Former Traveltainment chief executive Andy Owen-Jones’ new venture aims to plug the gaps in trip planning and inspiration which Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter do not fulfil.
Suggestions engine Sujester is one of a number of investments Owen-Jones has made in travel-related businesses since leaving Amadeus-owned Traveltainment in 2011.
The concept was born out of his dealings with New Zealand travel agent House of Travel, which Owen-Jones describes as one his favourite customers when at Traveltainment.
Following a party for House of Travel’s top clients, Owen-Jones said it became clear that existing travel planning sites fail to capture the passion and exuberance with which people talk about travel.
“We came to the conclusion that there was something a little bit missing. To get inspired by travel you need a photo, some kind of commentary and a geo code – some kind of tagging,” he said.
Another inspiration for Sujester came from a fully bookable destination management website for New Zealand called Pure Journeys that is part of the House of Travel group.
This seeks to focus on the specific experiences self-drive travellers can have in and around the destinations they plan to visit rather than the accommodation they stay in.
Another was one of House of Travel’s most successful individual agents – it has 90 in New Zealand -which had seen considerable success from an annual mailing to clients.
This encouraged them to help House of Travel plan their travel requirements for the next three years.
“What we saw was everyone was responding to offers and not necessarily doing what they wanted to do in travel over the course of their life.
If you get people to think longer term they are more inclined to respond to what they want to do in their travel life rather than what hotels they may stay in have to offer.”
Sujester, therefore uses the concept of travel ‘moments’ or experiences which people can create and place on time lines. These can be created ‘live’ as the moment is being experienced.
These timelines are both backward looking and forward looking so users can log what they have already done and, Pinterest-style, what the experiences other people have had they would like.
Travel wish lists are then created – effectively pre-qualified demand for travel firms who can then offer to fulfil those travel requests.
Owen-Jones believes Sujester’s combination of images, short commentaries on what experiences people had, map-based pinning and timelines are what travel planning requires.
Behind it sits powerful ‘big-data’ pattern recognition algorithms which will learn what each users’ preferences are so that it will increasingly suggest the more pertinent experiences.
Owen-Jones said it was in discussions with the main GDSs and some agency group both in the UK and overseas about working with Sujester.
It is likely the first live partnership will go live in early 2014 and will be with House of Travel, which will offer it to its customers as a free travel planning tool.
“The idea is to get several travel agency groups to put their moments in both from their consumers and their own.
“We have put several hundred moments in and we are getting people to put more moments in all the time.”
Major events like the upcoming Fifa world Cup in Brazil are being targeted as ideal event for Sujester as they force travellers to plan travel plans for specific dates in the future.
Owen-Jones said he would like to encourage consumers to start to think more long term – for instance how many family holidays they are likely to take before the kids grow up – and to plan where they would like to go and what they would like to do.
“It’s a proactive wish-based CRM instead of a booking-based CRM,” Owen-Jones said. “This needs to be something a travel agent proactively uses.
“We want to pool the knowledge of lots of different travel agents and consumer groups and help people think further than one year ahead.
“For us a travel moment has to have some kind of attribute. It might be beach, active or city. It has to explain where exactly is it?
“It has to have a picture, but you have to be inspired by some kind of commentary about what happened to me.”