When I was in Amsterdam a week ago, a startup founder from Finland named Leo Koivulehto showed me his travel site TripSay, which is in closed private beta. The first 200 readers to send an e-mail to info [at] tripsay [dot] com with “TechCrunch” in the subject will get a beta invite.
TripSay combines social recommendations with a travel search engine that auto-suggests cities, pubs, hotels, and the like as you type them in. They appear as icons on a map, with a photo (pulled from Flickr) and description on the side, a tag cloud below, and minifeed of all the places you and your friends have rated or recommended. The detail page for each city shows other TripSay members who have visited, tips from members, the most interesting Flickr photos tagged with the name of the city, links elsewhere on the Web, and a list of the top-rated places shown on a map.
On TripSay, the more people you connect to, the more places you can find that they’ve rated or tips they’ve shared. Everything can be rated with a five-point system (smiley face to butt). The site design is intuitive and pleasing, and once more people start adding their ratings, tips, and tags, it will become more useful. My biggest quibble is that if TripSay’s search engine cannot find a place (like teh Gramercy Tavern restaurant in New York City), there is no way to add it so that it appears on the map. But you can add it as a tip, and link to a blog post about it if you like. And, in general, the search is pretty good. (Update: It turns out you can add a place by simply clicking on a map, but you have to discover that for yourself. It would help if they somehow made that clearer. Update 2: The business model, which I should have mentioned, is highly-targeted travel-related ads and affiliate fees to travel booking sites).
Travel, by its nature, is normally a very social experience. Most of us need help from other humans when we are in a strange place. TripSay joins a whole new group of social travel sites that are now emerging , such as Driftr, HereOrThere, and YowTrip. It also adds elements of guided vertical search like Uptake (formerly Kango). Travel sites that don’t make social connections a central part of their experience will have to continue to compete on more utilitarian grounds such as price and place discovery. And that is a very competitive business. The new social travel sites will compete not so much on how good their pricing data is, but rather on how knowledgeable their community is. Which social travel would you want to be a part of?