Startups Take Online Travel Beyond Search With Brands Along for the Ride

Wanderfly and GoGoBot Show Plenty of Disruption Left in Online Travel

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Over the past decade, we've seen a rise of a multitude of travel booking sites,, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, those damn Travelocity Gnomes and Hotwire, all vying to get you the best deals for your trip. Then came Kayak, with a mission to help you make sense of it all. And TripAdvisor, for those essential customer reviews.

But if you thought Silicon Valley was done with travel, you're wrong. The last few months have seen a resurgence of interest and investment in this rich vertical, sparked when Microsoft began integrating KAYAK technology into, the offshoot of the search, erm, decision engine, back in March, to continue to build on proprietary technologies like their "Price Predictor," which they had begun developing as early as 2009, in their attempt to differentiate their search service from Google.

Much of the innovation behind travel search is powered by ITA, which Google acquired last summer for a nice $700 million, which will power a Google-ITA evolved travel offering is imminent, and it will be interesting to see how that affects the other players and competitors in this space currently leveraging some form of ITA technology.

But while search is the most direct way to iterate in travel, a new group of startups is taking the industry in new directions.

Start-up GoGoBot is putting a new spin on things by introducing the same type of game mechanics that Foursquare pioneered, into this territory.

After raising $4 million in funding from Battery Ventures and integrating with Foursquare and Facebook, CEO Travis Katz introduced a layer of badges and game mechanics to augment the already socially-oriented platform. According to Techcrunch, the overall aim is "to build a travel recommendation engine comparable to the one Netflix employs for its movie recommendations."

The new "gamification" features are designed to add a dimension of competition and reward to that type of recommendation system, as the badge system is tied, not only to check-ins – which the predominant method of earning Foursquare and GetGlue badges – but to the comments and reviews left by users as a way to further incentivize their participation, similar to Scoville .

The latest spin on Travel comes via Wanderfly, a site with a slightly different take on recommendation. Founded by , Christy Liu, Evan Schneyer, Jorge Trujillo, and Cezary Pietrzak - and with Jason Calacanis as an advisor and investor – Wanderfly is meant to be a one-stop-shop to build out an entire vacation itinerary based on your personality, allowing individual users to create comprehensive vacations and share them with friends, based on mutual interests. That latter part is key, as it's also opened the doorway for brands to get in this facet of the travel trend: Curated lists.

Last month, Wanderfly launched these branded lists with The History Chanel, Mashable, Frommer's, Havaianas Aol Travel, and others, as their initial partners to test the experience. Some companies, like Frommer's, have an overt connection to travel, while others, like Havaianas, have a well defined brand that they've translated into a vacation experience.

Of course, since they were part of the launch, none of those partners had to pay a cent. But that changed this weekend, when Jeep hired the service for their first paid campaign, in partnership with the UK-based Telegraph and as part of Jeep's Grand Adventures campaign. This endeavor takes place in a variety of formats – interactive ad widgets, on a Telegraph microsite, and on a dedicated section of Wanderfly itself.

But regardless of where people encounter the promotion, the essence is that Jeep provides a service to consumers which is also a direct extension of their existing campaign. For example, out of the 100 or so branded "adventures" for vacation-seekers this peak season, users will only find drivable outings.

In this way, Wanderfly, effectively opens to doors for organizations with strong brands to easily extend that "personality" into the travel market and provide a potentially valuable utility in the process.

Interestingly, none of these innovations – search, gamification, or curation, are mutually exclusive to the consumer, but only one brings non-travel brands into the fray…at least for now.

For some further insight into this space, check out our upcoming Small Agency Conference and Awards, featuring a presentation from none other than KAYAK's VP of Marketing, Stephanie Retcho.

David Teicher is Ad Age 's social media and event content manager. Follow him on Twitter @Aerocles.
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