Media & Entertainment

Social Travel: Rediscovering the Friendly Skies


Editor’s note: TechCrunch contributor Semil Shah is an entrepreneur interested in digital media, consumer Internet, and social networks. Shah is based in Palo Alto and you can follow him on twitter @semil

We’ve heard endlessly how “social” will eventually disrupt and transform old, stodgy industries, perhaps even reinvent them for the better. The promise of this change, of course, is often tempered by the reality that, if indeed this stuff actually happens, it will take time and we’re currently in the early stages of the game.

And when it comes to travel, one of the most heavily regulated industries, disruption and transformation would be music to travelers’ ears. There are a number of reasons travel has become more of an onerous task (thank you, TSA), yet consumers continue to brave the elements to merrily trot around the globe.

Brushing aside the fact that a significant portion of travel is business-related, decisions around leisure travel typically involve a number of factors, many of which are coming online. The catalyst for a personal trip can originate from different sources. One could have vacation time that will evaporate unless you use it. One could be offered a travel deal rate that motivates you to capitalize on it. One may want to catch up with old friends or families, or travel for entertainment, adventure, or to simply get away from your surroundings.

In exploring the travel space through a social lens, most of today’s consumer web-related entrepreneurial attention is focused on what travelers do once they reach their intended destination. In the old days, travelers would book hotels directly (or through travel agents) and would rely on branded guides like Lonely Planet or Frommer’s, hotel concierges, and traditional tour companies to help address these needs. A few years later, services like Kayak and TripIt offered more options for users to organize their travel.

Today’s traveler has many more options. They can “couch surf” or use others’ private spaces as lodging (thanks to Airbnb), and by comparison, could literally pick from over twenty different services to get information about their intended destinations. When I travel somewhere, I’ll typically ask friends on Facebook and Twitter for recommendations, which so far have tended to be excellent and satisfy my needs.

If I happened to need even more information, I could continue my research through sites like TripAdvisor, FlyerTalk, TripIt, Quora (local), explore Foursquare lists, peruse Gowalla’s new social travel guides, or sign up for one of a new wave of startups focused on the space, such as Planely (meet people at the airport or on your flight), Trippy (friend-sourced itineraries), Triposo (interactive mobile guides), Travellr (location-based Q&A), Toour (currently in stealth), Tripping (traveler community service), Twigmore (connect with your friends’ friends in other places), Globetrooper (tool to find travel partners), MyTab (where folks can gift travel to members), Gtrot (scrapes social data and aggregates around places), JetPac (seems to be a slick iPad app, but not released yet), and many, many others I haven’t gotten around to trying.

Jetlagged yet?

The sheer number of startups focusing attention on this aspect of travel seems out of balance to me. Investors like this particular space because the path to victory is clearer, albeit its crowded, and because these types of apps and services could be inherently viral, both in terms of onboarding new users as well as benefitting from positive word-of-mouth.

Instead of destination-based guides, however, I’ve started to wonder if the real opportunity is higher up the decision funnel, before we buy plane tickets and hotel rooms, at the point we first feel the urge to travel. The best travel recommendations I’ve received (and acted on) have come through having conversations with close friends in real life. They share slideshows of their trip and we get to interact with them in rich ways about their experience, to see if we want to sign up for the same feeling. That is a true recommendation with a real strong social signal. These moments of inspiration oftentimes ignite the travel spark and could trigger a transaction. Startups like Gtrot and Gogobot, for instance, allow users to plan trips or record them after the fact, and research travel tips from social networks, organizing information around places.

There’s simply no way that all the destination-based services listed so far will be able to survive such a cluttered field, so it may be worthwhile for some of them to at least consider the discovery-related aspect of travel and to design systems that help draw out and collect users’ preferences around travel, sort of how Gtrot and Gogobot currently do, but perhaps in deeper ways. The current offerings incorporate “social,” yes, but they seem to lack truly relevant social context. For a big decision like traveling, the strong signal usually originates from one trusted friend or source.

Despite an unstable economy, rising fuel costs, and the hassles of air travel, people continue to jam airports worldwide. The majority of travel expenditures are eaten up by transportation and lodging, as well as food and entertainment at the destination. Therefore, today’s trend is to leverage social recommendations to help consumers shape their experiences in new places, though I’d argue this focus area actually ignores richer pastures.

The real opportunities in social travel may lie closer to the top of the decision funnel, at the moment when a consumer discovers a new place he/she wants to travel to. It’s at this point where startups could build applications on top of existing social graphs to help people get inspired about travel, to plan and book their trips, and share them in novel ways with friends and family. There’s no reason TripAdvisor needs to continue to show up on the first page of Google results for travel searches anymore.

With all of the data and pictures uploaded to Facebook, the opportunity is just sitting there, waiting for someone to jump on it. If done correctly, a new site or service could be created that actually acts as a modern travel collection and concierge in one, making travel arrangements easier and more affordable. In a nutshell, that is the challenge to startups in this space—to more intelligently incorporate data, to reinvent TripAdvisor’s existing offerings plus adding social, making results more relevant, personalized, and more emotional to interact with. Whomever can crack that code and present travelers with a better travel experience will find themselves in a very enviable seat, high up in the friendly skies.

Photo Credit: Flickr / Phineas H

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

21 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

23 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android