When I interviewed Tripbirds co-founder Ted Valentin before the social travel recommendation site’s launch in March, he told me that hotel bookings formed the core of Tripbirds’ revenue-generation model. “If we can nail hotel recommendations, you don’t have to do more to have a valuable business,” he said. Now, Tripbirds is taking this idea to heart: from today, the social travel network is paring down and relaunching as a social hotel bookings site, using friend recommendations and Instagram photos, supplemented by traditional hotel listings, to help you figure out the best place to stay wherever you are going.
The reason for Tripbirds’ pivot? The company – backed by Index Ventures, Passion Capital and Creandum; and angel investors Peter Read, Wrapp’s Andreas Ehn, Soundcloud’s Eric Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung, and Path’s Dave Morin – decided that its service needed to be streamlined and “easier to understand,” according to Martina Elm, communications manager for the site. Before the relaunch, the social travel site was more open-ended — the recommendations could be for places to stay, but they could also be about sites, bars and whatever else people wanted to post.
But that also put it into competition with a number of other social travel planning sites, perhaps the biggest being Gogobot, but also Trippy, Gtrot, Wanderfly, Tripwolf and many others. Since its launch in March, Tripbirds has amassed a list of 10,000 users, although it wouldn’t say how many of them are active users. The site closed its previous business down two months ago to work on the new concept.
Hotel bookings is not exactly an uncrowded market, either. But the founders — and its investors — see an opportunity to focus on this one aspect to differentiate itself from the rest of the players out there, many of which are legacy services based around listings that have not incorporated people’s social graphs into that process.
“Online hotel bookings is a multi-billion dollar market,” said Fredrik Cassel at Creandum in the company’s announcement. “Social media is fundamentally changing how internet users are researching and booking hotels. Joining social data with existing data about hotels makes perfect sense. There are lots of travel and hotel booking sites out there but still a lot of room for innovation.”
It can be a lucrative market, too: typically affiliate sites like Tripbirds will get 10% of the total price of a booking, Elm says.
One part that really stands out in the new site is how photographs are incorporated into the content. Whereas usually hotels post static pictures of rooms, a lobby and maybe a pool, here you get a selection of snaps sourced from Instagram that have been geo-tagged with that hotel’s name. That gives you a more personal sense of how much people liked a place, what people noticed enough to record. It gives you details that you may not get otherwise. A search of Hanoi hotels, for example, let me see that some places offer amazing-looking welcome platters of fruit; others do not.
Another feature, carried over from the old Tripbirds, is the ability to create a shortlist of places, which you can then send out to your friends via Twitter and Facebook to get their feedback.
Tripbirds uses your social graph to encourage trusted input, but to supplement that, it is also working with Booking.com to provide more standard listings, which it then matches up with those Instagram photos. That will presumably seem more personalized over time, as more of your friends interact with the site and contribute to your travel plans, but for now it gives Tripbirds a well-stocked feel.
The site is starting out as a desktop web version but it is “definitely looking to offer mobile access in the near future,” says Elm, noting that mobile has become a popular route for people searching and booking sites, especially when they are travelling and on the move.
There is another leg yet to come for Tripbirds’ journey, which also fits well with its social media ethos: becoming a place to find rooms and other accommodation among the many primary sites out there that have been disrupting the hotel industry, among them Airbnb, Love Home Swap, and the rest.
While many of these sites, still relatively young, currently fill their rooms and homes by connecting directly with users on their own sites, you can see how the aggregation model could be an effecitve way of growing their reach and filling out spaces when direct traffic is not doing the trick. Much like regular hotels. “This is definitely something that we want to do in the future,” says Elm.