Hipmunk Hype: A tale of two Valleys

Hipmunk launched two weeks ago, but it was only the other day that I got a chance to take a look at the site.

In fact, I had been so busy the only way I knew about Hipmunk was when two different people both told me I should try it out. Since then I’ve seen a huge number of mentions, so whoever is running their PR probably deserves a medal.

air horn

Plenty of others have written on the benefits of the website itself, so I’d prefer to instead follow the PR angle a little – there is no doubt the world of public relations is changing, and I’m not the only non-PR person trying to claim some insight into a field in which I have never worked.

When I look at some travel tech startups, I think of companies like TripIt and Hipmunk that really seem to have tapped into the non-travel industry Silicon Valley-types as a launch pad for building hype both within and outside of the travel sector. Nadav Gur of Worldmate made a similar point in reference to Tripit back in January 2010.

Anyway, the first press mentions I can find for Hipmunk were on August 17 in Venture Beat, TechCrunch and Lifehacker. A day later Hipmunk was given a TLabs Showcase on Tnooz, and then other travel sites picked up the story.

A few days later Read Write Web gave Hipmunk a good review as well – being covered so extensively by the non-travel press is rare for a travel startup, but it really helped Hipmunk get the message out to thought leaders in non-travel technology and the more general field of website innovation pundits; indeed, it is these people who then spread the message virally to other influencers and their followers.

After the influencers and their followers, you then had various people coming and telling me I have to try out this new site.

In the case of Hipmunk, by this stage the hype genie was well and truly out of the bottle and it seemed like I must have been living under a rock for a few days, having not already heard of it.

I can’t help but think that Hipmunk is really a very similar type of user experience to Wotflight, and a somewhat similar business model to Wotflight as well; except that Wotflight was first, and in many ways is actually better.

Too bad Wotflight is closer to Fortitude Valley than Silicon Valley, so the PR hype is never going to get anywhere near what Hipmunk founder Steve Huffman can generate.

I’m sure Wotflight would love to be selling $70,000 worth of tickets a day, as Hipmunk reportedly did only eight days after launch.

At the other extreme to Hipmunk on the hype-o-meter, you have a new travel inspiration start up called Wanderfly trying to generate some pre launch buzz.

PC Mag gave it a positive writeup, Tnooz also got in with a TLabs Showcase, and I too had been given special access to the site prior to launch.

I first asked a non-travel industry type to review it, but got back the response after a few searches, that it wouldn’t stop them using TripAdvisor as a preference.

At this point I decided to take a look for myself. They are really pushing their integration with Foursquare, Facebook, Yelp and the like, but spending a bit of time on the site really got me thinking about how difficult it is to get travel inspiration right.

Social integration is one of the keys, but given that the future of travel search and travel inspiration are morphing into the one stream, I can’t help thinking that to really generate some buzz in this space (and then the subsequent traction with repeat users) some serious filtering from a large cache done within the user interface layer combined with a totally fresh approach to user experience is required.

And, of course, be hooked into the Silicon Valley personal networks. A big ask I know, and hence why the opportunity is still wide open on this.

Qantas launched an inspiration tool called Trip Finder over six months ago, but I haven’t seen too much mention of it in the press other than a few early stories.

The user interface contains some nice filters in an effort to help guide and then sell to undecided leisure travelers but once again, unlike Hipmunk, the PR machine will have a hard time getting out of first gear being so far from Silicon Valley.

Maybe the next best alternative is to substitute Silicon Valley for a day at the Hunter Valley, an excellent wine region less than two hours from Sydney!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone
Martin Collings

About the Writer :: Martin Collings

Martin Collings is a contributor to tnooz and is currently employed as Vice President, Innovation Management & Commercialization at MasterCard Labs, based in Sydney. In this position, he manages various mobile payments initiatives with his role covering the region of Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Prior to MasterCard, Martin Collings spent six years with Amadeus IT Group, based in both Madrid and Chicago in a variety of airline roles, most recently as head of airline e-commerce sales for the Americas.

During his time at Amadeus he also wrote the Shearwater Blog covering various topics of interest for airline selling via direct channels. The views of Martin Collings are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of MasterCard.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Hotel Haiku

    Hipmunk is everything I despise about travel and the Internet these days, and in part sites like this provided me with extra motivation to launch Hotel Haiku.

    I just searched for hotels in Paris and the top results it returns are for vacation rentals, or a spare room in people’s apartments, supplied by Airbnb!

    No, I’m searching for real ‘hotels’ in Paris, with the expectation of seeing them top of the results, not premium rate couch surfing!

    FFS! Are these people Bay Area circle jerks, or what?

  2. Martin Collings

    Never thought Fortitude Valley would hit such a note – It’s been a few years since I’ve passed through that part of the world, but I thought The Valley had well and truly cleaned up its act from originally being Brisbane’s red light district. Maybe not.

  3. Jeff

    Well I never thought I’d see reference to Fortitude Valley in any written form aside from perhaps the next Nick Earls novel. Well Done

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @jeff – we’re all about extending the Long Tail of terminology over here at Tnooz 😉

  4. Tim

    Martin – love the Fortitude Valley vs Silicon Valley line. Great writing

  5. Martin Collings

    Nadav, I’m always looking for puns to jazz up my copy, but you picked up one I should have thought of first!

    Stephen, The tech cummunity can be quite good at getting behind one of their own, and Hipmunk has definintely started on the right foot, so it looks promising.

    Erez, I wasn’t in anyway trying to discredit Hipmunk, as clearly people are liking, and then buying from the site – I’m fully behind any start-up having a go at carving out a piece of the travel pie for themselves. But the media hype was way beyond what the real product innovation warranted – as Stephen indicated above, the actual innovation is much less an exciting for most people than the personalities behind the site.

  6. Erez Armoza

    I agree that Hipmunk proved to be experts in PR, but I wouldn’t put it as the main reason for their success, but the fact that they provide a solution rather then just technology.
    Hipmunk solution has the potential to influence anyone’s travel booking, not just 1% of the travelers (Wotflight is only for intra-Australian flights).
    It is also worth mentioning that Hipmunk solution is more than just a presentation layer. It has at least 4 things that Wotflight does not: sorting by “Agony”, hiding many “worse” flight options, easy way to filter flight by time, and the ability to have multiple search tabs.
    The same is true for the Qantas Trip Finder. It may be interesting technology, but it doesn’t work (I get no results no matter what I choose). Even if it worked – it is a very limited solution as it only supports a handful of Asian cities.
    Travel technology dedicated press may be interested in these for their technology, but other press will never write about anything that doesn’t provide any solution to their readers.
    So while good PR is important, it is a lot more important to have a good solution. A solution that actually solves a real problem for real people.

  7. Stephen Joyce

    I agree with you Martin, the hype machine has been extremely efficient in this case. For what really amounts to a new interface on top of an affiliate system, the attention has been impressive. I think there are several things at work in this case: the relationship with SV, the existing SV entrepreneur and his connections, the funding aspect, and the general consumer appeal of the site. Take any other product not created in SV, not funded, and that is B2B and you have much less hype.

    Of course, they can get all the hype in the world, the test is in longevity. We’ll see where they are in a year or two and then discuss further.

  8. Nadav

    You have to wonder though – where IS Fortitude Valley 😉
    Cause Fortitude is something you definitely need when you launch a B2C Internet play, especially if you’re so far away from the Silicon Valley limelight.

  9. Rick Seaney

    ITA has had the time bar display as a demo on its site for years …

    • Martin Collings

      Rick, I think those of us in the industry all know it, but the point is that the hype is most effective when it is directed outside of people like us.


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel