A week after TravelPost’s PR claims, our peeved rebuttal and counter-claims, we wanted to leave the PR hyperbole behind and say that Kayak’s TravelPost entrance into hotel review metasearch is a good milestone for the industry and for UpTake. We’ll share our take, and then we’d like to hear your take: What do you like about TravelPost and what advice do you have for their team?
Two strengths and two “areas of improvement”
First of all, we wanted to recognize two strengths that we see in TravelPost. We’ve got a lot of respect for Ross Weber (who is a Virtual Tourist and OneTime.com veteran) and the TravelPost team and honestly have to say its a great version 1.0 for Travel Metasearch. We also want to share two “areas of improvement” that would make TravelPost an even stronger product.
Strength 1: Smart strategic move because hotels are a natural extension for Kayak.
Hotels are a logical extension because most of the profitability for online travel sites is driven by hotels, not air. And with the recent cut in air booking fees by the agencies, Kayak’s primary source of revenue is now under threat. The extension into hotels is also logical because hotel information metasearch allows Kayak to tap into the same competencies that drove their success in flight metasearch – a search paradigm driven by a simple, easy-to-use interface and the ability for consumers to buy direct.
There are additional benefits to Kayak. Sam Shank (@dealbase), original founder of TravelPost and now founder/CEO of DealBase.com, has two theories. Either Kayak is really trying to beat TripAdvisor in the hotel review market, or “TravelPost is a head fake meant to pull TripAdvisor into a defensive posture to protect its core business instead of invest in metasearch.” TripAdvisor’s metasearch product received an exceptional review at Brett Synder‘s (@crankyflier) CrankyFlier.com, which states that “TripAdvisor has done a lot of things right here.” Sam highlights five strengths that make this market a good fit for Kayak:
- World-class product team, led by Paul English
- Proven abilities. Sam: “In 2006, Steve Hafner told me that he started Kayak with the goal of “building a better Sidestep, and we succeeded in 12 months.” Two years later, he bought SideStep outright.”
- SEO Foundation. Kayak’s age, authority, ranking, and theming already supports an SEO-based strategy.
- Demographic reviewer data. TravelPosts own reviews allow for demographic filtering (see Strength 2 below)
- Competency in aggregating data.
Our perspective is that flight price metasearch is getting increasingly commoditized and its only natural that Kayak extend into hotel metasearch (beyond price comparison). Tim Hughes (@timothychughes) notes that Yahoo!’s killing of FareChase deals another blow to the metasearch model, an issue that we’ve posted on before.
So how can Kayak play the game differently? Dennis Schaal (@denschaal) offers some suggestions on how TravelPost can change the game by highlighting review policies of the various sites they feature. And Bart LePoole (@bartlepoole in comments on Sam Shank’s post) offers some thoughts (which I invite him to explain further) on how TravelPost can provide an OpenAPI to hotels to change the game on TripAdvisor.
Strength 2: Consumer-friendly shopping experience
From a consumer user experience standpoint, the re-launch of TravelPost looks excellent. Besides photos, basic refinement controls and the increasingly mandatory Google maps, some of the most compelling features are:
- As with Kayak, TravelPost has an easy-to-use search interface.
- True to their search and ‘buy direct’ mantras, TravelPost prominently displays the hotel web site and phone number. In search enabling direct access to the business is now common because it’s a core consumer need. But this is not common in travel because it is expensive for travel sites because it costs them leads they could otherwise sell. TripAdvisor doesn’t offer direct access for hotels and Yahoo only offers it for hotels where they don’t sell specific, relevant leads. This feature might seem esoteric, but it is generally accepted as one of the key consumer features that enabled Google to crush the early search engines like Alta Vista and Inktomi.
- Interestingly TravelPost does make price the visual ‘hero’ like Kayak does, which leads to a more balanced consumer interface where the other features of the hotel are more prominent
- Kayak promised pages uncluttered by ads, and TravelPost delivers, with ads largely constrained to the right hand column.
- Finally, for partners providing reviews, the way TravelPost displays reviews strongly suggests that the review partners will get their fair share of free leads when consumers click through to read the entire review.
TravelPost‘s most impressive trick: Users can filter for reviews to only read those written by persons like themselves. Only want to see the opinions of travelers aged 45 to 60? Click a link, and that’s what you’ll get. Only want to hear from budget-conscious businesswomen? Filter the search results accordingly. Don’t trust the reviews of a particular website? Just blacklist it, and that site’s user-generated reviews will be banished from your personal search results. Other hotel metasearch sites [referring to UpTake!] can’t do that.
Sean, good use case on “blacklisting” particular Websites. But don’t you think that risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater for most review sites? Nevertheless, this demonstrates that TravelPost provides excellent filtering options.
Opportunity For Improvement 1: Limited Comprehensiveness due to rivalry with Expedia/TripAdvisor Family
Kayak has the right idea, a strong starting position, the competencies required and a talented, proven team with new blood like Brian Harniman and Ross Weber, but we believe their approach could be fundamentally flawed. These two opportunities for improvement relate to comprehensiveness and to their approach to filtering.
The first opportunity for improvement is that Kayak is not complementary and they are therefore not playing with some of the other hotel players in the eco-system – including the biggest players like Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity and TripAdvisor. Consumers want comprehensive information in one place – the explosion of social media had increased information fragmentation, and consumers currently do 10-12 searches and visit 20+ sites before they book! To demonstrate comprehensiveness, at UpTake, we pull information from 5,000 sites against TravelPost’s 200. As a result, using the W Hotel in San Francisco as an example, UpTake has more than 460 reviews and 23 photos from seven sources against TravelPost’s 117 reviews and 13 photos from four sources.
Guillaume Thevenot (@hotelblogs but sometimes he doesn’t like The Twitter) noted that Kayak is not the first company to go up “against the almighty TripAdvisor” (list of 5 others on his post) and “Let’s not forget that TripAdvisor has more than 20M reviews with a daily traffic that a lot of online travel start ups would die for. Let’s see how long it will take for TravelPost to come this kind of mass usage and recognition.” Ric Garrido (@loyaltytraveler) goes further with a quantitative analysis of the rate of hotel review growth at various sites sampling 1 hotel.
Opportunity For Improvement 2: Filtering based on lifestyle and trip type, not just demographics
Second, TravelPost haven’t *yet* done the hard work to help consumers choose relevant reviews or to recommend the right hotel. Filtering hotels by age and gender is as helpful as filtering by who you are traveling with and why you’re traveling. For example, if you are a 30-something mother traveling with your kids, reviews written by other family travelers regardless of age and gender are likely to have a lot more relevance then reviews from a 30-something woman traveling with her boyfriend and Airedale terrier.
UpTake’s patented technology allows the consumers to ask for hotels recommendations based on who they are traveling with, or what they want to do rather than simply demographics. For example, even if a review doesn’t say family-friendly, we can tell its family friendly because a mom talks about her 3 year old loved the pool and how the large rooms made it easy with the kids. Similarly if a review uses terms like charming or cozy it would suggest a romantic hotel.
We think UpTake’s technology could be complementary to what TravelPost already can do. TravelPost could syndicate UpTake’s theme- and trip-type based ratings to help TravelPost users go beyond demographics to filter through hotels based on their specific trip-type. Scott Hyden (@scotthyden) of STA Travel highlights the opportunity to tackle a myriad niche markets via the metasearch of the future. TravelPost, UpTake, and even TripAdvisor have a long way to go!
In summary, Kayak’s relaunch of TravelPost is a smart strategic response to TripAdvisor’s incursion into flight, price metasearch. It’s consumer experience is good and obviously leverages the core strengths of Kayak. However, TravelPost’s lack of Expedia/TripAdvisor Group reviews may be a fundamental flaw as it hinders its ability to provide the comprehensiveness it needs to address customer needs. Finally, as nice as the filtering options are, TravelPost hasn’t done the hard work to enable people to filter based on their specific trip-needs and lifestyle-based preferences.
Your turn! What do you like about TravelPost? What advice would you give them? and us?
Related Posts (guest contributor posts are in bold):
- Travel Metasearch Players Are Missing an Opportunity in Niche Markets by Scott Hyden, STA Travel
- A Brief-ish Thing About Metasearch in the UK. by Kevin May, Travolution
- Tripadvisor vs. Kayak Paid Reviews, by Dennis Schall, Travel Industry Media Expert
- How Kayak can beat Tripadvisor in the Hotel Review Market, by Sam Shank, Dealbase
- Travel Metasearch is done! Long Live TravelMetasearch! by Yen Lee, UpTake
- Travel Metasearch is done, by Yen Lee, UpTake
- Review of hotel review metasearch sites by Patricia Jenkins, UpTake
- Evolution of Travel Metasearch, by Yen Lee and Patricia Jenkins, UpTake
- What 20,000,000 Travel Opinions Tell Us by Gene McKenna, UpTake