It is no secret that the travel business is migrating to online tools. Expedia and a host of other remarkably successful online booking giants have helped spur profits and customer value unheard of even a decade ago. This focus, or shift, is even more evident when we look at huge online players like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft engaging with their own movements in the space.
Besides the big players like Expedia (and its TripAdvisor), Kayak, LastMinute, and to a lesser degree Orbitz, there are other online platforms which actually refine the online travel experience even more. TripIt for example, is all about simplicity in trip collaboration while a new travel startup called Kukunu takes that value and adds in better planning and social collaboration. The online travel website game is as much about finding the perfect balance now, as it is about simple bookings.
Another new example we just tried is a killer domain, Stay.com, with many of the best tools of other online portals - but somehow cleaner and more simply navigated. Plus the novel, but valuable idea of “in your pocket” PDF guides. On top of that, from what we hear, all that simple flexibility will soon go geo-located via mobile. That is the Holy Grail for any online travel tool. But, let’s take a look at Stay.com as one example of forward thinking online travel.
For Stay.com Beta as it exists, users of grab elements such as hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping, museums and other venues together with a click. They then create a personal guide specific to their needs, tastes and destination preferences. These can be consulted from via computer or (coming smart phone), or printed out as a pocket-sized .pdf. Users can the broadcast their itinerary or parts of it to friends via Facebook and Twitter. They can even collaborate during the creation of the guides as well.
The goal of Stay.com is to use an intuitive user interface so travelers can find, consolidate, share, and collaborate their travels. The cities, lodging, restaurant and so on, are arranged hierarchically from most relevant to the possibly useful. So, users not only have collaborative value, they have relevant suggestion as they build destinations.
The ability to read, look, research, and modify online - or to make use of in condensed form in print - are two components of a powerful 3 part platform. As we said, the mobile application is due with the next release. Combining these three elements, integrated, could prove to be the template for all coming online travel tools.
For some types of sites, mind boggling flash and graphics are magnetic, but online travel is not the ordinary web business. Stay.com combines useful simplicity with stunning images and graphics in the right places. This is a difficult balance to strike, obviously. Other Stay.com additions, we are told, include; user added venues and places, video guides, third party sharing widgets, as well as the mobile and geo-location elements suggested earlier.
It is a safe bet that the huge players already mentioned are working on their own “Web 2.5” online platforms too. The needed elements are not exactly “rocket science,” but well-known functionalities. It is just a matter of time. In the end, these efforts will lead to added traveler value. This is the good news we all look forward to. Just booking cheap flights and car rentals is a pretty standard evolution - the next phase of online travel is cutting edge and free added value. Keep watching.
* Phil Butler is a Senior Partner - Pamil Visions Public Relations