Tomorrow’s travel platform
If you were to rebuild the way we research and book travel online from scratch, what would it look like?
The way we book travel today on sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Kayak is essentially unchanged from the way we did it twenty years ago. You’ve got slightly better design and, if you’re lucky, William Shatner, but the calls to action are exactly the same: enter your departure city, arrival city, and dates of travel, then search.
Maybe things haven’t changed because this model pioneered in the late 90s is the optimal way to plan and book travel. To me, it looks and feels like a way for a human to query a database, little more. While the UX for finding new music has gone from MySpace to Spotify, the UX of the consumer-facing travel booking process has not changed. For an industry that accounts for $313bn in online bookings, approximately one in four dollars spent online, this seems, in a word, insane.
At Hitlist, we believe the way that you book travel in five years will be drastically different from how you book today. We have ideas of what it might look and feel like, and we’re building those into our app. But we’re just one take on the solution and we’d like to see others.
The travel booking experience of the future may take many forms, but we think it will have these characteristics:
It will be assisted by travel experts.
Those who have the time and passion to become experts in travel are valuable resources. Those who don’t should lean on them.
- a travel expert does not have to be human.
- experts are not necessarily formally trained agents. Anyone can become an expert through research and experience.
- it should be easy to discover those who have expertise in a given domain, and there should be a way to estimate their quality.
- there should be a feedback loop to help experts get better and ensure travelers get better advice.
- experts should be compensated for their expertise. This can be social validation (gaining a lot of followers) or getting paid a commission on trips booked on their advice.
It will be mobile.
Mobile is already the screen that has the most engagement (Americans spend 5+ hours/day on mobile) and it’s with you everywhere you go. This allows people to react in real time to price and availability changes, if they wish.
- this does not imply planning and booking travel will require a standalone app: the solution may operate on top of a messaging platform, for example, or even be built into an OS.
It will be proactive.
Your ‘agent’, human or machine, will make intelligent suggestions (you can always browse or search for something specific if you want, but the dominant interaction will be push rather than pull).
It will be personalized.
It will learn your preferences and offer useful tips according to your taste, and save your vital information to streamline the checkout process.
It will be social.
Some in your network will be experts, and integration with existing social graphs will make it easy to discover who to ask about particular destinations.
- it will help you solicit advice not from the general crowd (TripAdvisor), but from your crowd.
It will be a distinct platform.
The use case of travel is big enough and unique enough to benefit from its own platform.
- today’s online travel agencies (Expedia, Priceline, CheapOAir) are platforms, but don’t address the inspiration/discovery phase of travel. A more comprehensive platform would capture users throughout the entire purchase journey, from inspiration to purchase to post-trip sharing.
- people will create profiles on this platform that unite their travel information/identity: where they’ve been, where they’re going, who they know.
It will be commission-driven rather than advertising-driven.
Advertisers are getting smarter and demanding concrete ROI from their spend. They are losing patience with ‘brand building’, ‘impressions’, and other fuzzy metrics.
- Publications are already starting to explore ways to offset declines in print revenue by splitting revenues for goods sold: see the New York Times’s joint venture with startup Chef’d to deliver meal kits. This trend will continue, with ‘influencers’ — from The New York Times to Instagram stars — being measured for their ability to drive purchases rather than impressions
- the travel platform of the future will facilitate the objective measure of a publisher’s influence (by quantifying goods sold on the publisher’s recommendation)
What are some of the things that would be different in this new travel booking future?
It will be more diverse.
As it becomes easier to source trusted information about destinations, people will be willing to venture beyond well-known cities.
It will facilitate spontaneous booking.
Consumers have long had to make the choice: pay more to fly exactly when they want, or commit early to save money. Meanwhile, airlines have flown half empty flights rather than discount at the last minute, due to yield management ‘science’ that assumes it is always safer to bet on a desperate businessman willing to pay $1000 for a ticket rather than finding 10 people willing to pay $150 for a ticket. An ideal platform will manage the flow of data between traveler demand and vendor supply more optimally, ensuring lower ‘spoilage’ (an industry term for empty seats) and therefore more happy travelers taking trips they might not have otherwise even while vendors preserve (or even improve) their margins.
More people will profit.
The power to drive conversion will shift away from big brands and towards self-trained expert agents, who can work part or full time. Consumers will benefit from lower prices and increased flexibility. Vendors will sell more of their inventory. Agents — human, AI, or some blend of the two — will get a fair cut. And the platform that unites them stands to make a cut of every transaction in the largest single sector of e-commerce by dollar value.
We’re building Hitlist to be the platform described above, but we’re just one take on it. We’d like to see more teams making risky, big bets on building a better travel booking experience, so we can all compete to figure out the best solution.
Other interesting takes on the ‘future of travel’: