After sitting through 33 12-minute presentations during the PhoCusWright conference Travel Innovation Summit Tuesday, our minds (those would be the minds of Sean, Jessica and Katie) are still reeling. Some of the ideas presented were pretty close to brilliant. Some were ideas we could swear we’ve seen before…several times. And some were so behind-the-scenes or tech-oriented that we either couldn’t keep up or, though travelers may benefit from them, we’ll really never know we are using them directly. So, out of 33 presentations, we’ve come up with a list of the top ideas that we think will affect travelers or that travelers can use to improve the way they travel and plan trips.
Across the board, we loved Hipmunk for its new spin on flight search. Flight options are represented with colored bars to make it easy to distinguish each option, and nearly every possibility is shown on one page so you don’t have to flip through endless pages of options. Users can sort by price, stops and duration, or they can sort by “agony” – which combines price with number of stops and duration of the flight. You can open multiple tabs within the same window to compare different dates or airports for the same trip, or compare different trips altogether. The interface is easy (and actually fun!) to use. Plus, the logo is just so darn cute.
Another unanimous vote for best-in-show went to TripAlertz. The “Groupon of travel,” TripAlertz is based on the concept of viral marketing. The price of a deal goes down as the number of bookings increases, motivating users to share the deal and encourage people in their social network to book. Trips can be as short as two nights, so the odds are better that your friends may be interested in the trip, and starting in January, users who get 3 friends to book any trip on the site (within a specific window of time) will earn a free trip. Those who get 2 friends to book will earn a 50% discount; 1 friend booking equals a 25% discount. TripAlertz believes that “free travel is the ultimate viral marketing incentive” and we think they might be right.
Stash Hotel Rewards
Katie and Jessica both loved the concept of Stash Hotel Rewards, with some caveats. Stash is a hotel rewards program geared towards travelers who prefer to stay at independently-run hotels in the United States. This means travelers can book the unique hotels they love, while still earning rewards points. Hoteliers change the number of points required for a room at different times of year, so there aren’t any blackout dates. The program is only available in the US, and there are only 100 hotels in the program so choice is currently a bit limited compared to other rewards programs. There are 125 more hotels set to be added soon, and we think if they can continue to grow the number of options, this will be a great program for a certain type of traveler.
UsingMiles was another hit with Katie and Jessica. Users of the site can not only track all their frequent flier miles and programs in one place, and search for flight options that use miles for any of those programs, but they can also see which is a better value for each ticket option – miles or cash? For anyone who belongs to more than one frequent flier program, we think the site could be very helpful for managing those miles, booking reward travel, and making sure you are getting the best value from each program.
Sean saw Everbread’s new proprietary fares and pricing engine, called Haystack, as one of the best innovations. He saw it as an ambitious plan to connect everything to everywhere, and though it’s a B2B product that most travelers won’t even know they are using, it could improve the way end-users search for flights. The product is designed to give online airfare booking sites (including airlines and travel agencies) a way to “offer cheaper fares on a greater number of flights.” The company’s product, Haystack, will allow search results to be tailored by a customer’s profile so that results are more relevant for them – things like how old they are, whether they get a military discount, etc, will affect the results shown.
Off & Away
Katie’s pick for one of the best new ideas, Off & Away is an online auction site – with a twist. The site runs auctions for fabulous (and normally very expensive) hotel suites in several cities; users bid and can score deals of up to 99% off (the site says the average is an 80% discount). Users buy bids for $1. Each bid ups the price by 10 cents and adds 20 seconds to the clock. The high bidder when the time runs out pays the final price and wins the auction. The losers, however, aren’t totally out of luck. They can apply the money spent on the auction to a “book now” booking on the site. So if you spent $25 on 25 bids, that’s $25 you can apply to another booking – but, you must spend the credit within 30 days or you lose it. For travelers who love bargain hunting, the deals will be appealing. Those who like to chase lady luck may also like the fun of the online auction.
Jessica thought Vacation Relation offered a great way to get involved with people who are going on a similar trip and to engage with people who care about your trip (because, let’s face it, a lot of people in your social network don’t). Vacation Relation allows users to connect with people who are going to the same place that they are going, and it does it using the social media platforms everyone is already using (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). When you enter information about your upcoming trip, you’ll see the the other people who have also added themselves to a similar trip, based on destination and month of travel. Your profile into gets pulled into Vacation Relation, so you can socialize with other travelers and trade travel tips on Vacation Relation even if you aren’t already connected to them on other social media.
One of Jessica’s picks was AFAR Connect, a program (currently in beta) that helps travelers connect with other similar travelers. Rather than limiting your trip planning resources on social media to the people you already know, AFAR Connect connects you to people who travel in a similar way as you. How do they know? Each user fills out a profile that puts them into one of 30 traveler types and then introduces them to other travelers in that category. Whether travelers want to add another social media site to their collection remains to be seen, but we like the overall idea and are excited to see where it goes.
As Sean (who picked this idea) put it, GroundLink isn’t sexy, but the product is needed, the site is profitable and the company was the first to market in the niche of online booking for ground transportation. The site is an aggregator of more than 45,000 independent ground transportation vendors – including limos, taxis, vans, shuttles, buses, car rental, and ride-sharing. Customers can read company reviews, compare prices, select the best option and then book transport in 172 countries with as little as an hour’s notice. Travelers who want to organize everything in advance or avoid the hassle of haggling will love the service, while travelers of a different sort may never find themselves needing to use it.