zoombu plan to target natural search in the long tail, betting on the increasing volume of search traffic around how to get from point A to point B. She is also planning to make a significant push into affiliate sales but via supporting the incredibly large number of independent properties across Europe that would benefit from a “how to get to us” link on their site.  The affiliate push is now a common story among search innovators.
Accuracy and reliance: Getting the data right all the time. The most complex result of my Reims example has more than 10 components.  The risk for Zoombu is that in this search and searches like it that one of the links in the chain is wrong and disrupts (or even kills) the whole trip.  Customers will not be forgiving.
Coverage:  Getting the destinations loaded. Not as critical as the first three challenges but Armitage and Zoombu are planning further expansion in destinations. Currently strong in UK, France and Spain.  Looking to move further across Europe and beyond.
Booking and tracking: Getting the booking process to be as easy as the search process.  Currently bookings are done click by click with each of the individual providers.   The future potential here is to link to a TripIt or Traxo like functionality for at least storing the whole trip in one place, maybe even booking it all in one place.
My Take
This product excites me.  The ability to see all of options for Euro travel is a breakthrough in online travel.  It opens up online travel to non-capital/big city destinations in a way I have not seen before.  But there are five challenges for Zoombu to meet to make it a success, three of them are big ones (speed, accuracy and distribution).
Have a play with Zoombu and let me know your thoughts.

I am a sucker for a new way to do online travel search.

In a recent post – Four types of non-destination based search and what it means for online travel – I thought I had captured the new ways to do search and discovery online.

After a conversation recently with Rachel Armitage co-founder and director of UK startup Zoombu, I discovered a new type of search: the complete end-to-end trip search.

[Tnooz’s first post on Zoombu]

What is Zoombu?

Zoombu’s shout above the noise of online travel search is that they provide a door-to-door vision of a trip from origin to destination, including all options – taxi, metro, shuttle bus, car hire, trains, ferry, flights with integrated timetables and pricing.

Armitage calls it “multimodal door-to-door search”.  This means a consumer can get a view of all of the different choices in getting from A to B and as well as the full cost.

I carried out a test run search on for a trip from Oxford, England to Reims in the Champagne region of France. Here are three of the results

By ferry:

For a car-ferry across the English Channel-car journey thje cost is £219 and takes about 11 hours

zoombu1

By train:

Taking trains all the way is more expensive (£253) and has more connections, but only takes seven or so hours

zoombu2

By plane:

Flying is somewhere inbetween, costing £227 but takes around the same time as the ferry (10.5 hours).

zoombu3

In this case taking the train is the winner (assuming I don’t want/need to have my car with me).

For more refinement I can order search by time, cost and – if the Greenie in me dominates – by carbon footprint.

Zoombu is the first place I have seen this. The ability to compare cost, timing and connections using different modes of transport.

In the past, consumers have had to figure out all of the in betweens and connections for themselves.

OTAs have been offering transfers for years but have not integrated it into a full travel time line search result.

Metasearch sites have been connecting inventory that might not be available on OTAs (such as some LCCs) but they have not been showing non-air options (ferry, train).

Where did they come from?

Zoombu is a classic European start-up.  Armitage and co-founder Alistair Hann are artificial intelligence academics that raised attention through winning an Oxford seedcamp competition.

In Dec 2009 the comany raised a funding round from the Saïd Business School Venture Fund. This has provided Zoombu with runway “well through to the end of 2010 and beyond”, according to Armitage.

Zoombu’s six full time staff are focusing their energies on the dual challenge of building the engine and access timetable and fare information.

Armitage says the team are employing “multiple different integration for the different modes of transport”.

Some integration is through aggregators, some is direct and on occasion she and the team have had to go down to a individual timetable level for a single airport shuttle bus timetable (ie Hahn airport shuttle).  Revenue model is affiliate commissions (ie CPA) but is only able to monetise part of the clicks as very few local travel options have affiliate programs.

Challenges

Great start for Zoombu. They have a product that is almost unique (Travelfusion is heading down the same path) and funding to push it out. But that won’t be enough to make it.

Armitage and I talked through five challenges for the company and this type of search product:

  • Speed: Getting the results fast. Kayak CEO Steve Hafner has spoken many times of his obsession with speed of  search results.  Armitage and Zoombu need to be similarly obsessed.  The Zoombu challenge is that they have more data sources to search in one go than anyone else in online travel. In my Oxford to Reims example Zoombu needs to query at least twenty different sources.  The full results took almost 50 seconds.  Armitage is aware of this saying they are working on both caching and latency solutions to speed up results and “ways to keep the user interested while waiting” to reduce user frustration.
  • Distribution: Getting the customers to visit the site.  Marketing costs in online travel are out of control.  The battle in search for buying clicks, on meta and research site for referrals and on established sites for customers is out of control.  Zoombu is joining a ferocious take no prisoners battle for eyeballs.  Armitage is also aware of this too – admitting that it is “very hard to build a brand on popular terms such as ‘cheap flights’“.  She says the Zoombu plan to target natural search in the long tail, betting on the increasing volume of search traffic around how to get from point A to point B. She is also planning to make a significant push into affiliate sales but via supporting the incredibly large number of independent properties across Europe that would benefit from a “how to get to us” link on their site.  The affiliate push is now a common story among search innovators.
  • Accuracy and reliance: Getting the data right all the time. The most complex result of my Reims example has more than 10 components.  The risk for Zoombu is that in this search and searches like it that one of the links in the chain is wrong and disrupts (or even kills) the whole trip.  Customers will not be forgiving.
  • Coverage:  Getting the destinations loaded. Not as critical as the first three challenges but Armitage and Zoombu are planning further expansion in destinations. Currently strong in UK, France and Spain.  Looking to move further across Europe and beyond.
  • Booking and tracking: Getting the booking process to be as easy as the search process.  Currently bookings are done click by click with each of the individual providers.   The future potential here is to link to a TripIt or Traxo like functionality for at least storing the whole trip in one place, maybe even booking it all in one place.

My Take

This product excites me.  The ability to see all of options for Euro travel is a breakthrough in online travel.  It opens up online travel to non-capital/big city destinations in a way I have not seen before.  But there are five challenges for Zoombu to meet to make it a success, and three of them are big ones (speed, accuracy and distribution).

Have a play with Zoombu and let me know your thoughts.

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Tim Hughes

About the Writer :: Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes is an online travel industry executive who has been blogging since June 2006 at the Business of Online Travel (the BOOT).

The BOOT covers analysis of online travel industry trends, consumer and company behaviour and broader online/web activity of interest to online travel companies (with a bias towards Tim’s home markets of Asia and Australasia and with the odd post on consuming and loving travel thrown in).

In late-2010 the BOOT clocked its 1,000th post, 200,000th visitor and 300,000th page view.In his work life he is the CEO of Getaway Lounge - a premium travel deal site based in Australia.

Tim has worked for both Orbtitz and Expedia. Prior to the travel industry Tim was a commercial lawyer and venture capitalist. Tim’s views are his alone and not necessarily the views of Getaway Lounge or any of its investors.

 

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  1. The Week in Travel Tech - TripAdvisor LinkGate, iPhone 4, Social-Search Battle | Tnooz

    […] Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu […]

     
  2. Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu | New Biz Tips.com

    […] Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu […]

     
  3. David Marcus

    I’ve been working on a service called Routefriend (http://routefriend.com) to make bus and train travel easier in the US. In many ways, it can be even harder to plan non-plane trips here than in Europe. Our commuter rails and Amtrak are not integrated and in the Northeast we have a number of independent bus lines.

    Working on a similar problem to the Zoombu folks, I can say that Tim nailed the challenges. Speed is the toughest nut to crack…a search is only as fast as the slowest service provider being queried. Also, I agree that affiliate fees aren’t a great revenue model when the search focus isn’t flights. We started with that plan but have since had more success with a paid iPhone app and using the travel search as a platform for other travel technology.

     
    • Jim Kovarik

      Hi David. I’m glad you chimed in here. I was going to reference your site in my earlier comment as a good example of how multi-modal travel was being attempted in the US, but couldn’t remember the name. For those who haven’t checked out routefriend.com or the iPhone app you should give it a look. They’ve done a good job given the challenges David mentions.

       
  4. Michael Grove

    Tim, thanks for pointing us to Zoombu. First this is a great example of using search as a means for an application as opposed to a query result. The benefit is to save time at getting to the right choice. I agree with Robert Cole, what is missing is the ability to provide navigation and personalized responses. If I don’t like trains, don’t show me a train solution. If I hate to wait, don’t show me long layover results.

    You might want to check out Exalead. Their search platform is set up to do search applications that include Zoombu-like results and also provide the navigation and personalization to further simplify the process.

     
  5. Tim

    @All – thanks for the comments and feedback

     
  6. RobertKCole

    I have been a big fan of Zoombu for a while now – I have tremendous respect for them tackling a very difficult challenge and providing a relatively elegant solution.

    Right now, speed & quality represent a tradeoff, but I am thinking that waiting a bit for a Zoombu search dramatically beats manually aligning multi-modal transportation components across an itinerary.

    Zoombu should help drastically reduce the travel planning-related suicide rate.

    Ultimately, I’m thinking that the Fastest / Cheapest / Greenest approach is a precursor for more highly personalized, persona-based search results. Then we are really talking…

     
  7. Sean Collins

    I have followed Zoombu progress for some time now and I believe it can and will overcome the obstacles mentioned in your article. If they acheive speed and accuracy then distribution will be straightforward given the uniqueness of the proposition.

    In the meantime whilst battling with speed it may help to set up 100 most common dummy trips so that someone can quickly understand the concept, see if they want to invest time in making it door to door.

     
  8. Nancy Dickinson

    I read this as soon as I saw it in my inbox this morning. While I can agree it’s a bit long for standard readers, as a travel writer, I went through it from end to end.

    I sighed at the end because we in the US need something like this. I plan all my own travel and can spend hours in searching for the best deals and totaling costs. It’s truly exhausting.

    However, it’s also good to know that, were I to go to the UK, something like this is available. Good post, good information. Thanks for sharing this with us.

     
  9. Karl

    I really like this concept but its currently a little long winded from a customer perspective. Its a shame they don’t have a marketing budget to really launch this. I fear that a long tail natural search strategy will not bring the gold they hope as ‘standard’ affiliate network/s pricing wont be competitive enough. Punters wont book on eye candy alone.

     
  10. Jim Kovarik

    I really like what Zoombu is trying to do and am impressed, but also agree with some of the challenges stated above.

    We share a similar vision at C2G (cost 2 go) but our approach has been more lightweight. For Cost2Drive.com we display flight cost information via an RSS feed from Kayak, and we chose this path instead of executing a full meta search because of the issue around speed. Also, we don’t ask for date information as our UI philosophy is ‘maximum output with minimum input’. We realize this has shortcomings but we think the trade off in ease of use and speed negates that.

    I think the challenge here (outside of distribution) is always UI-related; how do you give your customers sufficient information but not overwhelm them, and how do you do in an extremely simple and expedient manner. Its a fine line you’re always walking.

     
  11. Tweets that mention Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu | Tnooz -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amy Lauren, Turisdata and Tnooz HQ, Kevin May. Kevin May said: Great way to search yet five big challenges for door-to-door site Zoombu http://bit.ly/93S4TG [Tnooz via @timothychughes] […]

     
 
 

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