Georama’s Map-Based Travel Search Service Goes Live

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Chicago-based Georama is now launching what it calls a “map-based travel platform.” In layman’s terms, that’s a travel search service that’s entirely based on top of a map. It can either suggest places for you to go based on your interests or other factors (e.g. time of year), or, if you already have a few places in mind, you can use Georama to explore things like local attractions and activities, restaurants, nightlife, weather, news, deals and more.

The company has bootstrapped itself to $250,000 and raised another $250,000 from undisclosed New York angels a couple of months ago.

Georama was founded by Nihal Advani, an ex-Microsoftie who previously worked in Search (Bing) and Display (Microsoft Media Network). He also interned at Google while in college. Serving as CEO, Advani leads Georama’s team of 17, who are based in both Chicago and India.

So, what’s the big idea with a “map-based” platform, I wanted to know.”We believe in providing an experience for travelers, something that hasn’t been done that well in the online travel industry so far,” Advani tells me. “We built a one-of-a-kind interactive map from scratch  – it’s patent pending – to craft a visual experience that is unique, immersive, and fun,” he says. “Georama is also the only true one-stop solution…we have partnered with 20+ providers (and this is just the initial list) bringing together the best content, fares, and social networks from across the web in one place.” The partners provide the content related to fares, destinations, news, deals, etc. on the site.

To be completely frank, color me skeptical about the benefits of a “map-based” travel platform. That’s something that sounds like what people want, but in practice, navigating and exploring through numerous destinations via a map feels unwieldy and cumbersome. I remember talking to JetPac CEO Julian Green earlier this month following his company’s raise of $2.4 million for its iPad travel search platform. He told me that the company had specifically not focused on a map interface, because “even though people like looking at the map – it’s sort of cool – they get stuck, they don’t know where to start.”

To be fair, Georama is trying to help people figure out where to start – its interface lets you click on icons like “beach,” “family,” “golf,” “ski,” “eco-friendly,” etc. to narrow down ideas. But I found that, when pulling up items on the map, pushpins would be dropped on top of other pushpins from the zoomed out worldview, meaning you had to zoom in to click accurately. There is a lot of information available once you have a destination pulled up, however, and the Facebook Connect option lets you see if you have local friends, which is handy. But overall, the UI here needs work – its pop-up destination windows, cluttered interface, and black-and-white icons felt a little old-school for my tastes. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

However, it is nice to have the destination discovery, social features (it also connects with Foursquare, Instagram and YouTube), and the ticket booking process under one umbrella. That’s something that not all competitors in the “social travel” search space currently offer, often focusing more on the “inspirational” rather than the “transactional” part of the equation. One-stop shopping is one of the many reasons why newly-IPO’ed Kayak is so popular, for example. You can browse interests and deals before booking. But Kayak still feels like it’s more for the final step in travel process – buying tickets – and is not as focused on “where do I want to go?”

Georama has some interesting advisors on board, it should be noted. Currently an ex-Orbitz COO, an ex-President of United.com, an ex-VP of Sabre, the Country Head of Microsoft India, and the Head of BMGI India are all helping Georama, Advani tells me.

The platform launched into private beta at the DEMO conference this year, but is opening to all, with the “official” launch arriving on Wednesday.