Is the Time Right for Trip Planning Tools?

Published November 2016

The following post was written by Ola Zetterlöf, chief operating officer of ArrivalGuides, one of the 2016 Phocuswright Conference media partners.

I was asked by Phocuswright to give my thoughts on the companies in this year's Phocuswright Innovation events.

For me there are two key factors to consider:

1. How innovative is their idea/platform?
2. What are the chances of commercial success?

Two factors that don't always go hand-in-hand. As we all know, it takes much, much more than innovation to succeed. For me, the latter factor is of course the key.

Out of the approximately 60 companies competing in the various categories, about 20 are pure B2C and 30 are pure B2B. The others are a mix, as I see it. In today's travel landscape, pure B2C is very hard to succeed in.Getting access to a critical mass of customers and convincing them to transact with an unknown company is hard. Hence, I would favor companies with a focus on B2B or a mix.

Trip planning seems to be the hot segment this year. Around one-third of the innovators are in the trip-planning space. Interestingly, only two of them are in the Launch category (for established companies) – Why? History indicates that it is inherently difficult to succeed in this area. At ArrivalGuides, we have been contacted by countless trip-planning companies since 2006, very few of them exist today. Why do they fail?

•   Trip planning as a concept is enticing for travelers, but very few take the time to do it.

•   Many trip-planning companies make it too hard and too detailed. The focus shouldn't be on detailed itineraries, but more on recommendations that suit each traveler, ease of booking and simple collaboration between the travelers in your group and potentially the travel agent.

•   They haven't been able to commercialize this on scale.

For me, one exception to the rule is Gogobot.

How do you commercialize trip planning? In a B2C model, most companies we have met do it by selling travel and travel-related products. Back to the key points – how do you get a large user base and how do you get them to convert with an unknown brand? B2B is more straightforward, you supply travel operators with a platform that improves their current business, conversions, loyalty, etc., and get a share of the revenue, either by % on transactions or license fees.

Is trip planning innovative? Not as such, but it needs to be innovative to succeed in an area where most fail.

Quality is key, as is freshness and trustworthiness of the content you supply and your ability to provide the right content for each traveler. If your content is being used at scale to plan a trip, this will largely influence the success of the trip, which will reflect back on your brand.

It is not only about knowing what is interesting for each individual, but at what stage this is interesting. As a supplier of destination content we have done many surveys with our user base. In general, information/recommendations around Do & See, the City, Practical Info and Restaurants is most interesting. Do & See is important all through the travel cycle from inspiration to in-destination. Restaurants, Shopping, Bars and Events get more and more interesting closer to the trip and peaks when in-destination. The travel industry has focused on so-called in-destination products (attractions, tours, sports tickets, etc.) for a couple of years. In what stage is that important? Very few companies have large success in selling these products before the trip. In-destination is still key.

What type of content should you supply in which part of the travel cycle? Content (recommendations) in the shape of text is most important throughout the full travel cycle. Video and images tend to be more important early on, and user reviews during the booking phase.

It is hard to talk trip planning without mentioning Google Trips. The perfect trip planning tool? Maybe. But they aren't there yet in my view. How can travel suppliers compete with Google Trips? Well, if customers have booked with a travel supplier, they have a head start. If the supplier can also supply great tools for in-destination, why wouldn't their customers continue to use them, when all of their trip details are there and they have already transacted with them? If the customers can add a collaborative element - where the traveler can communicate/collaborate with their travel supplier all through the trip - why would they use Google Trips? This requires a great mobile app, since most research points towards apps being the favored platform when traveling. Of course, it goes without saying that you need a responsive platform as well.

If I were to give my thoughts on who will succeed, I would suggest you take a close look at the platform supplied by Snowstorm, or potentially MobyTrip, Trip Republic, AXUS or Inspirock.

ArrivalGuides has already chosen to work with one of these companies and our new arrivalguides.com will be powered by them … let's hope we have chosen the right one!

CLICK HERE to explore the 2016 innovators.