Thursday, October 25, 2007


Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Yen Lee, president of the new travel search company Kango. For those who do not know Yen, he has an extensive background in online travel most recently as the head of Yahoo! Travel. So what is unique about Kango? The company is building a semantic travel search engine. Rather than simply displaying results of a key word search by PageRank (the method used by Google) , Kango delivers results that are more personalized based on specific attributes entered into the search criteria. Kango is creating an ontology of global travel content that includes ranking of superlatives within review sites. This enables the search engine to rate a given hotel, for example, putting greater value on adjectives such as "This is the best hotel for kids in Monterey California". Kango allows users to search hotels, activities and other travel related content filtered to meet their own specific preferences. In other words, rather than simply searching for a four star hotel in Monterey, Kango users can use specific descriptive words such as "romantic" to identify the most appropriate hotel to meet their needs. Though the idea of segmenting travel search has been introduced by sites such as the Travelocity Experience Finder or Home and Abroad, Kango's backend semantic catalogue represents a different approach. These other experience oriented sites have created a taxonomy of their content enabling an experience oriented search limited to their traditional content. Rather than simply putting content into categories, Kango's ontology defines travel content in terms of superlatives delivering a numeric ranking of search results that integrates mutiple user generated content. This includes review sites such as Trip Advisor and travel blog sites such as Gusto!. This is not simply a repurposing of ratings from these sites. The Kango engine evaluates reviews and blogs of a specific hotel property for example, across multiple sites to deliver a consolidated rating that reflects the descriptive needs of the user. Kango is adding this semantic interperation of travel content not only to traditional hotel information, but also by embracing the Long Tail concept, Kango is including content options such as campgrounds and other disenfranchised elements of travel industry that normally are not included in standard OTA content. Kango's focus is on the planning phase of travel and will refer their users to booking sites for reservations. This is truly an innovative approach to travel planning that has the potential to truly change the way consumers search travel content.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Social Networking Matters for the Corporate Travel Market

The BEAT recently covered my NBTA presentation on Web 2.0 and the release of my new study "Corporate Travel Technologies: Today and Tomorrow". In the article Jay projects a somewhat skeptical view on whether social networking apps will ever appear in the corporate travel industry. I understand Jay's skepticism. Throughout my 25 years in the corporate travel industry, I have seen many so-called revolutionary apps announced at trade shows, but never implemented. When it comes to social networking, this trend transcends any specific industry, and thus is a phenomenon that will impact all travel industry segments, even corporate travel! I was talking this morning with the CEO of a new European based social networking platform, Dopplr, that allows individuals to identify other people in their network who are traveling to the same destination. Dopplr's focus is primarily on business travel. With recent PhoCusWright research that shows that 1/2 of all business trips include an extension for leisure activity, identifying other social networking contacts who are at the destination becomes important. Even from a pure business enterprise perspective, identifying other corporate employees who are at the same destination could have additional value for the traveler. Social Networking is here to stay. Still not convinced? Then perhaps it's an age thing! PhoCusWright research also shows that people under 35 are much more familiar with social networking apps than those over 35. This generational gap will be most prominent when the current college age Facebook users enter the workforce.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why Travel Mash-Ups are Important

As much as the OTAs may position themselves as a one-stop shops for travel planning and booking, the reality is that no single site can make this claim. With the introduction of over 30+ travel sites over the past 2 years, travel content on the Web has never been more fragmented. Sites that provide travel blogs, itinerary sharing and rating systems abound. The future of destination content should include a mash-up of multiple sites such as the recent by American Express regarding their travel mash-up of Travel & Leisure, American Express Publishing and Lonely Planet. In my view consumers would flock to mash-up sites that combine multiple reviews from Trip Advisor, IGOUGO and others, organized around a single hotel search. Obviously copyright issues may be an obstacle, but if the review sites benefit financially through referral income, they may be willing to provide the individual ratings. The same needs to be true for itinerary sharing sites, multiple samples from Realtravel and Gusto! would be beneficial. Mash-ups are here to stay and will continue to play a major role in online travel.

Friday, October 05, 2007

BBC buys Lonely Planet - The Future of Guidbook content

Some may be surprised by the acquisition of Lonely Planet by the BBC. Why would a traditional media giant want travel destination content? What does this mean for the future of guidebooks? There are a number of ways to look at this purchase. Combining Lonely Planet content with BBC video such as Michael Palin's travel series seems an obvious step, but I believe there is more to this transaction. Large media giants such as BBC are challenged by the growth of the Web which is clearly steeling viewers from the traditional broadcast television medium. The BBC is not blind to this trend and has created some interesting user interfaces on the Web. In specific, the BBC has a very creative interactive time line that allows users to drill down to find out information about specific time periods in British History. Rather than offering the user simple historical text, the BBC history time line allows the user to select information that is of particular interest to fit their needs and drill down to the appropriate detail. Applying this approach to Lonely Planet information would be very logical and enable better navigation of the content. With the growth of user generated content and BBC's control over massive libraries of video content, the BBC could use the Lonely Planet acquisition to drive a new model in the market that combines all three of these sources into an interactive display allowing users more flexibility. The integration of multiple sources of content is a natural evolutionary step in destination information and I am hopeful the BBC will use this opportunity to drive a new model in the market.