Why browsing travel photos from friends is not very interesting – and certainly not a business

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

There have been repeated business attempts in the travel space around showing you Facebook-based or other photos from friends in a visual way.

JetPac probably has the best product and traction in this space, but I don’t have an iPad to try it out myself. ZETrip is the latest to take the friends’ photos angle, having just launched their iPhone app as a way to browse friends’ photos in a simple way. The messaging:

“Dear Drew,

“Add a little bit of sunshine to your day by browsing hundreds of trips and gorgeous travel photos from friends. Try our new and free iPhone app.”

Great.

A way to waste more of my time browsing photos, the vast majority of which I don’t really care about. This is a business?

It’s not addressing a pain point for me; it doesn’t solve a need in my life. And for that reason, it’s not going to have enough of a catch that someone is persuaded to download a new app or sign up for yet another website.

Remember Tripl? Seriously, Tripl’s iPhone app was absolutely gorgeous. Stunning.

But the app was totally useless to me as a user. Turns out the masses perhaps agreed because the company is no longer operating.

The issue here is that each of these models assumes there is a business in inspiring travel and, as an entrepreneur in the travel space, I just don’t believe there is a need for a site or app purely dedicated to inspiring.

Travel inspiration is a process that happens over a long, long period of time on a wide wide variety of sites.

It comes from soundbites at a party with friends, flipping through a magazine in the doctor’s office. It’s a natural part of life when we find ourselves inspired by a moment, place, or a dream to travel.

You know what none of these travelers are doing? Sitting down at their computer and thinking “Where should I go next” and then specifically searching out answers in one session.

It’s far more likely that they, and you, already have a few dream destinations tucked away for future travels.

And when travelers are looking for inspiration they start their research by wanting to know more about these places already implemented in the back of their minds. If they uncover other places that are similar along the way, awesome!

I believe in building value. And these sites don’t add value to my life. Maybe that’s just me. However, based on the people I’ve spoken to, I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment.

What are real pain which influence travel decisions you ask?

  • Cheap air tickets to a place I already want to go
  • Data showing traveling to destination X (abroad) is cheaper than a trip to destination Y (domestic)
  • Free, or cheap, accommodation
  • Friends planning a trip that I can tag along on
  • Knowledge that friend X is living in destination Y
  • Some great local contact(s) in destination Y

So, which individuals and companies are working on solutions to these practical problems?

Those who know me absolutely know I am 100% on board with anything that leads more people to travel.

Yet I have zero desire for a more efficient way to browse friends’ photos, and don’t believe seeing photos in a new way is going to move the needle toward increasing the number of passports with stamps in them.

As a entrepreneur in the travel space, I think some companies are missing the point driving their business.

Travel is transformative, the connections you make with others on the road — finding new ideas, cultures, and others with similar interests is a high-point for many travelers and in building businesses in this space, we need to be sure we’re actually facilitating this end-goal.

Actually getting people to travel. And so, how we tackle the travel sphere is where it gets interesting, and there is a lot of room for improvement and growth — from planning to booking to sharing to connecting on the road; this is where the pain points lie for travelers.

Travel inspiration is all around us and, while some people have fears preventing them from travel, they have money concerns, work commitments, etc … what they aren’t lacking in their lives is inspiration.

So the real question for a startup considering yet another way to browse travel photos should be:

  • What are you doing to increase the number of people actually traveling?
  • How are you getting more people to experience new cultures and people with their own two eyes?

That, my friends, is how you move the travel industry forward and, ultimately, change lives.

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

NB2: Travel photos image via Shutterstock.

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Viewpoints

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 the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.

 

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  1. Matt L

    Somebody who doesn’t own an iPad shouldn’t be writing an article about people looking to have a visual experience about Travel. Research has shown that people use tablets heavily during the travel dreaming and planning phases, and that travel dreaming is mostly a visual exercise. How can you state that browsing photos isn’t very interesting when you don’t even have the device that most people are using to dream about travel?

     
    • Drew Meyers

      Matt-
      I’ll use my friends iPad to take a look at JetPac and report back. But, no matter what device you give me or how beautiful you make it, I have zero desire to spend 3 hours looking through all my friends travel photos, it’s just not something that interests me. Maybe that’s just me…but I’ve talked to enough people to believe that I’m not the only one that feels this way. I’d love to hear from a few people who find huge value in these types of apps and use them regularly.

       
    • Drew Meyers

      I just spent a bit of time w/ JetPac…not really sure what I’m supposed to use it for. I can fill in my travel map, and browse photos in a few categories? Anything else? It has some gorgeous photos, but nothing that is going to inspire travel. I don’t want to browse more photos. Again, that’s just me. I don’t see a way at all to browse my friends photos — which I thought was what they built first? If they’ve pivoted away from that, then that seems to prove that the market agrees with me….as I’m sure they have plenty of data showing what people are and are not interested in using their app for – and if they’ve removed that from the product, then it must not be that interesting to travelers.

       
  2. Peter Syme

    How do we increase the overall size of the travel vertical by moving people from the “I want to travel” to “I’m booking a ticket”?

    Even with all the fancy technology available today I feel to do the above you still have to have people to people connection. Nothing gets people traveling and doing more than by speaking to others who do travel be that friends or travel businesses.

    The biggest pain point for potential travellers in my experience is time, the feel very time pressured, or have a whole host of other responsibilities that take their time away from travel.

    Addressing lack of time is a very difficult one as it has so many competing areas impacting. It is the most commented reason for deciding not to travel from our enquires when we follow up on why they did not book.

    Agree with your article on friends photos no one spends time looking at lots of friends photos. However, photos and videos used wisely are very productive for travel businesses we produce them for our guests and our guests often use them to inspire others to travel with us.

     
    • Drew Meyers

      “Nothing gets people traveling and doing more than by speaking to others who do travel be that friends or travel businesses.”
      Absolutely. It took my best friend bugging me for several months to get me to commit to going abroad after we graduated college. Best decision I ever made.

      I don’t think it’s time at all that’s preventing people from traveling. I think it’s fear of the unknown. If someone wants to travel, then they can make the trade-offs needed to do so. If they aren’t willing to make those trade-offs, then they don’t truly want to venture abroad.

      On the photos angle – 100% agree with you. The key thing there is context. Your guests are using them in online conversations, or in a one to one offline with someone they specifically want to go rafting. If you hit me at the right time with photos and video, I’m totally interested and it can influence my purchase decisions.

      And actually, one thing I would use Tripl or JetPac or ZEtrip for — would be to specifically view my close friends’ photos in a beautiful interface, but everyone else’s photos should be hidden. That’s 15 people and I’d probably only use it once a month, and maybe not even that often.

       
  3. Rob Wortham

    Good article Drew

    My only comment is that in terms of addressing people’s real pain points, its not always about cheap.

    Sometimes its about value. Its about acquiring the confidence that the thing you are buying will be of suitable quality for the price you’re paying. That’s primarily why trip advisor was a good idea, now ruined by professional mis-posting.

    I think that’s why travel agencies still survive on the high street, and why so many people still complete the travel transaction by phone. Its also why big brands still have significant power in the travel space – they are trusted.

    Rob

     
    • Drew Meyers

      Totally agreed with you on the cheap angle. You can do anything on your own. Ultimately, many services rely on the fact that someone desires to pay for the convenience of not having to do it themselves. That’s a proven model.

      That said, solving those pain points are not really going to get more people actually traveling. Those people are already traveling. How do we increase the overall size of the travel vertical by moving people from the “I want to travel” to “I’m booking a ticket”? THAT is the long term win for the entire industry.

       
  4. Jonathan Meiri

    Boom! @Drew you nailed it in the title. Browsing pictures is nice, sometimes even inspiring, but try to connect it to the money-making activities in the on-line travel business and you are toast. That being said, none of the services you mention are big businesses either.

    The (almost) only value creating businesses is travel over the last 10 years has been arbitraging web traffic at scale by OTAs and very few meta search companies.

    Last couple of years have seen mobile/sharing economy/data make some waves as well.

    So what I’d expect of such a winning opening in your title is more meat on how your pain points can be translated into value creating businesses.

    Thanks,
    Jonathan
    CEO Superfly.com

     
    • Drew Meyers

      I’ve got a few ideas in that area as well..guess I’ll just have to do another guest post down the line on that topic 🙂

       
  5. Charlie Osmond

    Hi Drew,
    Good post. I agree that displaying friends’ photos is unlikely to have a big impact on inspiring travel. But I put that more down to the fact that only a small proportion of my Facebook Friends have congruent travel profiles to me.

    However I do think fixing the “too many photos to see” problem does have value – 60Photos grew incredibly fast doing this and Flipboard provides great utility from surfacing and showing content in a different way. (But to your point, neither of those helps inspire travel).

    I like your two “real questions a travel-photo startup should consider” I think there are more possibilities:
    – can you help people make better travel decisions (not necessarily travelling more)
    – can you reduce the pain/time of trip planning?
    – can you increase travel anticipation or desire (even after I have booked, anticipation can help me get more value from my travel purchase).
    Charlie

     
    • Drew Meyers

      Hey Charlie-
      I agree the “too many photos to see” is a problem, I just don’t think the approaches I’ve seen remotely address it. The fact of the matter is, I really don’t want to browse any of my friends travel photos (except my 10-15 closest friends). I want to browse great photos for the regions I want to travel to — or browse photos from one specific amazing travel photographer.

      The other possibilities you mention are certainly pain points…travel planning is a huge chore I’d rather not spend so much time on. But there’s not an amazing experience that solves it for me (& I don’t have the money to spend on a great travel agent to do it all for me).

      FYI I saw you speak at Launch festival a few months ago. Would love to chat with you at some point.

       
  6. Fraser Campbell

    Great article —-Getting people to experience the culture themselves is really the driver of the success of a travel website, and photos of my friends doing it is now going to make that happen.

     
    • Drew Meyers

      Hey Fraser-
      Do you have some time to skype sometime in the next week? Have an idea I think you may be interested in to bounce off you…

       
  7. James Penman

    Hi,
    Images convey a huge amount of information. Visual information is much quicker to absorb than textual information. Information and time are pain points. I guess it’s a question of how you arrange the data.
    James

     
  8. Paul Jones

    a. Why don’t you have an iPad? Like seriously, who doesn’t? Espesh if running your own website.
    b. Instead of writing these sorts of columns, wouldn’t you be better off working on your own product offering — because I for one really don’t see the point of it….. but maybe it’s just me.
    Cheers
    Paul

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @”paul jones” – keep it nice eh, if you’re going to stay anonymous.

      For what it’s worth, I didn’t have an iPad until a few months ago. And I run my own website. Does that make me a luddite?

      Anyway, I’m sure Drew can defend his own business………

       
    • Drew Meyers

      Paul-
      your feedback is noted, and frankly, spot on for some people. The longer term value prop is around connecting you with amazing like minded people while you travel. Everyone who sees the product says “this would be really useful if a massive community (& my friends) were using it”. But, as you probably know, getting to critical mass to deliver that type of value proposition is amazing difficult. So we’re testing all sorts of angles that will be a more compelling experience for a single user, that does not revolve around having a massive community using it w/ them. The people using it regularly are those that are using our WP.org plugin (http://wordpress.org/plugins/oh-hey-world/) to keep their location current on their blog. For those who are tired of answering “Where are you?” at the beginning of every conversation they have, the value prop is there. For the masses, we’re not there yet.

      Reaching more travelers for a new wave of feedback is what we need to do more of. We don’t need to build more product…we need to ensure that the next thing we actually build is the one that will lead to increased user growth

      And yes, I absolutely realize that not all products are interesting to all people. But the fact that Tripl raised decent money yet is no longer operating seems telling that the masses agree. If I’m proved wrong on this, I’ll happily admit it.

       
    • Drew Meyers

      On the iPad angle – just don’t see any reason why I need an iPad, iPhone, and macbook pro. I’ve largely lived out of a backpack for 3 years…space is at a premium. iPhone and Macbook pro do the job just fine.

       
  9. Sandy Gennrich

    If I want photo inspiration, I go to 500px. No better place to see amazing photos from anywhere in the world. I don’t want to see crappy picutres from my friends, sorry.

     
    • Drew Meyers

      I think photos of places are one of the few things, where I really don’t care who took the photo. A photo is a photo…and I’m with you, I’d much rather see amazing photos than my friends’ photos. The only photos I spend time looking at are those of my closest 10-15 friends. If you fall outside that bucket, then I really don’t care.

       
 
 

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