Airline group Air France-KLM, formed after the merger of Société Air France and the Royal Dutch Airlines and currently the largest airline company in the world in terms of operating revenues, has recently launched a social network for travelers called Bluenity to connect its +75 million customers when traveling (presumably so that they can meet up with strangers).
An airline moving into social networking is interesting, so we decided to take a look and see how it compares to internet startups who are looking to monetize social platforms catered to travelers. Unfortunately, in this case, it turns out to be not much more than a marketing exercise.
In terms of features, Bluenity doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but you’ll find all the necessary basics: you can edit both your leisure and business profile and you get to share your regular departure airport, favorite destinations, number of flights you take per year, and countries you’ve visited in the past. Bluenity lets users interact with other members, connects to their Facebook profile and enables users to share travel tips with each other. I think they would have been better off integrating tips and reviews from other travel communities that have been around for years and offer valuable content in abundance (e.g. TripAdvisor) and letting you choose which profile (e.g. LinkedIn) you would like to point to.
I also suspect they will moderate the hell out of the service because their Traveler Charter reads “the Bluenity community encourages travelers to choose good humor over conflict and positive advice over negative criticism. Optimism and enthusiasm are essential to maintaining a friendly atmosphere.” So honesty is fine, just be positive when you’re being critical. Right.
(Stowe Boyd even had his profile picture rejected because it was pixelated.)
I still like Dopplr better (other comparable services include TripIt, TravelMuse, TripSay and more), because it doesn’t make a distinction about which airline you’ve chosen to travel with—if you were in doubt, Bluenity only lets you share trips that includes one of Air France-KLM’s flights—and are open to include relevant information and multimedia content from third-party sources (e.g. photos from Flickr) rather than keeping the network a walled garden. Another major advantage to using something like Dopplr instead, is that the service leverages your existing relationship rather than trying to get you to hook up with total strangers.
What’s odd about Bluenity is that it displays travel tips and comments about hotels, restaurants, and attractions in all the languages the service is available in: French, Dutch and English, even when you indicate in which language you would like to browse the social network.
Last but not least, I think it’s a shame that they decided to boast about being the very first airline to launch a social platform for travelers, when that is clearly not the truth (cases in point: British Airways has Metrotwin while Lufthansa operates both GenerationFly and GenFlyLounge).
To conclude: I think there’s value in airlines engaging their customers in a more social way, as long as they realize that people are generally not loyal to either one airline company nor to a single social network. But it would be better for airlines to launch platforms that are open, or plug into existing communities by partnering with social networking services who have been doing a great job at building and maintaining groups of travelers for years now. Otherwise the barriers to adoption are just too great. Would you want to be friends with the people sitting next to you on a plane? No, you want to get away from those people as soon as the plane lands.