Is turning dreams into reality the way to solve trip inspiration?

Inspiration. An over-used word around these parts. But inspiration remains one of the final remaining challenges in online travel.

If you can only make someone WANT to go somewhere, then you can sell them the flight, the hotel, the tour, etc. So the theory goes anyway.

Historically, trip inspiration was left to travel magazines and photographers. Online players focussed on solving problems once a consumer has decided “how do I get from A to B”, “where shall I sleep” etc.

But now online transaction players are paying more attention to inspiration.

No one has really got a full handle on it yet – maybe because inspiration is so individual (based on the traveller’s culture, type of trip, destination, budget, etc).

Too many variables creating too big a problem to solve.

Who can remember Expedia’s Inspiroscope from five years ago? Most inspiration tools haven’t moved on much more since then.

Maybe also the problem is that content that is inherently inspirational (a great photo, a well told story, a wonderful video) is inappropriate at converting someone to book.

Hence inspiration remains within DMO (Destination marketing organisation) territory as ultimately they don’t mind WHO you book with, just that you choose their region over a competitors.

Cycle tours

Maybe traditional cycle tour company Tour D’Afrique has a solution. Certainly worth a look. They have built a section of their website they call Dreamtours. Helping people dream is closely related to inspiration.

On Dreamtours you firstly create your dream cycle tour, plotted on a Google Map. This tour is then published on their central website. You can then sell spaces on the tour to other cyclists with a dream.

The clever part is that the cycle tour company will commercially help run the tour for you – if you get sufficient people to sign up (ie. by providing tour leadership, logistics support, support vehicles etc).

Making dreams a reality.

A fantastic combination of public dreaming and inspiration, user generated content and REAL commercial revenue to the cycle tour company.

Maybe this is how inspiration should be solved – let people dream, and then deliver the dream.

Could hotels take this approach? How about destinations?

NB: Inspiration sign image via Shutterstock.

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Alex Bainbridge

About the Writer :: Alex Bainbridge

Alex is a contributor to tnooz and writes about travel technology, travel startups, in destination guides and the tours & activities sector.

His most recent business TourCMS (sold October 2015) was the original leader in tours & activities distribution, connecting up hundreds of local tour suppliers with leading online travel agents. The industry architecture he put in place during that period is now the regular approach adopted globally by the entire local tour industry.

He is now CEO of a new in destination project coming soon.

Alex has a computing degree, is passionate about usability, speaks French and still writes and reviews code. Follow him on twitter @alexbainbridge



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  1. Nick Vivion

    Nick Vivion

    I’m just coming back to this article – it looks like we need to revisit these themes each year to see how trip inspiration is being solved. An update perhaps, Alex?

  2. G

    Two interesting entrants into the inspiration business –

    And of course Gogobot. I’m not sure any of them are likely to convert users to booking, or necessarily even engage them longer-term, but they’re fun to play around with.

  3. Peter Syme

    Have a look at this inspiration/search engine from USA based Unreasonable Adventures

    You need to scroll down when you get on the page as I am just experimenting with it just now. No good for Europe yet as to USA focused but it is one of the slickest inspiration/search engines I have seen.

    It is also very user friendly for both a web design and customer point of view

    Apologies for using my own site but that is one of the sites I am experimenting with it on.

  4. Ramon

    Hi Alex,

    we also found that developing an inspiration website was not working (i.e. selling) as well as we expected, so we took a different path: if we are good at inspiring people with our recommedation engine but we do not manage to sell anything to them… why not license our technology and content to travel websites that actually have something to sell?

    Now (apart from other projects that we have started based on the original inspiration engine we developed) we are licencing (SaS) our recommendation engine to other big websites, so that they can inspire their users with their own products. The last “inspirator” we have launched is for HalconViajes, the second largest travel agency in Spain. You can take a look at it (in spanish) at

    We agree with you that travel inspiration mainly comes from ideas other people give you based on your interests, but we think there is also room for automatic recommendations if the technology&content behind them is good enough. And websites that do not give any good advice to people who do not know where to go are loosing them as customers…



    • Peter Syme

      Ramon have you got anymore Facebook examples of that intergration I seen on your website?

      • Ramon

        Hi Peter,

        we have the following Facebook inspiration apps, where people not only get recommendations but also invite other friends to travel with them to that specific destination:

        Halcón Viajes:

        Politours (one of the main tour operators in Spain)

        We are going to launch a new one in 2-3 weeks, I’m still not allowed to post it here.

        In fact, our API lets you configure your own travel inspirator in 1-2 weeks, whether it is for Facebook, web or app. It is just a matter of deciding the looks, the parameters you want to offer your users, and the XML (or list of products) that will be linked to the recommendations. However, from our experience, the inspiration works much better at websites than on Facebook, since the new FB design makes it hard for people to see the applications that are available.

        If you speak spanish and want to see all the options available for inspiring your users, you can take a look at, where the recommended products are trips organized by specialized travel agents.

        Just as a side note, I wanted to add to the discussion that when trying to build travel inspiration technology, the most important part of it is the content. We have developed a top-class AI algorithm, but our algorithm would not work without all the parametrization we’ve done during the past two years: for each destination (+1200) we’ve gone through it scoring each activity for each month of the year. We then validate the scores with an expert in the destination/activity.

        Thank you for your interest and sorry for the biased opinion about travel inspiration 😉


        • Alex Bainbridge

          Hi Ramon
          Is that really inspiration though? To me that looks like search? (although a good search)
          Where do you think inspiration ends and search starts?

          • Peter Syme

            Agree although I am in Spain my Spanish is rubbish but it looks like very slick search to me. I like the word inspiration and I like the idea but struggling to see how it will inspire anyone more that really good search does?

            Maybe I am looking at it with operators eyes though rather than potential customer eyes?

          • Ramon

            Hi Alex,

            to me (which doesn’t mean it is the right answer, since we’ve been working on this for such a long time and I am not very objective), inspiration is a type of search where the user is not obliged to saying the destination where he/she wants to go.

            From my point of view, in the pre-Internet era, most users where inspired without even knowing they were being inspired (TV, a conversation in a bar, newspapers, …). Only a few people were actively buying magazines or going to travel agencies to ask for advice. However, today we see many people who want to travel but have no idea where to go (although they usually know more or less the type of things they want to do). Some studies done by airlines and travel agencies indicate that 30-40% of people arriving to their website still do not know where to go. And these people are actively looking for inspiration… on the Internet. Some of them will find it on videos, blogs or commercial sites, but many of them are also willing to get their inspiration by looking to a list of destinations (and products) that offer the type of holidays they are looking for. And that’s what we try to do… Other startups are trying to monetize inspiration by giving recommendations and then selling products. We are also doing that on, but we see a huge opportunity in licensing our technology&content so other websites can inspire (or help with an alternative way of searching) their users with their own products. These big guys do not have the huge problem inspiration-based websites face: generating traffic and converting inspiration into reservations.

            To sum things up: the “real inspiration” is something that will probably never be 100% solved with algorithms, but people who do not know the destinations that could be good for them (who knows all the destinations in the world that are good for diving, good food and cultural life?) can be helped by a search mode in which they are not obliged to specifying the destination.



          • Ramon


            you are absolutely right: when it comes to finding the best activities on a given destination: we are no better than the traditional search provided by other websites.

            Our “inspirator” is good at something different: helping a user find the destination where he will be able to do everything he wants to do. For this specific scenario, traditional search does not help, since 99% of travel websites ask you the same question: “where do you want to go?”.

            That question does not help a user in search of inspiration, since he/she will have to go through all the destinations he/she thinks will be good, and will miss on the way other destinations that could be much better in terms of the type of holidays he/she was looking for. For us, if we manage to help a user decide the destination of his/her next holidays, we have inspired that user.

  5. Troy Thompson

    Great article Alex…you can tell by the number of comments generated.

    What intrigues me about the Tour D’Afrique is the niche focus they have. A lot of the comments are talking about some sort of magical, inspiration engine that knows what I want.

    But Tour D’Afrique is focused on the biking niche. Which covers the required desire to be inspired. I already love riding a bike, so the desire is there…now, I just need to pick a dream destination.

    Could this work for others? It might, but I feel like that thought is best saved for another comment…or a follow-up article.

    – Troy

    • Shanny Hill

      Hi Troy,

      I think you picked up on something there. We are indeed a niche. Our tours are on a grande scale most of the time, and so we are hoping DreamTours can help us better reach the cyclists who are up for a big, long adventure with us.

      DreamTours takes the idea of ‘custom-tours’ – which are common for cycling tours – but with a crowdsourcing twist.

      Let us know what your dream trip might be 🙂

  6. Vicky Smith

    Good article Alex.

    Indeed content = time & money, whether you’re an operator or aggregator, DMO or intermediary. There’s always something which will deliver a more secure ROI…. And a problem seems to come when you tie that in to live availability and booking…. sadly databases, real world logistics & cost/benefit analysis seems to floor creativity. DMOs don’t have to consider some of those issues.

    As you say, some DMOs do some great inspirational advertising. A personal fave is the Tirol video ski banner ad – black and white, dynamic,atmospheric, and lots of snow. (I think you can catch it on’s homepage, takes a while to play sometimes). Its the only banner ad that’s ever made me want to do anything, let alone book a ski holiday! (Well done Tirol). Thing was, it made me want to go skiing, not specifically go to the Austrian Tyrol. So indeed well done Tirol – great banner ad for the ski industry as a whole, all destinations and retailers included 🙂

    Trouble is, many DMOs seem to not only not care who fulfills advertising, but some that it’s fulfilled at all… with no interest in the sales, pax, ROI or bed nights that result, merely in marketing plans and vanity advertising.

    But rich content by way of imagery or video are surely the way to go and the destinations should have bags of this. Then a veritable video version of pinterest for travel ideas, tagged and filterable by destination, departure point, holiday type, operators to fulfill. etc
    Just a step further for 101 holidays type site as an advertising medium, tied in to live availability of partners… can’t be too tricky or far away, surely?

    • Mark Henshall

      I think 101 Holidays is a good example, Vicky. It’s just making that inspirational/booking process a bit more enjoyable and targeted; it’s thinking of travellers. Looking at Super Twiddler that Donald mentioned above, it also seems a bit of a smarter approach, a bit more focused. And fun.

  7. Peter Syme

    Stage 1 Website What
    Stage 2. Website development into a customer driven dream trip creator
    Stage 3. Zillions spent marketing it
    Stage 4. Customers dream a trip post it, get X others who also want to do it
    Stage 5. Site then tenders trip to operators and they bid for the trip
    Stage 6. Trips happen dreams delivered
    Stage 7. More dreams

    Issue people and their are a lot of them have many different dreams and no one site will meet all expectations so the cycle company example is a good one as it will have to be more niche that generic.

  8. DonaldS

    I’m going off at a tangent here, but I always kinda liked Super Twiddler:

    It had its faults, sure. And it was certainly miles from the grandiose end of travel inspiration. But as an idea, with definite monetization potential, close to the bottom of the funnel, I liked it. It’s not going to work for major purchases, obviously, but it is a small-scale glimpse at what’s possible.


  9. Hutchy

    This is simple, most people go somewhere to do something or see something.

    Find out what they love doing, where they’ve done it previously, how they enjoyed the previous and show them custom destinations. Ski and surf mags have been doing it for years.

    for example show me all destinations available in august 2012 leaving from my home port for under $1500, flight only.

  10. Valyn Perini

    James has it exactly right – this function needs a “killer app”, which can only be built with time and a whole lot of money.

    Most of the start-ups are nibbling around the edges because there’s no proven ROI except to be bought out (or rescued) and folded in as a feature on a larger site, like an OTA. But that doesn’t mean the OTAs are serious about inspiration – to inspire a user requires a lot of website real estate, management of rich media and a much longer look-to-book horizon, none of which are attractive to the transaction-oriented OTAs. It’s easier to just buy something and call it a day.

    As for DMOs, a few of them really get inspiration, like Switzerland, but most are still struggling with their bureaucratic and multi-stakeholder structures to be truly effective.

    The industry is still a ways out from a really good inspirational solution for consumers and owners/investors.

    • Troy Thompson

      A very good point Valyn.

      And yes, many destinations are being held back from truly inspiring visitors…although it is there proper place in the travel planning cycle.

      – Troy

    • Joe Buhler

      @Valyn Thanks for the kudos to Switzerland for getting inspiration right. I can second that, while admitting a certain bias. I’m sure the folks at Switzerland Tourism appreciate the compliment.

      Maybe the fact that the basic premise when was planned and built back in 1999 was to structure it along the following sequence of steps: DREAM – LEARN – PLAN – GO!
      The SHARE part was not yet a reality back then but has been added in the meantime.

      In addition, being perceived as a high price destination has always made it necessary to focus on added value elements rather than price.

  11. james dunford wood

    As we all know, the big problem with inspiration is monetisation – typically the inspiration stage is 10-20 websites away from the booking – ie at the top of the funnel, in fact hovering outside it around the top. Those of us who have tried to monetise inspiration have had to contend with cookie overiding,unconvinced advertisers, rapine Pandas and the cost of creating quality content. This will only get solved by someone who has the luxury of not having to earn a living from it for at least two to three years – to be truly inspirational it should be commercially independent, and able to stay the course until it has enough traction to become the must-go-to resource. Then advertisers will value it. If you have to chase the money en route – you’re doomed! PS if anyone is planning this right now, I am cheap at the price!

  12. Ola Zetterlof

    A really interesting discussion. I can only agree with most of the previous speakers. We deliver destination content solutions to some of the major companies in the travel industry and are still struggling with making them understand the importance of having inspiring content (and also to implement content in solutions that are designed for this purpose). As you all know many of the large players still focus on content solely for the purpose of getting indexed by the search engines. How can you inspire someone with content focused around “We have cheap flights to London and “Book cheap hotels here.” ? The content used is in many cases also very generic and uninspiring, with no depth or interesting and fresh POIs.

    Nathan’s comment on the DMOs is something that I definitely agree with. They are in a position to create inspiring content for their destination (well, it is after all one of their main tasks). We have created a platform where the DMOs deliver content, in a specific format, and we create solutions for the travel operators to use this content in many ways. It is definitely not the ultimate solution for solving the difficulties of inspiring travellers to want to travel, but we belive it is helping companies acheiving some part of this without too much effort…

  13. Nathan Midgley

    Great find Alex. I love this as a public planning tool, but wonder if that crucial first mile – the “making someone WANT to go somewhere” – is still missing. Is there much you can do with the map if you don’t have a dream trip, or at the very least a destination, in mind in the first place? Ball back in DMO court to some extent? Will be interested to see if the ‘full-feature’ version works in some inspirational content. Maybe a photo layer on that tour building map.

  14. Mark Henshall

    Good piece, Alex.

    I think this is a really interesting space right now, and as the media landscape changes rapidly, an opportunity, too. The challenge is not just traffic but conversion as you point out. I’d agree no one’s there yet, but Cycle Tours and blogs on sites such as RTW Flights offer examples of a more innovative/conversational model.

    Inspiration *is* individual, so even if you’re honing down a ‘client profile’ you’re not going to talk to everyone. But having high-quality travel content is key, so even though people will have different experienced meanings/connotations coming to a good story, then they will hopefully still have the same emotional charge, to explore and book.

    Blogs, for example, won’t work for everyone, but richer content such as image galleries, video and interactive maps can be tools to start this conversation. The fun bit here is to get imaginative to drive revenue.

    Matthew Barker (HitRiddle*) wrote here recently that travel websites: “…should no longer be seen as a “store front” or an online brochure, solely concerned with promoting and selling travel products. Instead they must be converted into entire libraries of resources that can inspire and engage travellers and potential clients.”

    I agree, and original content is more searchable and more sustainable for travel sites in the long-run. It sends out a clear message you’re serious about travel and care about it as much as travellers do. This approach will also help drive travellers to sites through social/sharing. Putting a human face to travel experiences will help, but as Kevin points out, advertising debunks the notion that corporations can’t do this. They just need to be smart, *and* work with good, inspirational travel writers/ photographers/ producers etc. Create to convert!


  15. An

    Cycle tour idea is so cool. What was the reason that there is only 3 successful tours carried out? Was that the effort of organizing or the timing clash among the participant?

    The answer to this could help to improve the product greatly in my opinion.

    • Shanny Hill

      Hi An,

      Sorry for the slow reply. We were actually pretty impressed with 3 successful tours. Our niche is large-scale, cross-border cycling tours. For example, the successful ones were: St Petersburg to Venice – 3500 km; Agra to Kanyakumari 4200 km; and San Francisco to St John, Canada 8000 km. So these are tours that require a very large commitment from people – not only paying an entry fee, but the cost of taking extended time off work.

      So the challenge has been trying to take it from a vague interest online, to committing in the real world to such a large undertaking.

  16. Gary Arndt

    Short answer, inspiration isn’t going to come from corporations.

    You can’t just “make” and inspiration engine or website. It is forced and obviously self serving.

    People inspire other people.

    It could be your friends, it could be bloggers, or it could be someone else entirely.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May



      That surely also blows the entire idea of advertising out of the water if people are not inspired by any messaging they see from corporations, right?

      • Adam Costa

        Agreed. Inspiration for travel comes from many, many sources:

        National Geographic
        World Maps, etc.

        All these are created (and sold) by large companies.

        As a travel publisher who deals in inspiration, I realize you can’t jam a “dream trip” down someone’s throat.

        But you can give them quality content (e.g. text, video, photos, etc) which fuels the fire.


        Editor in Chief, Trekity

  17. Shanny Hill

    Thanks for the article Alex,

    DreamTours was the brainchild of our founder Henry Gold. As you see, it is still in a BETA testing stage, but we have over the past two years been able to use it to successfully launch 3 tours!

    We feel it has great potential, but the process needs some refinement, and we hope to put some more time into coming up with a full featured version. Time will tell – in the meantime, we have a full calender of cycling tours to keep us busy for right now.

    We of course welcome any feedback on the DreamTours process – this has been uncharted territory for us, and we learn as we go.

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Thank you Shanny for replying here! If you guys do update it then please do email us here at Tnooz and we will take another look
      Thanks! Alex

      • Shanny Hill

        Hi Alex,

        I just thought I’d follow up. We are working on some new cycle tour projects and a brand new website – to be launched later this month – so our DreamTours system is going into hibernation for the time being. In our announcement of this, we asked our DreamTours users to offer up feedback and advice for an eventual relaunch and we would extend that to Tnooz readers as well. We would love to hear your ideas.

        Here’s a link to the announcement –


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