Jeff Katz, the founding CEO of Orbitz, is obsessed with travel. He taught flying lessons while in graduate school, worked at American Airlines and Sabre, and was the head of Swissair -- all before running Orbitz and selling it for $1.25 billion in 2004.
So after all that what does Mr. Katz do to satisfy his travel urge? Create a social travel game, where instead of racking up virtual goods players win real-world travel. Mr. Katz is the CEO of NexTag, a consumer price-comparison search engine. But in his spare time, he figured out a way to use the massive data he saw available on Google Earth to help people with their travel needs.
The result is Travel Game, launched in public beta at last month's Google I/O developer conference after he'd been working on it for about a year. The game was built by some of the same people who created Grand Theft Auto and Battlefield 3. Players see Google ads -- of course -- and marketers appear eager to sign on. United Airlines, Hyatt and Royal Caribbean are on board with the beta.
Ad Age : How did you come up with this
Jeff Katz: Running big brands like Swissair and being involved in travel, I thought for a long time what would be the next innovation. Maybe the next innovation isn't really about travel itself, but something that helps people solve the big problem -- that people don't have enough time or money to travel. So you play and you win "moola" -- or points -- and you redeem them for travel. And what if the game took place on a game board called Google Earth.
Ad Age : How much support are you getting from
Mr. Katz: We're getting a lot more than we thought we would. We've had great support from the Google engineering team -- they've been very engaged and they really like the project. They asked us to launch it at Google I/O.