Site Seeing – The innovators

With bookings down and confidence shattered, optimism may seem preposterous at the moment, but I want you to spend a few moments to consider a positive perspective. Perhaps we have been experiencing a Darwinian event?

Capitalism’s big kick up the backside could yet bring out the best in us, with transformational new ideas and innovation providing a path to a better future.

An optimistic view, certainly, but when times are challenging it often pays to stand back and look at the world through a different lens. Yes, even if you work in the travel industry. Transformation is most definitely required.

In this age of the busted business model, we have discovered that our financial system is flawed, banks go bust, car manufacturers go bankrupt and airlines are in trouble. It won’t be long now before we discover who’s backing the wrong business models in other parts of the travel industry. Those with the wrong models, or ineffective websites, are going to fail.

Today, doing nothing is not an option, so why not use this year to design new and better ways to unravel travel opportunities?

Everywhere, new thinking and simpler business models are needed to replace the ancient, complicated and increasingly busted models that have been responsible for our recent economic decline.

So, if now is the time to invest in the future, let’s see if some of today’s innovators are on the right track…

Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus

The original social travel network “connecting you with like-minded people wherever you are and whatever you’re up for doing”.

Design and concept
A social travel network sounded like a good idea a couple of years ago. But how many social networks do you need? Design is sort of okay, but nothing special. The intro video is hilariously clichéd; happy, smiley girls ‘up for a weekend in London’; kissing in discos and giggling in black cabs. I asked my 21-year-old daughter to date WAYN for a night and her feedback was crystal clear, but not flattering: “Why WAYN? We all use Facebook.”

Basic usability is okay once you get used to it, but far too many nil results from searches compromises the user experience. If you try to join with a company email, you can’t. A somewhat binary barrier-to-entry. WAYN clearly prefers hotter-mails than me.

Reflecting its longer-standing stature, there is more ‘stuff’ than Dopplr here. A long list of results for ‘Hotels in Venice’, but again zippo for Positano and Ravello. Better luck in Aix and Avignon. Microsoft Virtual Earth provides the mapping. There are some sourced travel videos, promoting India and other destinations. Checking ‘Who’s around’ I found ‘My name is Sin’ was in. She was ‘interested’ in receiving gifts and eCards. Really!

Business Model/Revenue Generation
Commission splits with flights by Kayak and hotels by WCities (couldn’t find ‘Claridges London’!). Ads provide further revenue. Longer-term, can WAYN monetise its social network other than via membership fees and its planned behavioural targeting system? No business model breakthrough, then.

Design: 17/25
Usability: 17/25
Content: 17/25
Business model / revenue generation: 18/25

Overall: 69/100
“Is WAYN lame?”

With a name derived from the one of my favourite physics A-level experiments, and CEO’d by a fellow purist, Marko Ahtisaari, this has to be an interesting site…

Design and concept
Classic, cool and simple modernist graphics hit the right frequency. Combine Apple aesthetics with Polaroid’s design guidelines and you’ll know what I mean. The large homepage image is striking and type is well laid out in disciplined grids.

I ‘take the tour’ and am disappointed to find a single page, with only one link to ‘Join Now’. Not very tour-istic. I join, which is easy, and plan a trip. For some reason the date boxes were preset to 2011. I plan a trip to St Tropez and find no-one on Dopplr has been there before. The user-generated content Q&As are for Nice, which is not much use to me. Basic usability is clear and simple.

Search for London, Paris, New York and content (pretty much all UGC) is fairly rich but much, much thinner elsewhere; only three contributions on ‘where to stay in Venice’, none for Ravello, Positano, Aix-en-Provence or Avignon. Good mash-ups with Google Maps and hotels are supplied by Mr & Mrs Smith. A carbon calculator is a good wheeze, but Dopplr is desperately in need of more contributors with interests outside major cities…

Business Model / Revenue Generation
Dopplr’s business model is puzzling. A revenue share on hotel bookings with Mr & Mrs Smith, but no airline booking or advertising. Marginal income from selling Offbeat Guides and some potential to monetise the ‘social atlas’ community, but I end up feeling that choosing a path between Facebook and TripAdvisor might not be a comfortable journey…

Design: 21/25
Usability: 20/25
Content: 17/25
Business model /revenue generation: 15/25

Overall: 73/100
“Sleek and friendly but why would you use it?”

Trip planning for travel destinations around the world – a US contender in the social media travel battle.

Design and concept
Appealing first impressions: large, high-quality homepage photo, strong brand look and feel. Large simple Google-esque search box inviting “I’m planning a trip to…” Lift the bonnet and you discover this is a header and footer design. In between, sit back and enjoy user-generated design…

For much of the site the navigation disappears, so you have to rely on breadcrumbs or the search box. Then the breadcrumbs disappear. Lost, I join PlanetEye and try to create a ‘travel pack’ (a trip that can be shared, or not shared, at your discretion). I enter “Venice”; “location not valid try another”. I try “Venice Italy”; “location not found”. Try another location “Italy”, “Location not found, please try again”. AAARGH. I try again using the yellow search box on the homepage and find a page on Venice references to Venice, US; Venice Ristorante, Denver; Venice Beach, CA.

A cornucopia of aggregated content, plus user-generated contributions (largely photographic). Some City Guides, Travel Guides and Themed Travel Packs. Integrates Microsoft Virtual Earth and Global Nomad + Planet Eye blogs. All sounds interesting, but Travel Packs/Guides are thin with UGC photos better than UGC text. There’s only one guide in France, which is Faussignana. Where? Virtual Earth helps me. It’s a suburb of Monte-Carlo. In the UK we find two entries: London and Shadwell. Enough.

Business Model / Revenue Generation
Travelocity and BookingBuddy commission splits, supplemented by some advertising; hardly innovative. With thin, un-mediated user content, it’s challenge will be to attract users this side of the pond.

Design: 16/25
Usability: 16/25
Content: 16/25
Business model /revenue generation: 16/25

Overall: 64/100
“Proves the value of good content. But not in the way it was intended.”

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