Thoughts on Travel for 2016

Everyone loves to travel. Whether it’s to exploring historic sites, meeting friends & family, savoring different food or just soaking in different climate/weather/terrain. Whether its traveling to 50 miles away or 5000 miles away. I am yet to meet someone who does not like to travel.

Yet, traveling has so many compelling problems that are still unsolved. Travel industry has not seen the kind of disruption that an industry this big deserves. Here are a few big problems I‘d to see solved (or solving) in 2016.

Deciding where to go

What do all travel websites have in common? They all want me to tell them the exact destination I was to go to before they do anything for me. A traveler needs to know where she wants to go. That means she has to do a ton of research before these sites become useful. Questions like — how long it takes to go to a certain destination, what’s the weather like, will it have good beaches (for example), visa situation. One she shortlists destination, she needs to search each one of those destinations, individually, to see whether there is a reasonable flight, lodging combo available for those destinations. Many many searches later, while some of hotels/flights might have been sold out or increased prices, she can finally make the booking that the sites are after.

In short, deciding where to go can be so stressful. But it does not have to be. Pinterest, Google, Facebook, Instagram all have information about places/pictures I have liked/saved for later. Expedia, Booking already know where I have traveled in the past. Collectively they also have a good idea about the kind of traveler I am (adventure, food, like boutique hotels, likely to take direct flights). So why not just let me tell these sites “take me to a beach for 5 days” and they can figure our which destinations are within reach and offer me options? “We recommend Cabo, Miami and Hawaii but not Fiji since the flight will be too long, given you only have 5 days”. You get the idea.

Coming up with itineraries

In 2013, I made a trip to Japan and it was fabulous in every single way. I had done a lot of research, things fell in place and I felt my itinerary was just perfect. But it did take me weeks to perfect my itinerary and plans (complete with excel, day-by-day — almost overplanned). After I came back, a lot of my friends wanted recommendations, details on my itinerary and other advice. Granted, there are many sites (tripadvisor message boards, triphobo, travefy, gogobot) that help you with that. But they still don’t beat asking a friend, whose taste you can trust, for advice. We all want that NYC friend who will tell us *not* to make Times Square the center of our 1st NYC trip and plan spend 5 hours there.

Would people travel even more and be more satisfied with their trips if they could plan an itinerary in a simple and personal way? How can we identify easy ways for P2P sharing of itineraries and match tastes/ preferences/ specific needs? This will be an interesting matching problem to solve.

Connecting the dot

So the traveler has come far. She made the right hotel/flight/activities bookings and identified itineraries. The life is still hard. Let’s say I have a list of museums, eateries, sites, cathedrals I want to visit in Paris for 3 nights, it’s still challenging to come up with a daily plan that tells me which side of the city I should start with, public transportation, special instructions (“get there 30 min before”) etc. We still need something that connects the nodes. All these ‘sites’ are nodes of the graph and we still need a product to do a traveling-sales-person-algorithm for me; that is, intelligently make my daily plan considering timings, transportations, weather etc.. Perhaps even connect to a guide and give me metadata for the sites (sort of like what Phind, Foursquare tips, but more aggregation).

To be continued …

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