Any profitable sector of the internet is bound to draw the eyes of new startups. This is particularly the case for the $78.8 billion online travel industry. It’s spurred the development of over a dozen meta-search engines, trip trackers, and trip planning tools.
The latest travel site, VibeAgent, should look familiar to you. It’s TripAdvisor with a social networking twist. Like TripAdvisor, you can use the site to find, review, and book hotels (TripAdvisor also does flights). However, on TripAdvisor, everyone gets the same reviews. It can be hard to guess at motivations behind the poster, or how relevant they are to your tastes and preferences. They recently received an undisclosed seed round of funding from Trip Davis, President and CEO of the publicly traded TRX Inc.
VibeAgent helps add context to the reviews and search results by exposing the profiles of the reviewers and ranking search results based on your relationship to the reviewer. Reviews consist of text, ratings, and photos of the area. Every review is labeled by the person who posts it and ranked in search results with review by similar reviewers, friends, and members of groups you’ve joined pushed to the top. The idea is that these people have the opinions that you can trust and which are closest to your views. Of course, if you don’t join the system, they won’t have very many details to base their results on.
So far VibeAgent is sticking to hotels because they want to focus on purchases with subjective aspects. Flights are fairly commoditized, with pretty much every airline sticking you in the same cramped chair. Hotels are hard to assess from a price tag and even a photo, which is the reason VibeAgent wants to personalize reviews. Their next target will most likely be vacation homes.
One of the major problems review services have with getting of the ground is building a critical mass of reviews before it becomes a self sustaining community. Yelp has done it by focusing on a few metros and copious amounts of parties. VibeAgent, with their older crowd, plans on rewarding top users through “travel-related” rewards.
While the service is still in private beta, they’ve also extended a 100 invites to us available on InviteShare.